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A New Way to Defuse Noise Complaints

Bill Morris in Bricks & Bucks on September 27, 2017

New York City


A NoiseAware box alerts apartment owners when a noise threshold is breached.

Sept. 27, 2017

New York City is loud and getting louder. The number of noise complaints filed with the city’s 311 line has more than doubled since 2010. The main culprits, in no particular order, are raucous parties (which the police no longer interrupt), construction work (which takes place at all hours), sirens, air-conditioning units, bar patrons, barking dogs, and noisy children. For co-op and condo boards, noise complaints between neighbors are a persistent headache. That’s because it’s difficult – and expensive – to pay an acoustic engineer to document offensive noise. 

Help may be on the way. A pair of Texas entrepreneurs have developed an affordable new device called NoiseAware, which is plugged into an apartment wall and measures noise levels inside the apartment. If a pre-programmed noise level is breached for a prescribed amount of time, the device will alert the apartment owner’s cellphone, or another designated individual, such as a super or property managers. The device can be used to monitor the noise made by subletters or other occupants, even if the owner of the apartment is not present. 

“This company is an outgrowth of a problem I had in my condo building in Dallas,” says NoiseAware’s founder and CEO, David Krauss. “A woman rented my apartment for a short period of time, promising she would be there alone with her boyfriend. When I got home, my apartment was not destroyed, but my reputation in the building was destroyed – because of cataclysmic noise. There had been loud parties, multiple noise complaints from neighbors, police reports. I wound up having to sell the apartment.” 

At the Dallas Entrepreneur Center, Krauss met an electrical engineer named Andrew Schulz who had worked on radar systems for the U.S. military. Together they set about developing a system to measure the volume and duration of noise, something that could proactively respond to situations like the one Krauss had with his noisy subletters. 

“We pride ourselves on the hardware being fairly simple,” says Schulz. “We’re looking at sound in an innovative way. Our technology looks at the volume of the noise, the duration, and a number of other factors – that’s proprietary information – and we turn those values into what we call a ‘noise risk score.’” 

Krauss and Schulz identified three factors that make noise so maddening to those affected by it: it is beyond their control; it is so persistent and consistent that it becomes “torture”; and the authorities do nothing to stop it. 

“NoiseAware is a very sharp tool that helps you do something about it,” Krauss says. “We turn noise into data, and produce evidence of a nuisance. You don’t need an acoustic engineer or a city inspector.” The evidence is a time-stamped graph of noise levels. 

When setting up NoiseAware, the user will select one of five noise-alert thresholds on the dashboard. Ambient noise is between 40 and 45 decibels, and hearing damage occurs at about 85 decibels. So if the user picks the middle threshold, an alert will be sent if noise of 70 decibels endures for more than three minutes. That way, the loud slamming of a door will not breach the threshold, but Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” played at high volume will. The hardware (about the size of a Glade air freshener plug-in) along with a yearly service contract start at $150 for a typical co-op or condo apartment, and run to $399 for a large apartment or house. 

Darik Eaton, a property manager of vacation rentals in Seattle, is using at least one NoiseAware in each of the 46 properties he handles. “We’ve used it to de-escalate noise issues,” Eaton says. “We had some noise complaints about some of our renters from a condo unit-owner. We were able to show data from NoiseAware and another device called Minut that the noise levels were quite normal and reasonable. We showed the data to the condo board. That was the last I’ve heard of it.”

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