Dear Urbaneer: Can I Combat Noise Pollution Through Design?

Dear Urbaneer


Welcome to this month’s installment of Dear Urbaneer, where I answer real estate questions from interested readers and clients This month’s blog stems from a chat I had with a client who expressed a concern that many urbanites share: the impacts of noise pollution and solutions to manage it.



Dear Urbaneer:

I’m a lifelong urbanite, and I love everything about my city-living lifestyle – being in the centre of the action, easy access to home, work and amenities, and feeling the synergy of a place that is alive. However, on a recent trip to the countryside with friends, I was taken with how quiet it was, in such sharp contrast to the everyday sounds of the urban landscape. When I returned to the city, I was even more aware of the intensity of the noise around me. This begs the question: How does noise pollution affect us, and how can I better protect myself from its impact?


Seeking Peace… and a Little More Quiet



Here is my response:

Dear Peace and Quiet;

Great question; noise pollution is a term I’ve been hearing a lot of late – particularly from our Buyer clients who are considering downsizing. Keen on moving into a downtown condo to be closer to medical care, services and supportive amenities, many worry about both noise and light pollution and how that will affect their sleep and mental states. As one of my clients said, “As I enter my golden years, the bloom of youth is pretty to look at but terrible to listen to”.

As a society dipping its toes into the Climate Crisis, we are very aware of pollution in terms of air, water, and soil quality – among other factors. In urban centres, pollution takes many different forms that aren’t as evident in suburban, exurban and natural environments. For example, I’ve written about the ill effects of light pollution – Dear Urbaneer: What Should I Know About Light Pollution? – as well as ‘electrosmog’ – Dear Urbaneer: How Can I Escape Electrosmog For An EMF-Free Housing Community In The Countryside? These posts are part of my Healthy Home series, where I explore the fundamental relationship between our homes and our health.

But, as you allude to, noise pollution does affect our health adversely; unfortunately, it’s a reality of living in a densely populated urban centre, where construction, transit, and traffic are the general soundtrack to daily life. It’s important to note that noise pollution is present all over – not just in urban centres – but with more people, homes, businesses, and infrastructure, noise pollution is more prevalent here.

Let’s pause for a quick moment and clarify what – exactly – noise pollution is, and how it can impact us. Following that, I’ll discuss what you should know as a city dweller.




Let’s Cut Through The Din: What Exactly Is Noise Pollution?

First I think it’s important to recognize that environmental noise pollution is made up of two different things:  prolonged sounds or background noise (e.g. the buzz of traffic or hum of your old air conditioner), and spikes of intermittent noises (e.g. car horns, sirens, or the upstairs neighbour putting together their furniture purchase from Ikea).

If you live in an urban environment, then, typically, environmental noise is provided by road activity, rail or subway lines, air traffic, and construction sites. However, it doesn’t always come from beyond your four walls; it can also be present on a smaller, more personal scale, such as with music, gaming, or other at-home activities. Home appliances offer a fair bit of noise as well.

Now, given that most of us experience a few of those daily – and might have gotten used to it – you might be thinking: ‘What’s all the fuss about?’ (Here’s a great CBC article that summarizes those risks: ‘Noise Is All Around Us. And It’s Harming Our Health)



* Image courtesy of, with thanks!


What?! Say Again?

The most obvious (and extreme) danger of noise pollution is potential hearing loss, but there is a bevy of other health risks too. Generally, the human ear can tolerate noise up to 85 decibels (DB) with anything louder than that posing a threat of permanent hearing loss. But even noise in the range of 65-85 DB, impacts us too, raising blood pressure and releasing stress hormones into the bloodstream.

The scariest thing about hearing damage, I would argue, is it is generally irreversible. There are microscopic hairs in the ears which detect vibrations within the eardrum. When those vibrations are too significant, as they often are with loud sounds, the hairs can bend and break and they don’t grow back. It’s a silent progression too, as damage from noise pollution may go unnoticed for many, many years.

In addition to hearing loss, according to the World Health Organization, noise pollution contributes to heart disease, hypertension, sleep disturbance, hearing impairment, tinnitus and cognitive impairment, as well as mental health issues. The WHO recommends no more than 45 DBS at nighttime, for proper “sleep hygiene”.




Who’s There?!

The World Health Organization regularly studies how noise pollution impacts our “quality of life” from which they make recommendations. Some examples include modifying air traffic patterns and flight schedules over residential areas at night, installing sound barrier blankets around construction sites to dampen noise; and incorporating more lush public green spaces in urban design to absorb bouncing soundwaves.  Another recommendation is every parent’s wish: placing volume controls on stereos, televisions and gaming systems.

Noise affects not just the humans in their built environments, but also animals, marine life, and even flora. Like light pollution, where the lights and reflective glazing on high-rises can tragically disorient birds, noise pollution has similarly detrimental effects. Studies have shown noise can impact migration patterns and other behaviours crucial to species proliferation.




Noise Pollution Affects Cognitive Function Too

One of the more well-known studies on noise pollution and its impact on cognitive function was conducted in the mid-1970s, at a New York City-area public school. One side of the school directly faced the train line. When trains went by (which they did typically at regular intervals of about 4.5 minutes), the DB reading jumped from an average of 59 DB to 89 DB, often disrupting the lessons.

Students in the school did reading comprehension tests over a period of time, and the findings were telling. Compared to the students on the train-less side of the building, students who experienced frequent and substantial spikes in noise scored four months behind in reading levels and did poorer on achievement tests. FOUR MONTHS! Lost.

Numerous studies over the years have replicated similar results, demonstrating – without doubt – the ill effects of frequent, unexpected, and loud noise on mental, physical, and cognitive health.




Toronto Noise Pollution

Like many big cities, Toronto has its noise pollution problem. In 2022, Toronto received nearly 10,000 amplified sound noise complaints. The city has been acting to reduce noise pollution, but it has been slow going.

Grassroots activist group No More Noise Toronto has a lot of interesting information about noise pollution, including data on noise complaints and an interactive noise map, showing Toronto’s noisiest spots (based on the number of complaints received). The group’s data shows that the most common noise complaints center on motor vehicles and motorcycles.

This great documentary from CBC Gem – Do You Hear What I Hear? outlines the noise problem plaguing Toronto. (Some neighbourhoods are experiencing noise of up to 100 DB during the night!).




Nosey NOISY Neighbours

If you live in an urban centre, you already know that we often find ourselves shoulder to shoulder with our neighbours – whether that be in a condo building, or freehold dwellings that are semi-detached or on skinny lots. Any when there’s that kind of proximity, noise transfer is always an issue. This is extremely common in Toronto.

Whether it’s intermittent renovation sounds from condo units above or below, a semi-attached neighbour who loves practicing the drums, or the rental next door that has turned into a party house, nearby noise can ruin your day, your sleep, and even deteriorate your mental state.

Here’s a REW article entitled, ‘Noisy Neighbours: The Law Behind Condo Noise Complaints’ as well as an article on what to do about noise complaints on ‘Dealing With noise Complaints and Disturbances‘.

So what can you do? Read our suggestions below!




Shut The *Bleep* Up!

In 2017, a study was done around the impact of noise pollution in Toronto on health and well-being, as outlined here: How Loud is Too Loud? The study found that 60 percent of Torontonians are exposed to city noise exceeding 55 DB during the day and that 90 percent of residents are exposed to more than the recommended 45 DB at night, for sleep.

Based on the findings of this and similar studies, along with pressure from citizen groups to exact change, it was decided that the city would move ahead with amending bylaws around noise pollution. However, it took years to see these in action, much to the chagrin of No More Noise Toronto, and other groups. This CBC article from late last year talks about the slow progress: All Revved Up: No More Noise Toronto Gears Up For Overdue Bylaw Review.

Finally, earlier this year several bylaws were made to reflect necessary changes, as outlined in this news release Toronto City Council listens to the public and adopts Noise Bylaw updates.

Highlights include:

  • Modernizing the permit process for activity-based noise exemption permits.
  • Reducing acceptable indoor DB levels at night, from 11 pm-7 am.
  • Rules around where testing for DB levels can be done (i.e. at the point of reception, where the complainant is experiencing the noise disturbance).
  • Looking at monitoring noise produced by waste collection vehicles.
  • Updating the 311 process to make the noise complaint process more streamlined.
  • Including changes to sound measurement to address different types of noises (i.e. hissing, buzzing, humming).




Seven Ways To Mitigate Noise

Although we rely on governing bodies and policymakers to regulate excessive noise through standards and bylaws, there are actions individuals can take to mitigate the impact of noise in our everyday lives. It starts mostly with being mindful of noise – both with bursts of noise and with background noise, and implementing measures to manage it.

Here are some suggestions:

1.  Conduct A Noise Audit. There is so much noise around us that one can become accustomed to it, even when it negatively impacts our quality of life. Take some time to pause and pay attention throughout the various touchpoints of the day. What do you hear in your home, on your commute, in the coffee shop or gym, in your workplace and so on? Pay attention to overt, loud noises, as well as background noises. It’s amazing how omnipresent noise is once you pay attention to it. Identify the most bothersome sounds and explore ways you can reduce your exposure, and to contributing extra noise unnecessarily.

2.  Protect Your Ears. While this may seem obvious, popping in a pair of inexpensive earplugs or investing in some noise-cancelling headphones are a simple and very effective way to mitigate hearing loss  (and all the other health problems that come with exposure to loud noises). Wear protection when doing “noisy” household chores, such as cutting the lawn or power-washing a deck.

3.  Limit Your Exposure. When you are aware of the noise sources, limit your exposure to them. Although some noise is unavoidable (i.e. a new condo tower is being constructed across the street), controlling your exposure is a means to managing its negative impact. For example, meditate in solitude (with a calming soundtrack to mask external noises), or visit your local library as a daily habit. Just as introverts can engage with the world after recharging through alone time, creating moments where you can be still and quiet will be the antidote to your engaging urban life. Make a point of disconnecting and choosing quieter options.

4.  Choose Appliances Wisely. One of the greatest sources of noise in your home isn’t your gaming system (although that is noisy!), it’s your appliances! Fortunately, today’s new appliances are noise-rated so you can easily identify the dishwashers, refrigerators, washer and dryers that have lower DBs. The range of DBs is surprisingly large, with some of the more expensive options undeniably quieter. They’re also typically more energy efficient and built to a higher standard. I found a silent dishwasher dramatically improved my entertaining life because I could run it during dinner parties instead of after dinner parties.

5.  Layer Your Décor. Reducing sound can be as simple as strategically layering textiles in your space. Because sound waves lose energy when bouncing across a fabric’s surface, textured fabrics are effective at reducing noise. Consider placing rugs with foam underlay on wood floors, installing heavy floor-to-ceiling drapery panels around window openings, and incorporating upholstered furniture and soft furnishings to help muffle sound. Also, consider installing a small water feature where noise is most problematic. Its ‘white noise’ can mask worse sound frequencies.

6.  Design & Material Upgrades. Many modern building materials with porous and fibrous structures offer sound-resistant benefits. For example, cork and rubber flooring absorb sound, as does fibreglass insulation, mass-loaded vinyl (a flexible sound-blocking membrane) and acoustic caulk. Soundproof drywall panels made with gypsum, viscoelastic, and ceramics, are more resilient and less able to transmit sound waves too. New triple-glazed windows with airtight seals are extremely effective at reducing external noises while improving energy efficiency. Using solid wood doors are sound superior to hollow core doors. The space plan of an original Edwardian residence – constructed as a series of contained rooms accommodating different functions – is much quieter than a modern dwelling of the same square footage with an open concept space plan.

7.  Plant Trees & Shrubs, Build A Moat, Erect A Fence. Building a fence not only bounces street noise back into traffic, but it instantly communicates the boundaries of your private defensible space while providing a vertical surface for dense vines to climb. Here’s my observational post calledGood Fences Make Good Neighbours In Charlottetown, PEI. Layering the height and massing of plants has the same effect as incorporating textiles indoors, making it a definite must if you’re seeking quiet contemplation. Consider hiring a landscape professional to design a rain garden using native plant species. A low-maintenance space that can grow wild will improve with age, making the original price tag worth it. Who doesn’t want to be able to decompress in a lush languid garden, knowing it benefits both you and the environment at the same time?

A great realtor is a person who can incorporate intelligent solutions to support your mental, emotional, physical and spiritual well-being, Does yours help you flourish and thrive? This is why a healthy home matters!

Thank you so much for your great question. I hope I’ve been of shhhhhassistance. 

With decades of experience, and comprehensive knowledge about all things housing and home – inside and out- I am here to help!



Here are some of my other Healthy Home pieces:

What You Should Know About Light Pollution

Healthy Home: What You Need To Know About The Health Hazards Of Living Near Power Lines

Knob And Tube Wiring Is Still Common In Canada

Dear Urbaneer: How Can I Escape Electrosmog For An EMF-Free Housing Community In The Countryside?

What Are The Real Financial, Emotional And Health Costs Of Commuting?

Healthy Home: A Guide to Radon Exposure

What You Need To Know About Household Mold

What You Need To Know About Asbestos

What You Need To Know About Buried Oil Tanks

How To Ensure Your Basement Is Not Only Comfortable But Safe

Hello Toronto, Ontario, Canada! Make Your Home A ‘Net Zero’ Hero

Dear Urbaneer: What Is Biophilia And How Can I Use It In Home Design?



Want to have someone on your side?

Since 1989, I’ve steered my career through a real estate market crash and burn; survived a slow painful cross-country recession; completed an M.E.S. graduate degree from York University called ‘Planning Housing Environments’; executed the concept, sales & marketing of multiple new condo and vintage loft conversions; and guided hundreds of clients through the purchase and sale of hundreds of freehold and condominium dwellings across the original City of Toronto. From a gritty port industrial city into a glittering post-industrial global centre, I’ve navigated the ebbs and flows of a property market as a consistent Top Producer. And I remain as passionate about it today as when I started.

Consider contacting me at 416-845-9905 or email me at It would be my pleasure to personally introduce our services.

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Thanks for reading!


-The Urbaneer Team

Steven Fudge, Sales Representative
& The Innovative Urbaneer Team
Bosley Real Estate Ltd., Brokerage – (416) 322-800


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Celebrating Thirty-Four Years As A Top-Producing Toronto Realtor


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