Sound and fury

(Will Dendis)

(Will Dendis)

Dogs. Rock bands. Construction. All can cause annoyance to neighbors. All are within the rights of property owners to enjoy. What’s a town to do?

Noise complaints have likely been an issue in Saugerties since the eponymous “little sawyer” got his first neighbor and woke him up one morning with some incessant sawing. Few issues cause more conflict among neighbors. The usual mode of conflict resolution involves sending police officers or town officials to plead, by turns, for consideration or forbearance.

Such enforcement is naturally subjective. If officers feel the noise is unreasonable, they’ll ask the offending party to turn it down. If the complainant still isn’t satisfied, and keeps calling, what more can be said without an objective standard?


The town of Saugerties has arrived at that point. A proposed noise ordinance will be presented at the next Town Board meeting, Aug. 13 at the senior center on Market St.

The board intends to use the recommendations of the county’s Board of Health: 72 dB from 7 a.m.–10 p.m.; 66 dB from 10 p.m.–7 a.m.

How loud is that? A comparison of several noise level charts yields average values for normal conversation (60 dB), a vacuum cleaner (70 dB), and an alarm clock (80 dB). Those readings are taken more or less right next to the sound source. But in enforcing a noise ordinance, the measurement would be taken some distance away, at least at the neighbor’s property line, possibly with obstructions between the source and the measuring device. Sound intensity varies in proportion to the inverse square of the distance, which works out to a decrease of roughly six dB every time the distance doubles. For example, an observer two feet from a lawnmower would experience 100 dB, while an observer 50 feet away would experience 72 dB. These numbers can serve only as a rough guide, as they ignore factors like humidity and reverberation.

After the police were called to her home 25 times as a result of complaints called in by a neighbor, Angie Minew of Cherry Lane became very interested in decibel levels. Her husband’s garage band practices from 6:30-8:30 p.m. on Wednesday evenings. She said the garage is soundproofed, with an additional $3,000 worth of mutes installed on the band’s drums.

The police stood at various points on Minew’s property and that of her neighbor. No violations were issued, as the band was deemed not to be making unreasonable noise in the neighborhood.

In response to her experiences and the information she has accumulated, Minew started a petition. So far, she has 50 signatures objecting to using 72 dB and 66 dB as noise limits.

The village of Saugerties has a noise enforcement regulation limiting noise in its environs to 50 dB. According to Building Inspector Eyal Saad, this decibel level is extremely low and enforcement is very difficult. He said individual perceptions of what constitutes noise vary from person to person. Air conditioners hum, pool filters clank, and don’t even talk about dogs! Each of these bothers someone.

Village officials trying to deal with the noise of everyday life become mediators between neighbors, says Saad. As an example, he told of an ongoing neighbor dispute over the noise made by a pool filter. It was an older filter, but the noise it made was not painful to the ear. Multiple complaints arose from one neighbor who objected to her neighbor’s filter. Each complaint required a visit from Saad, who measured the ambient noise in the neighborhood and then the noise made by the pool filter.

Finally, the complaining neighbor went out and bought the owner of the annoying filter a brand new one. Problem solved for them. Perhaps Minew’s neighbor will buy the band a set of acoustic instruments?