Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

My current noise situation / renewed renovations II

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After my last text on renovations, things improved a fair bit and the last few weeks have been somewhat OK. The works often started early or went late, but there were no machine noises and very little hammering. Indeed, just wearing ear-plugs often made the noises ignorable.

Yesterday, a large stretch of the morning was so quite, that I believed the works to finally be ended, after possibly four months… It was the first working-day of a new month, and, possibly, they were done and the offending apartment now handed over to new tenants.

No, just like the last time I thought the works to be ended ([1]), it was the calm before the storm: 09:40 a very loud drilling (or similar) started. When the drilling stopped, hammering started, when the hammering stopped, drilling started, … It was not as bad as in [1], but far worse than in many weeks. Around 10:25, I fled the building, and remained away until (by coincidence) exactly 15:00. The disturbance was still ongoing. Only some time after* 18:20 silence finally ensued.

*How long, I do not know: this was the time of my last note.

Today, It was silent well past 09:40, and I had renewed hopes. Possibly, they had done last minute work yesterday, and were now finally done? Again, no: 10:45 this bullshit started again. For now, I try to slug it out and, fortunately, there are long pauses with lesser amounts of noise. But: If I, again, have to spend a major part of each day outside my apartment, my literary efforts will be severely hampered.

I have managed to make one improvement compared to the past, however. White-noise was not very effectual, largely because most of the disturbances are at a low frequency resp. a long wave-length.* Using the tool “sox”, I have prepared a one-hour file of brown noise, which is stronger on lower frequencies and works better (but is still far from perfect).

*If in doubt, higher frequencies will be swallowed better by the walls, which might also partially explain why ear-plugs and similar are not that satisfactory: The sounds that get through the walls are the same sounds that tend to get through the ear-plugs.

Shortly after my last text, I wrote down a number of sub-topics for further discussion, but the relative silence made me forget them. Because I am revisiting the topic:

  1. In [1] I was highly skeptical to the “Mittagsruhe”, as oddly timed, pointless, or even damaging. A possible explanation is that it was intended for sleep: Today’s typical schedules make it hard to not be awake through-out the day and sleep solely during the night. This was not always so, and the Mittagsruhe would fit a scenario with a longer post-meal nap reasonably well. Still, today, it remains mostly pointless.

    As a further complication, the Mittagsruhe applies only to private individuals, e.g. if the owner or the tenant performs works himself. For hired professionals, it does not apply. (I was not aware of this when I wrote [1].) This makes the Mittagsruhe the more pointless. It can also increase the harm further, because the harassed parties will only very rarely have any prior information as to who performs the work, which makes planning that much harder. (Indeed, it could very well be both owner and professionals on different days and for different tasks …)

  2. A major problem with the crisis situation described in [1], was that I had no recourse and no contacts. Due to the extreme loudness, I was not even able to tell which apartment was the source. I certainly had no idea of who was employed to do the work and by whom. These, too, are facts that should always be announced in order to facilitate protests and, in extreme cases, legal actions. Here, if I had grown so desperate as to e.g. file for an injunction, it might have taken me weeks to even find out against whom
  3. Some type of upper limit on work per house (or some other criterion) and year should be instituted, e.g. that the sum of all works above some decibel limit must not exceed two months and above some higher limit not two weeks.
  4. A compensation scheme should be in place so that the offending party must cover damages to others, e.g. through paying for alternate accommodation. As is, only a part of the cost falls on the party that reaps the entire benefit, which leads to highly suboptimal decision making from a societal point of view. (Even discounting the great injustice.) Also cf. a more general discussion.
  5. Some rough equivalent of “habeas corpus” might be beneficial for long running works, where the disturber has to demonstrate in court that sufficient permissions are present, that sufficient anti-noise measures are being taken, etc. If he fails, the works must be interrupted.
  6. Too loud noises should unequivocally be considered equivalent to physical assault* and result in both a right to self-defense and the possibility to file criminal charges. This includes any case where the pain-threshold is exceed for a non-trivial time**, highly exceeded for even a short time, or when the combination of loudness and duration can cause hearing damage. The extreme and extremely prolonged loudness described in [1] is a definite such case. Another case, from my personal experiences, was when a train conductor blew a whistle a shoulder’s width from my ear, with not one single word of warning. Certainly, I would rather take a slap in the face than relive the events of [1]. Indeed, without counter-measures, I would certainly take the slap over the current situation.

    *Depending on the severity and the correct legalese, some other term, e.g. “battery”, might be better suited.

    **Hitting the breaks of a car might move the sound into the lower ranges of pain, but only for a very short time.

  7. There should be no government subsidies and only very limited tax deductions available for this type of work. They are often to the sole benefit of the apartment owner and the workers; often a negative for the tenants (of the apartment), who see a rent hike for “improvements” that they do not necessarily want; and a negative for everyone else. Moreover, they remove resources from the building of new apartments—the low rate of which is a major problem in e.g. Germany. There is a lack of construction workers, plumbers, electricians, …, and when they spend time doing renovations instead of building new houses, the rate of building is lowered and the general price level is pushed upwards. Moreover, those who want to invest are more likely to do so by purchasing and/or renovating apartments in a setup where renovations are subsidized, and correspondingly less likely to invest in building something new.

Note that some of these items could have positive effects e.g. through works being done in 3 weeks with ten men instead of 3 months with two.

Excursion on noise cancellation:
In theory, noise cancellation might work well on this type of low frequency. It might be something worth testing later. I used to own a pair of noise-canceling head-phones, the Bose QC25, but they eventually broke during my many journeys and I did not reinvest: they did a lousy job where I needed them most at that time—blocking the overly loud, hyper-annoying, constant PA announcements on German trains and railway stations.* Indeed, because they let most speech through while blocking most background noise, they might even have made the situation worse… Ear-plugs did a better job—and a pair of ear-plugs costs less than a Euro**, while the QC25 were at least 200 Euro. Was the life-time of the QC25 equal to two or three hundred ear-plugs? I doubt it. (But, in all fairness, the sound was quite good.)

*A problem with noise cancellation is that it has (has had?) problems coping with the faster reactions needed to neutralize higher frequencies, which lets speech through with too little blocking.

**Even assuming e.g. a German drug store as source. They might be cheaper elsewhere or in bulk buys.

Excursion on the economics of renovations:
An interesting issue is the comparatively poor economics of (extensive) renovations. They can easily cost tens of thousands of Euro. Hypothetically, let a renovation cost thirty thousand and allow a later average net earnings increase of 100 Euro/month. This implies that it will take 300 months or 25 years to get the money back—and after 25 years, another renovation would almost certainly be needed… Here we can also see the danger of subsidies and tax breaks that make such propositions artificially more attractive… (Disclaimer: The starting numbers are off-the-top-of-my-head guesses. They need not reflect reality in detail—but they do correctly demonstrate the principle. Even a highly optimistic 300 extra a month for the same investment leads to 100 months, for instance. Even getting back the rent lost during renovations might take years…)


Written by michaeleriksson

September 3, 2019 at 1:19 pm

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