Sunday Times (UK), Nov. 28, 2004
By Roger Dobson and Abul Taher
Night-time noise is threatening the sleep of millions. A study shows more than two-thirds of British households are experiencing nocturnal noise levels higher than international health guidelines. Rowdy neighbours, barking dogs, late-night partying and roaring road and air transport have been blamed by victims for their problems, which the study shows have worsened over the past 10 years despite the efforts of government and councils.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) - [ http://www.euro.who.int/noise ] - stipulates that the average level of noise between 11pm and 7am should not exceed 45 decibels -- about the level that can be heard when the house is quiet, no one is talking and there is just a little background noise outside.
The research by the Building Research Establishment (BRE) [ http://projects.bre.co.uk/EnvDiv/environmental_noise/index.html ] however, has found that 67% of households are enduring more noise than this. The study found that during the day, the proportion of households suffering from excessive noise is 54%, but this figure is falling. The researchers attribute this to modern cars being quieter.
"The study has shown that over the 10-year period, there was a significant increase in noise at night," said Chris Skinner, acoustic consultant at the BRE and co-author of the report. "The WHO guidelines give a figure that should allow people to sleep with windows open.
"The BRE research was conducted by measuring noise over 24 hours in 1,160 sample households across the country during 2001, and 5,500 interviews with adults. The results were compared with BRE surveys in 1991.
The number of households suffering excessive noise at night has risen by 1%, while the number affected during the day has gone down by 6%. The WHO maximum average for daytime noise is 55 decibels.
The new study, which will be published in the journal Applied Acoustics [ http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/journal/0003682X ], has also found that 18% of Britons reported noise as one of their top five environmental problems. Some 28% of respondents complained that traffic noise had got worse in the past five years.
According to the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health [ http://www.cieh.org/research/stats/noise02.htm ], the number of complaints about domestic noise alone has risen by some 50%.
Cheryl Hounslow, from west London, has been a long-suffering victim of air traffic because she lives near Heathrow airport. Hounslow, 41, who works with her husband Raymond at the local library, moved to the area 10 years ago. They are so appalled by the noise that they have given up air travel on principle. "All our windows are double-glazed and it does not make a huge difference," said Hounslow. "When you go outside it's so loud. You can't double-glaze your garden."
The most annoying noises, however, are not necessarily the loudest. The UK Noise Association [ http://www.ukna.net ] says it is barking dogs that are the most common source of complaint.