Air Conditioners and Illegal Noise Levels - 24 April 2006

Submitted by Webmaster on Sun, 14/05/2006 - 11:04

If I had to point to the change that has personally affected me the most in the last few years, it would the loss of my refuges. My refuges are my home and a selection of other places where I can go to get away from things for a while. Today in my own home, I am constantly disturbed by noise nuisance arising mainly from air conditioners on adjacent houses. See below for a diagram of my place - I have 3 of them outside my bedroom!Wrong airconditioner placementfrom Brisbane City Council fact sheetThe major noise nuisance in my area comes from split system air conditioners which produce sudden bursts of noise that I cannot filter out.   This may surprise you as split systems are generally considered quieter than box air conditioners.   Imagine this, it is middle of the night and you are asleep and all is quiet.   Suddenly just outside your window, there is a loud electric arcing noise as an industrial sized compressor kicks in followed by descending rumble as the air conditioner cools and different parts vibrate.   A minute later it stops.   Five minutes later, there is another burst of electromechanical energy as the air conditioner restarts again.   This continues all night with the air conditioner starting between 5 and 10 times an hour.   The really irksome part is that when the air conditioner starts and stop every few minutes, it means that the air outside is cooler than the air inside and the people do not really need to be running their air conditioner !   In fact when it is summer and the air conditioner runs constantly, it creates far less noise nuisance.   My only defence against the offending air conditioners is to close my windows and turn my own box air conditioner (fan only from March) as it makes so much noise that the regular restarting of the spilt systems outside is not noticeable.   Approximately 80% of my air conditioner use has nothing to do with temperature – I use it to create white noise so that I can read a book or get to sleep.   Noise nuisance from split systems is totally avoidable and in fact most of the early split systems that I am familiar with were very quiet.   My suspicion is that as air conditioners have plunged in price, corners have been cut in air conditioner design and many of them are now far noisier than earlier models.   The first air conditioner that I purchased was a split system and was so quiet that to see if it was running, I had to see if the fan was spinning.   It was from Mitsubishi Heavy Industries   (Mitsubishi Electric is a different company!) and had a quiet rotary compressor so the outside unit was only 43 decibels.   Many air conditioners today are in the illegal 60-75 decibel range.   Silence is about 28 decibels and a quiet night in the suburbs is about 35 decibels.   Day time noise levels are almost always above 45 decibels.   Cairns City Council has a local law that says air conditioners should not make noise levels over either 40 decibels or 5 decibels above background level.   These local laws are derived from the Queensland Government’s Environmental Protection Regulation 1998.   Interesting all of the noise control regulations seem to assume a constant noise factor.   They don’t take into account how many times the noises start and stop and how violently they do so. Measuring noise levels at your place will require a sound pressure meter - they cost about $7000 dollars ($200/day to hire) and they also take a while to learn how to use. Council will have a meter and it is their job to actually measure the noise level for you. Some consulting firms in Cairns will also have sound pressure meters and would be able to assist you at consulting rates.  The consequences of the increased noise burden on our lives is considerable.   It has had a great effect on me personally.   I sold my house to move away from another noise nuisance (a ship builder who used to bang dents out of ships at midnight).   Since then I have been renting and have cancelled one lease to move away from yet another noise nuisance (a hillside land owner/developer who would nibble at the forest nearly everyday with loud diesel end loader starting at 5:45 am).   The cost to society is also great.   The place I currently live in is very well located, has lots of bedrooms and yet has a long history of short term rentals.   The rent is quite low and the poor investor can’t be making much money.   Based on what bugs me, I think that people would have moved out because the place was not insulated (neighbouring spec houses are not either) and as a result of the heat and closeness of the houses leading to excessive air conditioner use/noise – the house is just not nice to live in.   When the lease is up, I will be joining the list of people who decided to find a better place to live.Many things can be done to improve the situation.   At a personal level, buy the quietest air conditioners available and don’t install air conditioners where the annoy your neighbours.   Read fact sheets from government web sites on air conditioner installation as there are some tricks to reducing air conditioner noise.   Install insulation and ventilation fans to push hot air out of your house and pull cool air in through the windows to minimise air conditioner use.   Complain like hell to the council and make them do something if an air conditioner is destroying your sleep.   Let FutureOfCairns know what they do. If you are not satisfied, complain to the Environmental Protection Agency.   The bulk of responsibility should lie with the Cairns City Council as it has the power to make sure that everybody takes notice.   The council needs to advertise the issue to make people aware that noise limits exist for air conditioners and that action will be taken if air conditioners are too loud.   A low maximum noise level should be written into building regulations so that noisy air conditioners are not installed in the first place.   Cairns is full of air conditioner installers that will gladly put in an air conditioner that blasts noise and hot air into a neighbours house – I vetoed my landlords proposal to mount an air conditioner on my house as it would have blown hot air into the neighbours patio and main entertainment area which is less than 2 m away.    Council should require certificates from air conditioner installers that the air conditioners are within noise limits at the property boundary (as they do in South Australia).   The council should also look again at the great walls of air conditioners that are being placed on unit developments – perhaps these potentially rusty noisy eyesores should be phased out in favour of other types of air conditioning such as chilled water reticulation.   Cairns City Council claims to be serious about making Cairns a liveable city – well here is a good place to start as air conditioners are used for the greater part of the year in Cairns.Whilst researching this article we discovered that Cairns City Council also continues its tradition of not making important information available to the public.   I looked at the Cairns City Council’s website for the councils position on air conditioners and it appears that the Cairns City Council site does not have any fact sheets on installation of air conditioners – check out the Brisbane City Council air conditioner fact sheet for comparison.   The CCC website also has no site map which is equivalent to a table of contents so it is not possible to see what information is or is not available on the site.   I found a bare bones reference to air conditioner noise, however the web page had no bread crumbs so I do not know how to get to that page by the normal route.   Bread crumbs are a list of pages that you would normally go through to get to where you are now – they are usually placed at the top of the page.   The FutureOfCairns site has bread crumbs in the forums and gallery sections.    The Cairns City Council has made aware of the poor accessibility of information for the public for approximately 2 years.   It is well and truly time that they started including standard navigation aids in all of their electronic documents – we put them in our documents and web pages and we would have 0.1% of the councils resources.   FutureOfCairns was set up in the first place because of this issue - because the council is black hole for information.   If people do not have access to information, they can’t protect their rights, so why does the council show so little interest in providing people with easy access to the information they need.   The persistence of this very easily addressed issue suggests to us incompetence but even more so extreme arrogance and hidden agendas from the elected council.    

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