How Much Mechanical Noise Is Acceptable?

Mechanical noise from roof-top

Condo residents often complain to condo management about mechanical noise, hum, or vibration in their apartments and demand that management take action to fix it.


Types of mechanical noise sources

I have investigated the following noise problems reported to me by condo owners or condo managers:

  • Noise from a rooftop unit
  • Noise from a compactor room
  • Noise from a garbage chute
  • Noise from a mechanical room
  • Noise from an electrical transformer
  • Noise from a water circulation pump
  • Noise from elevators
  • Noise from a garage door
  • Noise from an entrance door
  • Noise from an in-suite heat pump
  • Noise from dental equipment
  • Noise from a neighbour’s air-conditioning

Noise from non-mechanical sources is often a problem as well:

Condo management has a dilemma.  How much money should they spend to reduce or eliminate noise in the complainant’s apartment?  They often ask me what an acceptable noise level is.

What is an acceptable noise level in a condo apartment?

The answer to this question is not straightforward. Ontario has no legal standard for the maximum noise level in residences. Several trade and standardization organizations provide non-binding recommendations, often quoted by acoustical consultants:

MOECP regulates exterior and environmental noise. Ontario municipalities follow the MOECP guidelines.  Therefore, Toronto Noise Bylaw primarily regulates environmental noise, although some clients tell me that Toronto Bylaw officers also use it to asses interior noise.

Recommended indoor noise limits.


Recommended maximum


50 dBA day; 45 dBA night

Toronto Noise Bylaw

Same as MOECP


35 dBA or NC 30


Nighttime 30 dBA

This often quoted list of noise limits is almost meaningless without context of how the noise level is tested.

What level of noise annoys people?

Sensitivity to noise is very individual and varies over an extensive range.  I had a client complaining about a steady noise of 28 dBA.  Some complain about intermittent elevator noise with a maximum level of 33 dBA.

On the other hand, I tested an in-suite heat pump noise level, which was 42 dBA. One resident did not mind, and another resident vehemently complained.

Mechanical noise test standards

Noise measurement standards are essential for ensuring a consistent and accurate assessment of noise levels across various industries and applications. These standards provide guidelines for measurement methodologies, instrumentation, and reporting.

The choice of the applicable standard depends on the noise situation and the opinion of the acoustical consultant doing the test.  The selection of the applicable standard is essential because the test results depend on how the test is performed.

Remediation of the mechanical noise problem

What actions to take depends on the source of the noise and the tested noise levels. It is up to the acoustical consultant to recommend corrective steps.

The noise level is below the industry recommendations in some cases, but the residents are still complaining.  This leaves the management with two options:  tell the resident the noise is acceptable and do nothing or take steps to reduce the noise.  This is a management and business decision.

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About the Author Ivan Koval

The author is the publisher of the Soundproofing.Expert website. He is a soundproofing and building acoustics consultant working in Toronto and GTA, Ontario, Canada. Telephone (416) 471-2130

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