In high-density urban residential areas, it is common to see housing buildings close to each other, whether they are high-rise properties, or landed houses. Typically, in Malaysia, especially in major cities like Kuala Lumpur, residential areas are almost everywhere: condominiums, apartments, terrace houses, bungalows… Although they are structured differently, most tenants still share the same problem, which is noisy neighbours.
Before we get into more details about noise from neighbouring houses, let’s refresh some information from Malaysia’s Department of Environment (DOE). The DOE has been constantly updating the noise guidelines throughout the years, where the latest edition (Third Edition) of The Planning Guidelines for Environmental Noise Limits and Control was published in 2019. The publish of this set of guidelines proves the effort of DOE to ensure sustainable development during national development, while ensuring a clean, healthy and safe environment for the society. There are schedules listing the recommended permissible sound levels for different situations, such as construction, road/traffic, development-planning etc. Although they did not specify limits for noise from neighbours, the second schedule used for existing built-up areas may be taken as a reference to understand the acceptable sound levels, in general.
Let’s take suburban and urban residential as a standard. Based on the schedule, the daytime limit should be not more than 65 dBA. To give an idea of how 65 dBA sounds like, a conversation in places like restaurants or business offices can fall in the range of 60 – 70 dBA.
So, back to the main topic. What are the typical noises that can be caused by neighbours (in most cases, unintentionally)? The most common answers would be door slams, object dragging, loud music/tv volume… do you know how many decibels can these hit?
First, let’s go into the types of impact noise possibly made by neighbours, or rather, possibly formed by residents in normal households. It is inevitable to have noise coming from door-closing actions, where some may slam the door (accidentally or intentionally). Door slams are considered as impact noise, as this action only happens at one instance, not continuously. However, each impact can reach up to 95 dBA which is a harmful level if being exposed for long term. If a person has to experience repeating door slams from next door daily, it will eventually cause nuisance.
Another possible impact noise that may occur in residential buildings is falling objects. Take apartment units as an example, if someone keeps dropping heavy items onto the floor, the tenant downstairs will suffer from loud sounds coming from their ceiling. Once this action happens at an unreasonable number of times, it will also lead to dissatisfaction from neighbours, especially those staying downstairs.
Another type of long-term noise possibly heard in residential areas is renovation noise. In Malaysia, it is quite normal to see houses undergoing renovation, especially for landed properties. Depending on the scale of work, a renovation job can last from a few weeks, to a few months. For major renovations like demolition, wall-hackings, and remodelling of building structure, these often produce extremely loud noises and even vibration. The structure-borne noise and vibration will strongly affect the neighbouring houses, causing nuisance, and sometimes even leading to health issues if it reaches a serious stage. Why so? This is because a person who is exposed to excessive loud noises for long-term will face problems like stress, poor concentration and sometimes fatigue due to bad sleep quality. If not treated properly, these may eventually lead to even serious cases like cardiovascular diseases, cognitive impairment, or hearing loss.
What should you do if you have noisy neighbours?
Communication is the key. Sometimes, your neighbour is not aware of the noise that they are making. Try to speak politely to them to let them understand the condition that you are experiencing. Although this sounds like a very subjective method, this has indeed solved many people’s problems immediately.
To avoid any unnecessary disputes between neighbours, it is imperative to find the right time to have a talk with them. Being reasonable and polite is definitely more effective as compared to being aggressive and confrontational. It may be good to also let know them specifically what type of noise, or at what time does the noise affected you, so that the neighbour knows what to do.
However, if the situation still prevails and the neighbour is being rather inconsiderate, you can try to approach the authority or management. Worst case scenario would be to take legal actions against your neighbour. Still, be aware that these methods will raise attention and cause certain dispute among residents, so only consider such actions when it is absolutely necessary.
How to prevent yourself from being the noisy one?
There is no confirmation that once you take these measures, your house will definitely be very quiet. But at least you can reduce the risk of causing nuisance to your neighbours.
The idea is to be reasonable and understanding by doing the right thing at the right time. For example, avoid carrying out loud activities in the middle of the night when everyone should be sleeping. You would not want to hear loud music-jamming at 2 am, or aerobics class going on at 5 am. So, put yourself in other’s shoes, and most importantly, treat others like how you would want them to treat you, and you most likely will not cross the line.
How to soundproof your room?
To reduce the amount of noise coming from outside into your house, you can try out these few options:
- Doors – Solid doors made from dense materials act as great noise barriers, as compared to hollow ones.
- Holes/Gaps – They may seem negligible, but the fact is that sound can easily get into your house from these tiny gaps or slits under your doors, window frames or even electrical sockets. Therefore, it is always a good idea to fill these holes up when necessary.
- Damping – Using thick fabric will effectively absorb the noise coming into the house. A great example would be thick curtains, carpets, rugs or double-glazed windows. Curtains can significantly block noise from outside. Carpets and rugs can help to limit sound travelling up from downstairs and can muffle your footsteps from annoying your neighbours as well.
- Insulation – Depending on the source of noise, and of course your budget, you may opt for soundproofed walls to greatly reduce the sound transmission from your neighbour’s house to yours.
Now that you have known about the typical causes of noisy neighbours, and how you can deal with them, it will be great to always keep in mind that being reasonable and kind to others can prevent many unwanted disputes. At the same time, should you end up becoming the victim of having noisy neighbours, be sure to start with a calm communication. When it is necessary, run noise measurements in your house to be used as proof records if official actions have to be taken.
Air & Noise, P. S. C. S., 2019. Guidelines for Environmental Noise Limits and Control (Third Edition), Putrajaya: Department of Environment Malaysia.
Written by Khei Yinn Seow
Posted on January 18, 2021