How loud is too loud in New Haven?

Construction at Yale may be annoying, but it’s not loud enough to damage hearing, two University professors said.

In an informal survey over four days, the News used a sound level meter — which measures loudness as the human ear perceives it — to measure the noise levels at various construction sites around campus. (The measurements are in A-weighted decibels, the standard unit for measuring environmental and industrial noise.)

Noise for the construction around Morse and Ezra Stiles colleges was measured at 64 to 78 decibels, while construction at Branford College hovered around 74 decibels. Most places on campus had noise levels ranging from 60 to 70 dBA.

A normal conversation between two people three to five feet apart is about 60 to 70 decibels, while a chain saw operates at 100 decibels.

While construction from campus is not enough to cause hearing loss — which arises from prolonged exposure to noises 80 decibels and above — noises around 70 decibels are still enough to be annoying to sleeping students, said Yale School of Public Health professor Lawrence Marks.

People perceive noise as being louder, Marks said, if it has penetrated their homes or personal spaces from the outside.

“It’s like your home is your castle,” Marks said, who is the director of the John Pierce Laboratory, a University-affiliated research institute. “When sound comes in [from the outside], you’ll think it’s intruding on your private world.”

Construction at Branford, Morse and Erza Stiles — which is often above 70 decibels — has had mixed effects on students’ sleeping patterns. Of 22 students interviewed who live in the three colleges, 12 said construction has disrupted their sleeping habits, though they added that they were getting used to the noise.

Adam Thomas ’12, who lives in Branford, said that earlier in the year, he was woken up every morning at 6:30 a.m. by the hammering and sawing from the renovation of Harkness Tower. But fortunately, he said, he could go right back to sleep.

Jennifer Fung ’12, whose fourth floor window in Ezra Stiles faces the construction on Morse, which is undergoing renovation this year, said she has had a hard time getting used to the construction noise.

“I woke to the most horrible drilling sound ever,” Fung said of the first morning of construction. “I looked at the clock, and it was 7 a.m.”

A formal study of the University’s noise levels would require a detailed survey of at least several years, Marks said. But based on his experience, Marks said the noise level in New Haven is “moderate,” or around 70 decibels, similar to other “small, industrial Northeastern cities” such as Bridgeport.

New Haven has a noise ordinance that limits street noise to 55 decibels during the day and 45 decibels between 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. But officers enforce the law only when neighbors complain, New Haven Police Department spokesman Joseph Avery said.

Construction noise is permitted as long as it starts after 7 a.m. from Monday to Saturday. Aircraft, sirens from emergency vehicles and recreational activities with permits fall outside the ordinance.

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