Dr. Antonella Radicchi

Dr. Antonella Radicchi

Chartered Architect & Soundscape Urbanist

When is loud too loud?

Very often people ask: when is loud too loud?
We perceive noise rather subjectively and some people find certain sounds or noises more disturbing than others. Therefore the question “when is loud too loud?” can be answered very differently from person to person.
Also regulations and laws provide different thresholds, although there is common agreement that noise can be an health hazard due to long term exposure to it.

In this newsletter we report some of the key thresholds set up by existing regulations and laws at the international, European and German levels. 

Noise effects on human health

At least 8 million Europeans suffer from sleep disturbance due to environmental noise. Long-term exposure to noise pollution could indeed cause insomnia, hypertension and cardiovascular disease, leading to an estimated 10000 premature deaths annually in Europe. Noise can cause also cognitive impairment, disturb oral communication, lead to depression and anxiety especially among older adults and children (European Commission 2017).

How many people are affected?

In Europe, 100 million people are exposed to road noise levels bigger than 55 dB(A) at daytime, with 55 dB(A) being the threshold for annoyance (European Commission 2017).
In Berlin, more than 340.000 inhabitants are exposed to road noise levels bigger than 55 dB(A) at nighttime, with a total of 12%of Berliners who are affected by noise levels, harmful to their health (Berlin Senate 2018).

Noise regulations in a nutshell

According to the World Health Organization (WHO),noise levels outside the bedroom should not exceed an annual average of 40 dB(A) in order to prevent negative effects from noise. Furthermore, to allow cognitive learning and good teaching, the WHO recommends noise levels inside classrooms below 35 dB(A) (WHO 2018).

At the European policy level, the Environmental Noise Directive (END 2002/49/EC) was released in 2002 with the aim of providing a common methodology among Member States to reduce noise pollution and protect quiet areas. The END defines an annual average of > 55 dB(A) Lden as threshold for annoyance at daytime; and < 50 dB(A) Lnight for sleep disturbance at nighttime.

The Night Noise Guidelines for Europe (WHO 2009) correlate four noise exposure ranges to negative health outcomes. The WHO considers average nocturnal noise levels of 55 dB as an interim goal when the recommended guideline value of 40 dB is not feasible in the short term for the prevention of noise-induced health effects.

In Germany, permissible noise levels depend on the land use, as defined in the land use plan. For example: in residential areas, permissible thresholds are set at 50 dB(A) at daytime and at 40 dB(A) at nighttime; in mixed areas noise levels are allowed between 60 dB(A) (daytime) and 45 dB(A) (nighttime), whereas in industrial areas noise levels are limited to 70 dB(A) at both day- and nighttime (TA Lärm).

In Berlin everyone can compare the permissible noise levels and the actual noise levels where they live or work by using the interactive noise map created by the Berlin Morgenpost in cooperation with TU Berlin. The interactive map uses the data of the Berlin Noise Maps produced by the Berlin Senate, accessible here. According to the map we are exposed to roughly 50 dB(A) in our office. What about you?

Further Reading

If you are interested in reading more on noise regulations, the impact that noise has on our health and the mandatory actions to monitor noise pollution and protect quiet areas, we recommend the following documents:


Everyday quiet area of the week

Chestnut Walk, Reading RG1, UK. This everyday quiet area is rated as relaxing and it is no. 1230 of the Hush City Map.