How can I measure the noise entering my house?
November 19, 2012 11:44 AM   Subscribe

I need something to measure noise.

I have been assigned to a house very close to a club that plays loud music all night. I have complained but management refuses to change my assignment. They claim that this is simply city noise that happens everywhere. I disagree. I have been in other houses in the area and mine is the loudest by far.

To prove my case I need a device that measures sound levels in decibels. Maybe a sound level meter? I need a unit that is high enough in quality that management will respect the readings that I get but I don't want to go broke buying it.

I have seem some meters online for $20-$2000. I am looking for something in the $200-$250 range.

Difficulty: It has to be shipped via diplomatic pouch so no lithium batteries or liquids.

Also, I'm not looking for an app or other software.
posted by Gringos Without Borders to Technology (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You do need a sound level meter, but since management is who you will need to satisfy, you might want to run a particular model by them before purchasing.

Something like this seems to fit the bill. It is within your price range and is powered by a 9 volt battery. Most of the ones I saw online are powered by disposable batteries, so lithium should not be a concern.
posted by Tanizaki at 11:52 AM on November 19, 2012

Dumb question - if you're shipping it via diplomatic pouch, doesn't that limit the size/weight of the object, too?
posted by SMPA at 11:57 AM on November 19, 2012

Response by poster: I'm thinking about something that you can hold in your hand so size should not be an issue.
posted by Gringos Without Borders at 12:00 PM on November 19, 2012

Just one comment that may aid your searching - the thing you're trying to measure is more usually called "Sound pressure" rather than "Sound level". So a sound pressure meter may be what you want.
posted by samworm at 12:03 PM on November 19, 2012

Searching for "decibel meter" or "db meter" may also help you find what you are looking for.
posted by Aquaman at 12:11 PM on November 19, 2012

Do you have a real requirement that you are hoping to measure against/in support of or are you just going to be taking a measurement to show that 'ha its louder than x and x is too loud'?

(I'm guessing that there might actually be a spec out there somewhere for govt. housing that you could use for support. If there is it should call out the necessarily capabilities of the equipment as well as the correct locations to sample and measurement practices to follow.)

If it doesn't share any direct walls with the club and they can't/won't move you maybe you could convince them to spring for more panes in your windows? The jump from 1 to 2 can make a huge difference.

Oh, and as others have mentioned you may have better luck with searching for sound pressure level (SPL) or DB.
posted by Feantari at 12:13 PM on November 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Most hand-held meters I've seen are powered by 9V or AAA batteries, or can be plugged into a wall, so you should be fine with something that size on the battery issue. Make sure you get something from a manufacturer who sells to academic research people, or who specializes in environmental measurements, and you should be fine in terms of quality. OSHA says level 2 ANSI type meters are adequate for your purposes. This particular one looks good to me, and the manufacturer has good reviews on Amazon.

You were assigned this house by someone - you may want to run this plan by them, especially if they're the lessee rather than you. Or, if the "management" to which you refer is in your own agency rather than a landlord or property manager, run it by your boss or HR or whatever, before spending the cash.

My experience in government makes me think that the worst case scenario for you is that this is up to someone five or six levels up from you, in the State department when you're in some other agency (or heaven forbid, with a contractor,) because then there will be either a set of completely arcane rules or you'll have to convince a person who has six million other more important things on their mind. In either scenario, a sound meter is unlikely to help much, especially since they know it'll be a pain to get rid of the house, and so someone has to live there.

You should probably invest in some earplugs just in case. I found buying the disposable kind, in bulk, was the least frustrating solution for my own long-term noise problem.

posted by SMPA at 12:14 PM on November 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: SMPA, I already know the OSHA standard for noise and I'm pretty certain that this noise exceeds it. I just need to prove it.
posted by Gringos Without Borders at 12:26 PM on November 19, 2012

Right - the OSHA standard I linked to is the standard that meters need to live up to for their measurements to be considered useful.

You'll see on various equipment descriptions (or on this comparison chart) that they say what ANSI standard the equipment meets, if any. OSHA says that:
  • A Type 2 meter is the minimum requirement by OSHA for noise measurements, and is usually sufficient for general purpose noise surveys.
  • The Type 1 meter is preferred for the design of cost-effective noise controls.
Meanwhile, Wikipedia says:
Sound level meters of the two classes have the same functionality, but different tolerances for error. Class 1 instruments have a wider frequency range and a tighter tolerance than a lower cost, Class 2 unit.

This applies to both the sound level meter itself as well as the associated calibrator. Most national standards permit the use of "at least a Class 2 instrument". For many measurements, there is little practical point in using a Class 1 unit; these are best employed for research and law enforcement.
Telling a bureaucrat that you used a Type 2 meter, and that this is the precision level OSHA recommends for determining sound levels, is a much more helpful argument than telling them the dB range.

I wouldn't buy something that isn't labeled ANSI Type 2, or better.
posted by SMPA at 12:35 PM on November 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

There are tons of these things for free that run on your phone. I use this one.
posted by colin_l at 1:46 PM on November 19, 2012

Mine is a sound pressure meter and is really small. It has a specific spectral rating (A scale) whatever that is, and runs on a single 9V battery. It's OSHA certified, apparently, and old. Push to hold reading and a battery check function. Also, knob for scaling to louder and softer levels. Sounds like one like it would do, so I am sure they are available.

I'll check the mfg and model and memail.
posted by FauxScot at 3:17 PM on November 19, 2012

Scott Instrument Laboratories, Type 451

40-130 dBA


Check ebay.
posted by FauxScot at 3:23 PM on November 19, 2012

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