By Simone Blais
Shhhh ... Port Coquitlam residents may have to keep a lid on sound from heat pumps and other exterior units, as the city entertains changes to its noise bylaw. Council unanimously approved the first three readings of amendments to its noise control bylaw Monday, Feb. 28, making way for firm limits on the decibel (dB) levels that can be emitted before sound is officially deemed a disturbance. According to corporate services director Mindy Smith's report, the bylaw is enforced upon complaint and three main issues arose prompting a review of the existing bylaw, which has been in effect since 1994. The bylaw amendments would limit sound from heat pumps and similar devices to typical North American standards, which are considered to be 50 dB during the day and 45 dB at night at the property line or the perceived point of reception.
Dan Scoones, the city's bylaw and licensing manager, said Port Coquitlam received six complaints about noise from heat pumps in the last year, and as people look for ways to save on heat, the city could anticipate more in future. The loudest ones can emit 75 dB at the source, he said, but when properly housed, the sound can be
mitigated down to 60 to 65 dB. That's where location of the heat pump or air conditioner on the property plays a factor, he said. "Sound tends to fall off quite quickly," Scoones explained. "So if you baffle the sound and have 12 to 18 feet of free space on each side, they tend to work quite well."
The complaints can be "difficult and stubborn," he said, adding that individuals subjectively measure sound, mak-ing noise regulations difficult to enforce.
Scoones cited a civil court case in Coquitlam between two neighbours who could not agree on the noise from an air conditioner. Ultimately, the judge imposed decibel level limits similar to those enacted in Toronto bylaws, and Scoones said the ruling indicated "how much better it would be if the city had a bylaw" with limits attached. "We took that as a cue to move," he said. Coun. Glenn Pollock thanked Scoones for his work on the bylaw revisions, noting the research that went into the draft to ensure that the city "looked at this from all angles." Mayor Greg Moore suggested the city consider educating the public on the potential changes, sending the sound limits to heat pump installers so they are aware of the city's rules.