To say noise and air conditioner planning requirements are a contentious issue would be one of the understatements of the century. There can be good grounds for complaint…
Unfortunately, there are some neighbours out there just looking for an excuse to have a whinge and make your life difficult. So let’s look at things in a bit more detail.
Before we go any further it’s important to define the applicable Laws and terminology for air conditioner noise regulations so we can better understand what we are supposed to be doing.
Here’s what the NSW Government has to say…
You don’t need permission from council to install an air-conditioning unit for your home if:
You do need permission to install a residential air-conditioner if:
These guidelines are based upon two important other pieces of legislation. The Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997 (POEO) which states ‘offensive’ noise must not be created. Clearly this is subjective but, for air conditioners, most councils would apply a limit of the existing background noise level (at the quietest time of day that the AC is to be used and with any extraneous noise, including the AC, off) plus 5 decibels (dB). At night time the POEO Noise Control Regulations 2008 would apply; at this time the air conditioner must not be heard in any adjoining residence even if they have their windows and doors open.
Now, there is a difference between background noise and ambient noise.
The guidelines above refer to background noise not ambient noise and this has certain implications.
‘One off’ sounds such as an aircraft taking off or a train passing are clearly not going to be included in background noise, whereas a busy road in use 24/7 would be.
Another important definition is the sound an air conditioner makes. All systems come with two sound ratings which upon first glance appear fairly confusing.
So, now we understand the Laws and terminology let’s look at the issues…
Get the basics right. Minimum 450mm from any boundary although preferably 3 metres if you can manage it, not over 1.8m high, not in front of the building line to the primary road and not close to your neighbours’ bedroom window. Do that and you’re pretty well there.
Ah, yes… the elephant in the room…
The only absolute way to be sure that you will comply with the noise part of the regulations is to commission an acoustical survey before installation. An acoustical consultant engineer will measure the background noise, find out the sound power level from the supplier and predict the sound pressure level at your neighbouring boundary, and in the end, you will have a report that you can use to select a system that meets all your needs. It costs approximately $1,000, +/- $400 depending upon complexity.
There are a number of other things you can do to limit potential problems.
It should be noted that it is quite possible to hear an air conditioner even if it is 10 – 20 dB below background noise; the implications of this are clear that even though an air conditioner is quieter than background noise during the day, you still may not be able to use it at night time if your neighbours object.
Remember this is all so you don’t need to apply for a DA. So, if you think there are likely to be problems then formally lodging a Development Application may be the way to go.
Please understand that unless you commission an acoustic consultants report then it is not possible for us to say with 100% certainty that your installation will comply with the regulations. We would have to use guesswork to estimate the sound pressure level at your boundary and we are not competent engineers in this field. In practice, this means there may be additional costs incurred due to compliance issues should they arise.
I’d like to thank Ken Scannell MSc MAAS MIOA of Noise & Sound Services for his invaluable input into this article.
Ken is a specialist noise practitioner and his niche qualifications are:
Ken has worked in this area since 1976 both in Europe and Australia. He spends most of his time solving industrial and environmental noise problems. Ken is a leading authority in noise management, has served on the Australian Acoustics Society Committee and has served on the Standards Australia Committees for acoustics (AV/1 and AV/3).
Ken has published 35 technical papers on noise and vibration between 1986 and 2008 including papers presented at both Oxford and Cambridge Universities in the UK.
He is a member (and past NSW Divisional secretary) of the Australian Acoustical Society (MAAS), the British Institute of Acoustics (MIOA), and an Associate Member of the Acoustical Society of America. Ken regularly carries out introductory noise training courses for the NSW Office of the Environment and Heritage (OEH), and has carried out training for the NSW Road and Traffic Authority (RTA) and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, Samoa.
He has been accredited to carry out the WorkCover (NSW) noise-training package.