World Health Organization WHO Guidelines for Community Noise - A complete, authoritative guide on the effects of noise pollution on health

2. Noise sources and their measurement

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  1. Basic Aspects of Acoustical Measurements
  2. Sources of Noise
  3. The complexity of noise and its practical implications
  4. Measurement issues
  5. Source Characteristics and Sound Propagation
  6. Sound transmission into and within buildings
  7. More specialized noise measures
  8. Summary

2.1 Basic Aspects of Acoustical Measurements

Most environmental noises can be approximately described by one of several simple measures. They are all derived from overall sound pressure levels, the variation of these levels with time and the frequency of the sounds. Ford (1987) gives a more extensive review of various environmental noise measures. Technical definitions are found in the glossary in Appendix 3.

2.1.1 Sound pressure level

The sound pressure level is a measure of the air vibrations that make up sound. All measured sound pressures are referenced to a standard pressure that corresponds roughly to the threshold of hearing at 1 000 Hz. Thus, the sound pressure level indicates how much greater the measured sound is than this threshold of hearing. Because the human ear can detect a wide range of sound pressure levels (10–102 Pascal (Pa)), they are measured on a logarithmic scale with units of decibels (dB). A more technical definition of sound pressure level is found in the glossary.

The sound pressure levels of most noises vary with time. Consequently, in calculating some measures of noise, the instantaneous pressure fluctuations must be integrated over some time interval. To approximate the integration time of our hearing system, sound pressure meters have a standard Fast response time, which corresponds to a time constant of 0.125 s. Thus, all measurements of sound pressure levels and their variation over time should be made using the Fast response time, to provide sound pressure measurements more representative of human hearing. Sound pressure meters may also include a Slow response time with a time constant of 1 s, but its sole purpose is that one can more easily estimate the average value of rapidly fluctuating levels. Many modern meters can integrate sound pressures over specified periods and provide average values. It is not recommended that the Slow response time be used when integrating sound pressure meters are available.

Because sound pressure levels are measured on a logarithmic scale they cannot be added or averaged arithmetically. For example, adding two sounds of equal pressure levels results in a total pressure level that is only 3 dB greater than each individual sound pressure level. Consequently, when two sounds are combined the resulting sound pressure level will be significantly greater than the individual sound levels only if the two sounds have similar pressure levels. Details for combining sound pressure levels are given in Appendix 2.

2.1.2 Frequency and frequency weighting

The unit of frequency is the Hertz (Hz), and it refers to the number of vibrations per second of the air in which the sound is propagating. For tonal sounds, frequency is associated with the perception of pitch. For example, orchestras often tune to the frequency of 440 Hz. Most environmental sounds, however, are made up of a complex mix of many different frequencies. They may or may not have discrete frequency components superimposed on noise with a broad frequency spectrum (i.e. sound with a broad range of frequencies). The audible frequency range is normally considered to range from 20–20 000 Hz. Below 20 Hz we hear individual sound pulses rather than recognizable tones. Hearing sensitivity to higher frequencies decreases with age and exposure to noise. Thus, 20 000 Hz represents an upper limit of audibility for younger listeners with unimpaired hearing.

Our hearing systems are not equally sensitive to all sound frequencies (ISO 1987a). Thus, not all frequencies are perceived as being equally loud at the same sound pressure level, and when calculating overall environmental noise ratings it is necessary to consider sounds at some frequencies as more important than those at other frequencies. Detailed frequency analyses are commonly performed with standard sets of octave or 1/3 octave bandwidth filters. Alternatively, Fast Fourier Transform techniques or other types of filters can be used to determine the relative strengths of the various frequency components making up a particular environmental noise.

Frequency weighting networks provide a simpler approach for weighting the importance of different frequency components in one single number rating. The A-weighting is most commonly used and is intended to approximate the frequency response of our hearing system. It weights lower frequencies as less important than mid- and higher-frequency sounds. C-weighting is also quite common and is a nearly flat frequency response with the extreme high and low frequencies attenuated. When no frequency analysis is possible, the difference between A-weighted and C-weighted levels gives an indication of the amount of low frequency content in the measured noise. When the sound has an obvious tonal content, a correction to account for the additional annoyance may be used (ISO 1987b).

2.1.3 Equivalent continuous sound pressure level

According to the equal energy principle, the effect of a combination of noise events is related to the combined sound energy of those events. Thus, measures such as the equivalent continuous sound pressure level (LAeq,T) sum up the total energy over some time period (T) and give a level equivalent to the average sound energy over that period. Such average levels are usually based on integration of A-weighted levels. Thus LAeq,T is the average energy equivalent level of the A-weighted sound over a period T.

2.1.4 Individual noise events

It is often desired to measure the maximum level (LAmax) of individual noise events. For cases such as the noise from a single passing vehicle, LAmax values should be measured using the Fast response time because it will give a good correlation with the integration of loudness by our hearing system. However, for very short-duration impulsive sounds it is often desirable to measure the instantaneous peak amplitude to assess potential hearing-damage risk. If actual instantaneous pressure cannot be determined, then a time-integrated ‘peak’ level with a time constant of no more than 0.05 ms should be used (ISO 1987b). Such peak readings are often made using the C- (or linear) frequency weightings.

Alternatively, discrete sound events can be evaluated in terms of their A-weighted sound exposure level (SEL, for defintion see appendix 5). The total amount of sound energy in a particular event is assessed by the SEL. One can add up the SEL values of individual events to calculate a LAeq,T over some time period, T, of interest. In some cases the SEL may provide more consistent evaluations of individual noise events because they are derived from the complete history of the event and not just one maximum value. However, A-weighted SEL measurements have been shown to be inadequate for assessing the (perceived) loudness of complex impulsive sounds, such as those from large and small weapons (Berglund et al. 1986). In contrast, C-weighted SEL values have been found useful for rating impulsive sounds such as gun shots (Vos 1996; Buchta 1996; ISO 1987b).

2.1.5 Choice of noise measure

LAeq,T should be used to measure continuing sounds such as road traffic noise, many types of industrial noises and noise from ventilation systems in buildings. When there are distinct events to the noise such as with aircraft or railway noise, measures of the individual events should be obtained (using, for example, LAmax or SEL), in addition to LAeq,T measurements.

In the past, time-varying environmental sound levels have also been described in terms of percentile levels. These are derived from a statistical distribution of measured sound levels over some period. For example, L10 is the A-weighted level exceeded 10% of the time. L10 values have been widely used to measure road-traffic noise, but they are usually found to be highly correlated measures of the individual events, as are LAmax and SEL. L90 or L95 can be used as a measure of the general background sound pressure level that excludes the potentially confounding influence of particular local noise events.

2.1.6 Sound and noise

Physically, there is no distinction between sound and noise: sound is a sensory perception evoked by physiological processes in the auditory brain. The complex pattern of sound waves is perceptually classified as "Gestalts" and are labeled as noise, music, speech, etc. Consequently, it is not possible to define noise exclusively on the basis of the physical parameters of sound. Instead, it is common practice to define noise simply as unwanted sound. However, in some situations noise may adversely affect health in the form of acoustical energy.

2.2 Sources of Noise

This section describes various sources of noise that can affect a community. Namely, noise from industry, transportation, and from residential and leisure areas. It should be noted that equal values of LAeq,T for different sources do not always imply the same expected effect.

2.2.1 Industrial noise

Mechanized industry creates serious noise problems. It is responsible for intense noise indoors as well as outdoors. This noise is due to machinery of all kinds and often increases with the power of the machines. Sound generation mechanisms of machinery are reasonably well understood. The noise may contain predominantly low or high frequencies, tonal components, be impulsive or have unpleasant and disruptive temporal sound patterns. Rotating and reciprocating machines generate sound that includes tonal components; and air-moving equipment tends also to generate noise with a wide frequency range. The high sound pressure levels are caused by components or gas flows that move at high speed (for example, fans, steam pressure relief valves), or by operations involving mechanical impacts (for example, stamping, riveting, road breaking). Machinery should preferably be silenced at the source.

Noise from fixed installations, such as factories or construction sites, heat pumps and ventilation systems on roofs, typically affect nearby communities. Reductions may be achieved by encouraging quieter equipment or by zoning of land into industrial and residential areas. Requirements for passive (sound insulating enclosures) and active noise control, or restriction of operation time, may also be effective.

2.2.2 Transportation noise

Transportation noise is the main source of environmental noise pollution, including road traffic, rail traffic and air traffic. As a general rule, larger and heavier vehicles emit more noise than smaller and lighter vehicles. Exceptions would include: helicopters and 2- and 3-wheeled road vehicles.

The noise of road vehicles is mainly generated from the engine and from frictional contact between the vehicle and the ground and air. In general, road-contact noise exceeds engine noise at speeds higher than 60 km/h. The physical principle responsible for generating noise from tire-road contact is less well understood. The sound pressure level from traffic can be predicted from the traffic flow rate, the speed of the vehicles, the proportion of heavy vehicles, and the nature of the road surface. Special problems can arise in areas where the traffic movements involve a change in engine speed and power, such as at traffic lights, hills, and intersecting roads; or where topography, meteorological conditions and low background levels are unfavourable (for example, mountain areas).

Railway noise depends primarily on the speed of the train, but variations are present depending upon the type of engine, wagons, and rails and their foundations, as well as the roughness of wheels and rails. Small radius curves in the track, such as may occur for urban trains, can lead to very high levels of high-frequency sound referred to as wheel squeal. Noise can be generated in stations because of running engines, whistles and loudspeakers, and in marshaling yards because of shunting operations. The introduction of high-speed trains has created special noise problems with sudden, but not impulsive, rises in noise. At speeds greater than 250 km/h, the proportion of high-frequency sound energy increases and the sound can be perceived as similar to that of overflying jet aircraft. Special problems can arise in areas close to tunnels, in valleys or in areas where the ground conditions help generate vibrations. The long-distance propagation of noise from high-speed trains will constitute a problem in the future if otherwise environment-friendly railway systems are expanded.

Aircraft operations generate substantial noise in the vicinity of both commercial and military airports. Aircraft takeoffs are known to produce intense noise, including vibration and rattle. The landings produce substantial noise in long low-altitude flight corridors. The noise is produced by the landing gear and automatic power regulation, and also when reverse thrust is applied, all for safety reasons. In general, larger and heavier aircraft produce more noise than lighter aircraft. The main mechanism of noise generation in the early turbojet-powered aircraft was the turbulence created by the jet exhaust mixing with the surrounding air. This noise source has been significantly reduced in modern high by-pass ratio turbo-fan engines that surround the high-velocity jet exhaust with lower velocity airflow generated by the fan. The fan itself can be a significant noise source, particularly during landing and taxiing operations. Multi-bladed turbo-prop engines can produce relatively high levels of tonal noise. The sound pressure level from aircraft is, typically, predicted from the number of aircraft, the types of airplanes, their flight paths, the proportions of takeoffs and landings and the atmospheric conditions. Severe noise problems may arise at airports hosting many helicopters or smaller aircraft used for private business, flying training and leisure purposes. Special noise problems may also arise inside airplanes because of vibration. The noise emission from future superjets is unknown.

A sonic boom consists of a shock wave in the air, generated by an aircraft when it flies at a speed slightly greater than the local speed of sound. An aircraft in supersonic flight trails a sonic boom that can be heard up to 50 km on either side of its ground track, depending upon the flight altitude and the size of the aircraft (Warren 1972). A sonic boom can be heard as a loud double-boom sound. At high intensity it can damage property.

Noise from military airfields may present particular problems compared to civil airports (von Gierke & Harris 1987). For example, when used for night-time flying, for training interrupted landings and takeoffs (so-called touch-and-go), or for low-altitude flying. In certain instances, including wars, specific military activities introduce other intense noise pollution from heavy vehicles (tanks), helicopters, and small and large fire-arms.

2.2.3 Construction noise and building services noise

Building construction and excavation work can cause considerable noise emissions. A variety of sounds come from cranes, cement mixers, welding, hammering, boring and other work processes. Construction equipment is often poorly silenced and maintained, and building operations are sometimes carried out without considering the environmental noise consequences. Street services such as garbage disposal and street cleaning can also cause considerable disturbance if carried out at sensitive times of day. Ventilation and air conditioning plants and ducts, heat pumps, plumbing systems, and lifts (elevators), for example, can compromise the internal acoustical environment and upset nearby residents.

2.2.4 Domestic noise and noise from leisure activities

In residential areas, noise may stem from mechanical devices (e.g. heat pumps, ventilation systems and traffic), as well as voices, music and other kinds of sounds generated by neighbours (e.g. lawn movers, vacuum cleaners and other household equipment, music reproduction and noisy parties). Aberrant social behavior is a well-recognized noise problem in multifamily dwellings, as well as at sites for entertainment (e.g. sports and music events). Due to predominantly low-frequency components, noise from ventilation systems in residential buildings may also cause considerable concern even at low and moderate sound pressure levels.

The use of powered machines in leisure activities is increasing. For example, motor racing, off-road vehicles, motorboats, water skiing, snowmobiles etc., and these contribute significantly to loud noises in previously quiet areas. Shooting activities not only have considerable potential for disturbing nearby residents, but can also damage the hearing of those taking part. Even tennis playing, church bell ringing and other religious activities can lead to noise complaints.

Some types of indoor concerts and discotheques can produce extremely high sound pressure levels. Associated noise problems outdoors result from customers arriving and leaving. Outdoor concerts, fireworks and various types of festivals can also produce intense noise. The general problem of access to festivals and leisure activity sites often adds to road traffic noise problems. Severe hearing impairment may also arise from intense sound produced as music in headphones or from children’s toys.

2.3 The complexity of noise and its practical implications

2.3.1 The problem

One must consider many different characteristics to describe environmental noises completely. We can consider the sound pressure level of the noise and how this level varies over a variety of periods, ranging from minutes or seconds to seasonal variations over several months. Where sound pressure levels vary quite substantially and rapidly, such as in the case of low-level jet aircraft, one might also want to consider the rate of change of sound pressure levels (Berry 1995; Kerry et al. 1997). At the same time, the frequency content of each noise will also determine its effect on people, as will the number of events when there are relatively small numbers of discrete noisy events. Combinations of these characteristics determine how each type of environmental noise affects people. These effects may be annoyance, sleep disturbance, speech interference, increased stress, hearing impairment or other health-related effects.

Thus, in total there is a very complex multidimensional relationship between the various characteristics of the environmental noise and the effects it has on people. Unfortunately, we do not completely understand all of the complex links between noise characteristics and the resulting effects on people. Thus, current practice is to reduce the assessment of environmental noise to a small number of quite simple quantities that are known to be reasonably well related to the effects of noise on people (LAeq,T for continuing sounds and LAmax or SEL where there are a small number of distinct noise events). These simple measures have the distinct advantage that they are relatively easy and inexpensive to obtain and hence are more likely to be widely adopted. On the other hand, they may ignore some details of the noise characteristics that relate to particular types of effects on people. 2.3.2 Time variation

There is evidence that the pattern of noise variation with time relates to annoyance (Berglund et al. 1976). It has been suggested that the equal-energy principle is a simple concept for obtaining a measure representative of the annoyance of a number of noise events. For example, the LAeq,T of the noise from a busy road may be a good indicator of the annoyance this noise may cause for nearby residents. However, such a measure may not be very useful for predicting the disturbance to sleep of a small number of very noisy aircraft fly-overs. The disturbance caused by small numbers of such discrete events is usually better related to maximum sound pressure levels and the number of events.

While using LAeq,T measures is the generally accepted approach, it is still important to appreciate the limitations and errors that may occur. For example, some years ago measures that assessed the variation of sound pressure levels with time were popular. Subsequently, these have been shown not to improve predictions of annoyance with road traffic noise (Bradley 1978). However, it is possible that time variations may contribute to explaining the very different amounts of annoyance caused by equal LAeq,T levels of road-traffic noise, train noise and aircraft noise (cf. Miedema & Vos 1998).

More regular variations of sound pressure levels with time have been found to increase the annoying aspects of the noise. For example, noises that vary periodically to create a throbbing or pulsing sensation can be more disturbing than continuous noise (Bradley 1994b). Research suggests that variations at about 4 per second are most disturbing (Zwicker 1989). Noises with very rapid onsets could also be more disturbing than indicated by their LAeq,T (Berry 1995; Kerry et al. 1997).

LAeq,T values can be calculated for various time periods and it is very important to specify this period. It is quite common to calculate LAeq,T values separately for day- and night-time periods. In combining day and night LAeq,T values it is usually assumed that people will be more sensitive to noise during the night-time period. A weighting is thus normally added to night-time LAeq,T values when calculating a combined measure for a 24 hour period. For example, day-night sound pressure measures commonly include a 10 dB night-time weighting. Other night-time weightings have been proposed, but it has been suggested that it is not possible to determine precisely an optimum value for night-time weightings from annoyance survey responses, because of the large variability in responses within groups of people (Fields 1986; see also Berglund & Lindvall 1995). Night-time weightings are intended to indicate the expected increased sensitivity to annoyance at night and do not protect people from sleep disturbance.

2.3.3 Frequency content and loudness

Noise can also be characterized by its frequency content. This can be assessed by various types of frequency analysis to determine the relative contributions of the frequency components to the total noise. The combined effects of the different frequencies on people, perceived as noise, can be approximated by simple frequency weightings. The A-weighting is now widely used to obtain an approximate, single-number rating of the combined effects of the various frequencies. The A-weighting response is a simplification of an equal-loudness contour. There is a family of these equal-loudness contours (ISO 1987a) that describe the frequency response of the hearing system for a wide range of frequencies and sound pressure levels. These equal-loudness contours can be used to determine the perceived loudness of a single frequency sound. More complicated procedures have been derived to estimate the perceived loudness of complex sounds (ISO 1975). These methods involve determining the level of the sound in critical bands and the mutual masking of these bands.

Many studies have compared the accuracy of predictions based on A-weighted levels with those based on other frequency weightings, as well as more complex measures such as loudness levels and perceived noise levels (see also Berglund & Lindvall 1995). The comparisons depend on the particular effect that is being predicted, but generally the correlation between the more complex measures and subjective scales are a little stronger. A-weighted measures have been particularly criticized as not being accurate indicators of the disturbing effects of noises with strong low-frequency components (Kjellberg et al. 1984; Persson & Björkman 1988; Broner & Leventhall 1993; Goldstein 1994). However, these differences in prediction accuracy are usually smaller than the variability of responses among groups of people (Fields 1986; see also Berglund & Lindvall 1995). Thus, in practical situations the limitations of A-weighted measures may not be so important.

In addition to equal-loudness contours, equal-noisiness contours have also been developed for calculating perceived noise levels (PNL) (Kryter 1959; Kryter 1994; see also section 2.7.2). Critics have pointed out that in addition to equal-loudness and equal-noisiness contours, we could have many other families of equal-sensation contours corresponding to other attributes of the noises (Molino 1974). There seems to be no limit to the possible complexity and number of such measures.

2.3.4 Influence of ambient noise level

A number of studies have suggested that the annoyance effect of a particular noise would depend on how much that noise exceeded the level of ambient noise. This has been shown to be true for noises that are relatively constant in level (Bradley 1993), but has not been consistently found for time-varying noises such as aircraft noise (Gjestland et al. 1990; Fields 1998). Because at some time during an aircraft fly-over the noise almost always exceeds the ambient level, responses to this type of noise are less likely to be influenced by the level of the ambient noise.

2.3.5 Types of noise

A number of studies have concluded that equal levels of different noise types lead to different annoyance (Hall et al. 1981; Griffiths 1983; Miedema 1993; Bradley 1994a; Miedema & Vos 1998). For example, equal LAeq,T levels of aircraft noise and road traffic noise will not lead to the same mean annoyance in groups of people exposed to these noises. This may indicate that the LAeq,T measure is not a completely satisfactory description of these noises and perhaps does not completely reflect the characteristics of these noises that lead to annoyance. Alternatively, the differences may be attributed to various other factors that are not part of the noise characteristics (e.g. Flindell & Stallen 1999). For example, it has been said that aircraft noise is more disturbing, because of the associated fear of aircraft crashing on people’s homes (cf. Berglund & Lindvall 1995).

2.3.6 Individual differences

Finally, there is the problem of individual response differences. Different people will respond quite differently to the same noise stimulus (Job 1988). These individual differences can be quite large and it is often most useful to consider the average response of groups of people exposed to the same sound pressure levels. In annoyance studies the percentage of highly annoyed individuals is usually considered, because it correlates better with measured sound pressure levels. Individual differences also exist for susceptibility to hearing impairment (e.g. Katz 1994).

2.3.7 Recommendations

In many cases we do not have specific, accurate measures of how annoying sound will be and must rely on the simpler quantities. As a result, current practice is to assume that the equal energy principle is approximately valid for most types of noise, and that a simple LAeq,T type measure will indicate reasonably well the expected effects of the noise. Where the noise consists of a small number of discrete events, the A-weighted maximum level (LAmax) will be a better indicator of the disturbance to sleep and other activities. However, in most cases the A-weighted sound exposure level (SEL) will provide a more consistent measure of such single-noise events, because it is based on an integration over the complete noise event.

2.4 Measurement issues

2.4.1 Measurement objectives

The details of noise measurements must be planned to meet some relevant objective or purpose. Some typical objectives would include:

  1. Investigating complaints.
  2. Assessing the number of persons exposed.
  3. Compliance with regulations.
  4. Land use planning and environmental impact assessments.
  5. Evaluation of remedial measures.
  6. Calibration and validation of predictions.
  7. Research surveys.
  8. Trend monitoring.

The sampling procedure, measurement location, type of measurements and the choice of equipment should be in accord with the objective of the measurements.

2.4.2 Instrumentation

The most critical component of a sound pressure meter is the microphone, because it is difficult to produce microphones with the same precision as the other, electronic components of a pressure meter. In contrast, it is usually not difficult to produce the electronic components of a microphone with the desired sensitivity and frequency-response characteristics. Lower quality microphones will usually be less sensitive and so cannot measure very low sound pressure levels. They may also not be able to accurately measure very high sound pressure levels found closer to loud noise sources. Lower quality microphones will also have less well-defined frequency-response characteristics. Such lower quality microphones may be acceptable for survey type measurements of overall A-weighted levels, but would not be preferred for more precise measurements, including detailed frequency analysis of the sounds.

Sound pressure meters will usually include both A- and C-weighting frequency-response curves. The uses of these frequency weightings were discussed above. They may also include a linear weighting. Linear weightings are not defined in standards and may in practice be limited by the response of the particular microphone being used. Instead of, or in addition to, frequency-response weightings, more complex sound pressure meters can also include sets of standard bandpass filters, to permit frequency analysis of sounds. For acoustical measurements, octave and one-third octave bandwidth filters are widely used with centre frequencies defined in standards (ISO 1975b).

The instantaneous sound pressures are integrated with some time constant to provide sound pressure levels. As mentioned above most meters will include both Fast- and Slow-response times. Fast-response corresponds to a time constant of 0.125 s and is intended to approximate the time constant of the human hearing system. Slow-response corresponds to a time constant of 1 s and is an old concept intended to make it easier to obtain an approximate average value of fluctuating levels from simple meter readings.

Standards (IEC 1979) classify sound pressure meters as type 1 or type 2. Type 2 meters are adequate for broad band A-weighted level measurements, where extreme precision is not required and where very low sound pressure levels are not to be measured. Type 1 meters are usually much more expensive and should be used where more precise results are needed, or in cases where frequency analysis is required.

Many modern sound pressure meters can integrate sound pressure levels over some specified time period, or may include very sophisticated digital processing capabilities. Integrating meters make it possible to directly obtain accurate measures of LAeq,T values over a user-specified time interval, T. By including small computers in some sound pressure meters, quite complex calculations can be performed on the measured levels and many such results can be stored for later read out. For example, some meters can determine the statistical distribution of sound pressure levels over some period, in addition to the simple LAeq,T value. Recently, hand-held meters that perform loudness calculations in real time have become available. Continuing rapid developments in instrumentation capabilities are to be expected.

2.4.3 Measurement locations

Where local regulations do not specify otherwise, measurements of environmental noise are usually best made close to the point of reception of the noise. For example, if there is concern about residents exposed to road traffic noise it is better to measure close to the location of the residents, rather than close to the road. If environmental noises are measured close to the source, one must then estimate the effect of sound propagation to the point of reception. Sound propagation can be quite complicated and estimates of sound pressure levels at some distance from the source will inevitably introduce further errors into the measured sound pressure levels. These errors can be avoided by measuring at locations close to the point of reception.

Measurement locations should normally be selected so that there is a clear view of the sound source and so that the propagation of the sound to the microphone is not shielded or blocked by structures that would reduce the incident sound pressure levels. For example, measurements of aircraft noise should be made on the side of the building directly exposed to the noise. The position of the measuring microphone relative to building façades or other sound-reflective surfaces is also important and will significantly influence measured sound pressure levels (ISO 1978). If the measuring microphone is located more than several meters from reflecting surfaces, it will provide an unbiased indication of the incident sound pressure level. At the other extreme, when a measuring microphone is mounted on a sound-reflecting surface, such as a building façade, sound pressure levels will be increased by 6 dB, because the direct and reflected sound will coincide. Some standards recommend a position 2 m from the façade and an associated 3 dB correction (ISO 1978; ASTM 1992). The effect of façade reflections must be accounted for to represent the true level of the incident sound. Thus, while locating the measuring microphone close to the point of reception is desirable, it leads to some other issues that must be considered to accurately interpret measurement results. Where exposures are measured indoors, it is necessary to measure at several positions to characterize the average sound pressure level in a room. In other situations, it may be necessary to measure at the position of the exposed person.

2.4.4 Sampling

Many environmental noises vary over time, such as for different times of day or from season to season. For example, road traffic noise may be considerably louder during some hours of the day but much quieter at night. Aircraft noise may vary with the season due to different numbers of aircraft operations. Although permanent noise monitoring systems are becoming common around large airports, it is usually not possible to measure sound pressure levels continuously over a long enough period of time to completely define the environmental noise exposure. In practice, measurements usually only sample some part of the total exposure. Such sampling will introduce uncertainties in the estimates of the total noise exposure.

Traffic noise studies have identified various sampling schemes that can introduce errors of 2-3 dB in estimates of daytime LAeq,T values and even larger errors in night-time sound pressure levels (Vaskor et al. 1979). These errors relate to the statistical distributions of sound pressure levels over time (Bradley et al. 1979). Thus, the sampling errors associated with road traffic noise may be quite different from those associated with other noise, because of the quite different variations of sound pressure levels over time. It is also difficult to give general estimates of sampling errors due to seasonal variations. When making environmental noise measurements it is important that the measurement sample is representative of all of the variations in the noise in question, including variations of the source and variations in sound propagation, such as due to varying atmospheric conditions.

2.4.5 Calibration and quality assurance

Sound pressure meters can be calibrated using small calibrated sound sources. These devices are placed on the measurement microphone and produce a known sound pressure level with a specified accuracy. Such calibrations should be made at least daily, and more often if there is some possibility that handling of the sound pressure meter may have modified its sensitivity. It is also important to have a complete quality assurance plan. This should require annual calibration of all noise measuring equipment to traceable standards and should clearly specify correct measurement and operating procedures (ISO 1994).

2.5 Source Characteristics and Sound Propagation

To make a correct assessment of noise it is important to have some appreciation of the characteristics of environmental noise sources and of how sound propagates from them. One should consider the directionality of noise sources, the variability with time and the frequency content. If these are in some way unusual, the noise may be more disturbing than expected. The most common types of environmental noise sources are directional and include: road-traffic noise, aircraft noise, train noise, industrial noise and outdoor entertainment facilities (cf. section 2.2). All of these types of environmental noise are produced by multiple sources, which in many cases are moving. Thus, the characteristics of individual sources, as well as the characteristics of the combined sources, must be considered.

For example, we can consider the radiation of sound from individual vehicles, as well as from a line of vehicles on a particular road. Sound from an ideal point source (i.e. non-directional source) will spread out spherically and sound pressure levels would decrease 6 dB for each doubling of distance from the source. However, for a line of such sources, or for an integration over the complete pass-by of an individual moving source, the combined effect leads to sound that spreads cylindrically and to sound pressure levels that decrease at 3 dB per doubling of distance. Thus, there are distinct differences between the propagation of sound from an ideal point source and from moving sources. In practice one cannot adequately assess the noise from a fixed source with measurements at a single location; it is essential to measure in a number of directions from the source. If the single source is moving, it is necessary to measure over a complete pass-by, to account for sound variation with direction and time.

In most real situations this simple behaviour is considerably modified by reflections from the ground and from other nearby surfaces. One expects that when sound propagates over loose ground, such as grass, that some sound energy will be absorbed and sound pressure levels will actually decrease more rapidly with distance from the source. Although this is approximately true, the propagation of sound between sources and receivers close to the ground is much more complicated than this. The combination of direct and ground-reflected sound can combine in a complex manner which can lead to strong cancellations at some frequencies and not at others (Embleton & Piercy 1976). Even at quite short source-to-receiver distances, these complex interference effects can significantly modify the propagating sound. At larger distances (approximately 100 m or more), the propagation of sound will also be significantly affected by various atmospheric conditions. Temperature and wind gradients as well as atmospheric turbulence can have large effects on more distant sound pressure levels (Daigle et al. 1986). Temperature and wind gradients can cause propagating sound to curve either upwards or downwards, creating either areas of increased or decreased sound pressure levels at points quite distant from the source. Atmospheric turbulence can randomize sound so that the interference effects resulting from combinations of sound paths are reduced. Higher frequency sound is absorbed by air depending on the exact temperature and relative humidity of the air (Crocker & Price 1975; Ford 1987). Because there are many complex effects, it is not usually possible to accurately predict sound pressure levels at large distances from a source.

Using barriers or screens to block the direct path from the source to the receiver can reduce the propagation of sound. The attenuating effects of the screen are limited by sound energy that diffracts or bends around the screen. Screens are more effective at higher frequencies and when placed either close to the sound source or the receiver; they are less effective when placed far from the receiver. Although higher screens are better, in practice it is difficult to achieve more than about a 10 dB reduction. There should be no gaps in the screen and it must have an adequate mass per unit area. A long building can be an effective screen, but gaps between buildings will reduce the sound attenuation.

In some cases, it may be desirable to estimate environmental sound pressure levels using mathematical models implemented as computer programmes (House 1987). Such computer programmes must first model the characteristics of the source and then estimate the propagation of the sound from the source to some receiver point. Although such prediction schemes have several advantages, there will be some uncertainty as to the accuracy of the predicted sound pressure levels. Such models are particularly useful for road traffic noise and aircraft noise, because it is possible to create data bases of information describing particular sources. For more varied types of noise, such as industrial noise, it would be necessary to first characterize the noise sources. The models then sum up the effects of multiple sources and calculate how the sound will propagate to receiver points. Techniques for estimating sound propagation are improving and the accuracy of these models is also expected to improve. These models can be particularly useful for estimating the combined effect of a large number of sources over an extended period of time. For example, aircraft noise prediction models are typically used to predict average yearly noise exposures, based on the combination of aircraft events over a complete year. Such models can be applied to predict sound pressure level contours around airports for these average yearly conditions. This is of course much less expensive than measuring at many locations over a complete one year-period. However, such models can be quite complex, and require skilled users and accurate data bases. Because environmental noise prediction models are still developing, it is advisable to confirm predictions with measurements.

2.6 Sound transmission into and within buildings

Sources of environmental noise are usually located outdoors; for example, road traffic, aircraft or trains. However, people exposed to these noises are often indoors, inside their home or some other building. It is, therefore, important to understand how environmental noises are transmitted into buildings. Most of the same fundamentals discussed earlier apply to airborne sound propagation between homes in multifamily dwellings, via common walls and floors. However, within buildings we can also consider impact sound sources, such as footsteps, as well as airborne sounds.

The amount of incident sound that is transmitted through a building façade is measured in terms of the sound reduction index. The sound reduction index, or transmission loss, is defined as 10 times the logarithm of the ratio of incident-to-transmitted sound power, and it describes in decibels how much the incident sound is reduced on passing through a particular panel. This index of constructions usually increases with the frequency of the incident sound and with the mass of the construction (Kremer 1950). Thus, heavier or more massive constructions tend to have higher sound reductions. When it is not possible to achieve the desired transmission loss by increasing the mass of a panel, increased sound reduction can be achieved by a double panel construction. The two layers should be isolated with respect to vibrations and there should be sound absorbing material in the cavity. Such double panel constructions can provide much greater sound reduction than a single panel. Because sound reduction is also greater at higher frequencies most problems occur at lower frequencies, where most environmental noise sources produce relatively high sound pressure levels.

The sound reduction of buildings can be measured in standard laboratory tests, where the test panel is constructed in an opening between two reverberant test chambers (ISO 1995; ASTM 1997). In these tests sound fields are quite diffuse in both test chambers and the sound reduction index is calculated as the difference between the average sound pressure levels in the two rooms, plus a correction involving the area of the test panel and the total sound absorption in the receiving room. The sound reduction of a complete building façade can also be measured in the field using either natural environmental noises or test signals from loudspeakers (ISO 1978; ASTM 1992). In either case the noise, as transmitted through the façade, must be greater in level than other sounds in the receiving room. For this outdoor-to-indoor sound propagation case, the measured sound reduction index will also depend on the angle of incidence of the outdoor sound, as well as the position of the outdoor measuring microphone relative to the building façade. Corrections of up to 6 dB must be made to the sound pressure level measured outdoors, to account for the effect of reflections from the façade (see also section 2.4.3).

The sound reduction of most real building façades is determined by a combination of several different elements. For example, a wall might include windows, doors or some other type of element. If the sound reduction index values of each element are known, the values for the combined construction can be calculated from the area-weighted sums of the sound energy transmitted through each separate element. Although parts of the building façade, such as massive wall constructions, can be very effective barriers to sound, the sound reduction index of the complete façade is often greatly reduced by less effective elements such as windows, doors or ventilation openings. Completely open windows as such would have a sound reduction index of 0 dB. If window openings makes up 10% of the area of a wall, the sound reduction index of the combined wall and open window could not exceed 10 dB. Thus it is not enough to specify effective sound reducing façade constructions, without also solving the problem of adequate ventilation that does not compromise the sound transmission reduction by the building façade.

Sound reduction index values are measured at different frequencies and from these, single number ratings are determined. Most common are the ISO weighted sound reduction index (ISO 1996) and the equivalent ASTM sound transmission class (ASTM 1994a). However, in their original form these single number ratings are only appropriate for typical indoor noises that usually do not have strong low frequency components. Thus, they are usually not appropriate single number ratings of the ability of a building façade to block typical environmental noises. More recent additions to the ISO procedure have included source spectrum corrections intended to correct approximately for other types of sources (ISO 1996). Alternatively, the ASTM-Outdoor-Indoor Transmission Class rating calculates the A-weighted level reduction to a standard environmental noise source spectrum (ASTM 1994b). Within buildings the impact sound insulation index can be measured with a standard impact source and determined according to ISO and ASTM standards (ISO 1998; ASTM 1994c 1996)

2.7 More specialized noise measures

2.7.1 Loudness and perceived noise levels

There are procedures to accurately rate the loudness of complex sounds (Zwicker 1960; Stevens 1972; ISO 1975a). These usually start from a 1/3 octave spectrum of the noise. The combination of the loudness contributions of each 1/3 octave band with estimates of mutual masking effects, leads to a single overall loudness rating in sones. A similar system for rating the noisiness of sounds has also been developed (Kryter 1994). Again a 1/3 octave spectrum of the noise is required and the 1/3 octave noise levels are compared with a set of equal-noisiness contours. The individual 1/3 octave band noisiness estimates are combined to give an overall perceived noise level (PNL) that is intended to accurately estimate subjective evaluations of the same sound. The PNL metric was initially developed to rate jet aircraft noise.

PNL values will vary with time, for example when an aircraft flies by a measuring point. The effective perceived noise level measure (EPNL) is derived from PNL values and is intended to provide a complete rating of an aircraft fly-over. EPNL values add both a duration correction and a tone correction to PNL values. The duration correction ensures that longer duration events are rated as more disturbing. Similarly, noise spectra that seem to have prominent tonal components are rated as more disturbing by the tone-correction procedure. There is some evidence that these tone corrections are not always successful in improving predictions of adverse responses to noise events (Scharf & Hellman 1980). EPNL values are used in the certification testing of new aircraft. These more precise measures ensure that the noise from new aircraft is rated as accurately as possible.

2.7.2 Aviation noise measures

There are many measures for evaluating the long-term average sound pressure levels from aircraft near airports (Ford 1987; House 1987). They include different frequency weightings, different summations of levels and numbers of events, as well as different time-of-day weightings. Most measures are based on either A-weighted or PNL-weighted sound pressure levels. Because of the many other large uncertainties in predicting community response to aircraft noise, there seems little justification for using the more complex PNL-weighted sound pressure levels and there is a trend to change to A-weighted measures.

Most aviation noise measures are based on an equal energy approach and hence they sum up the total energy of a number of aircraft fly-overs. However, some older measures were based on different combinations of the level of each event and the number of events. These types of measures are gradually being replaced by measures based on the equal energy hypothesis such as LAeq,T values. There is also a range of time-of-day weightings incorporated into current aircraft noise measures. Night-time weightings of 6–12 dB are currently in use. Some countries also include an intermediate evening weighting.

The day-night sound pressure level Ldn (von Gierke 1975; Ford 1987) is an LAeq,T based measure with a 10 dB night-time weighting. It is based on A-weighted sound pressure levels and the equal energy principle. The noise exposure forecast (NEF) (Bishop & Horonjeff 1967) is based on the EPNL values of individual aircraft events and includes a 12 dB night-time weighting. It sums multiple events on an equal energy basis. However, the Australian variation of the NEF measure has a 6 dB evening weighting and a 6 dB night-time weighting (Bullen & Hede 1983). The German airport noise equivalent level (LEQ(FLG)) is based on A-weighted levels, but does not follow the equal energy principle.

The weighted equivalent continuous perceived noise level (WECPNL) measure (Ford 1987) proposed by ICAO is based on the equal energy principle and maximum PNL values of aircraft fly-overs. However, in Japan an approximation to this measure is used and is based on maximum A-weighted levels. The noise and number index (NNI), formerly used in the United Kingdom, was derived from maximum PNL values but was not based on the equal energy principle. An approximation to the original version of the NNI has been used in Switzerland and is based on maximum A-weighted levels of aircraft fly-overs, but its use will soon be discontinued. Changes in these measures are slow because their use is often specified in national legislation. However, several countries have changed to measures that are based on the equal energy principle and A-weighted sound pressure levels.

2.7.3 Impulsive noise measures

Impulsive sounds, such as gun shots, hammer blows, explosions of fireworks or other blasts, are sounds that significantly exceed the background sound pressure level for a very short duration. Typically each impulse lasts less than one second. Measurements with the meter set to ‘Fast’ response (section 2.1.1) do not accurately represent impulsive sounds. Therefore the meter response time must be shorter to measure such impulse type sounds. C-weighted levels have been found useful for ratings of gun shots (ISO 1987). Currently no mathematical description exists which unequivocally defines impulsive sounds, nor is there a universally accepted procedure for rating the additional annoyance of impulsive sounds (HCN 1997). Future versions of ISO Standard 1996 (present standard in ISO 1987b) are planned to improve this situation.

2.7.4 Measures of speech intelligibility

The intelligibility of speech depends primarily on the speech-to-noise ratio. If the level of the speech sounds are 15 dB or more above the level of the ambient noise, the speech intelligibility at 1 m distance will be close to 100% (Houtgast 1981; Bradley 1986b). This can be most simply rated in terms of the speech-to-noise ratio of the A-weighted speech and noise levels. Alternatively, the speech intelligibility index (formerly the articulation index) can be used if octave or 1/3 octave band spectra of the speech and noise are available (ANSI 1997).

When indoors, speech intelligibility also depends on the acoustical properties of the space. The acoustical properties of spaces have for many years been rated in terms of reverberation times. The reverberation time is approximately the time it takes for a sound in a room to decrease to inaudibility after the source has been stopped. Optimum reverberation times for speech have been specified as a function of the size of the room. In large rooms, such as lecture halls and theaters, a reverberation time for speech of about 1 s is recommended. In smaller rooms such as classrooms, the recommended value for speech is about 0.6 s (Bradley 1986b,c). More modern measures of room acoustics have been found to be better correlates of speech intelligibility, and some combine an assessment of both the speech/noise ratio and room acoustics (Bradley 1986a,c). The most widely known is the speech transmission index (STI) (Houtgast & Steeneken 1983), or the abbreviated version of this measure referred to as RASTI (Houtgast & Steeneken 1985; IEC 1988). In smaller rooms, such as school classrooms, the conventional approach of requiring adequately low ambient noise levels, as well as some optimum reverberation time, is probably adequate to ensure good speech intelligibility (Bradley 1986b). In larger rooms and other more specialized situations, use of the more modern measures may be helpful.

2.7.5 Indoor noise ratings

The simplest procedure for rating levels of indoor noise is to measure them in terms of integrated A-weighted sound pressure levels, as measured by LAeq,T. As discussed earlier, this approach has been criticized as not being the most accurate rating of the negative effects of various types of noises, and is thought to be particularly inadequate when there are strong low-frequency components. Several more complex rating schemes are available based on octave band measurements of indoor noises. In Europe the noise rating system (Burns 1968), and in North America the noise criterion (Beranek 1971), both include sets of equal-disturbance type contours. Measured octave band sound pressure levels are compared with these contours and an overall noise rating is determined. More recently, two new schemes have been proposed: the balanced noise criterion procedure (Beranek 1989) and the room criterion system (Blazier 1998). These schemes are based on a wider range of octave bands extending from 16–8 000 Hz. They provide both a numerical and a letter rating of the noise. The numerical part indicates the level of the central frequencies important for speech communication and the letter indicates whether the quality of the sound is predominantly low-, medium- or high-frequency in nature. Extensive comparisons of these room noise rating procedures have yet to be performed. Because the newer measures include a wider range of frequencies, they can better assess a wider range of noise problems.

2.8 Summary

Where there are no clear reasons for using other measures, it is recommended that LAeq,T be used to evaluate more-or-less continuous environmental noises. LAeq,T should also be used to assess ongoing noises that may be composed of individual events with randomly varying sound pressure levels. Where the noise is principally composed of a small number of discrete events the additional use of LAmax or SEL is recommended. As pointed out in this chapter, there are definite limitations to these simple measures, but there are also many practical advantages, including economy and the benefits of a standardized approach.

The sound pressure level measurements should include all variations over time to provide results that best represent the noise in question. This would include variations in both the source and in propagation of the noise from the source to the receiver. Measurements should normally be made close to typical points of reception. The accuracy of the measurements and the details of the measurement procedure must be adapted to the type of noise and to other details of the noise exposure. Assessment of speech intelligibility, aviation noise or impulse noise may require the use of more specialized methods. Where the exposed people are indoors and noise measurements are made outdoors, the sound attenuating properties of the building façade must also be measured or estimated.


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