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Lowering noise levels and emissions in construction: Reducing the impact on communities and the environment

The benefits of mass timber for minimizing construction pollution

Historically, construction in single-family areas was minimal. Multi-family construction was usually sidelined to areas where multi-family developments already existed, like Vancouver’s Downtown core and major arterial roads.

As Greater Vancouver’s population has steadily increased, growing by almost 20 per cent from 2011 to 2022, cities have begun to densify. For example, the City of Coquitlam, a familiar municipality to Adera Development through the addition of projects, SõL, Duet Flats, and Duet CityHomes, reported that 1,008 residential apartment units were issued permits from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, 2012. Ten years later, as Coquitlam’s population grew by 19 per cent, this number more than doubled, as 2,639 residential apartment units were given permits in 2022.

Coquitlam, like many of the established communities in Greater Vancouver, now includes a mix of residential units for a variety of residents. For community members that live within neighbourhoods once only consisting of single-family homes, residents are beginning to witness an influx of construction-related noise, traffic and emissions as developers keep up with population growth and housing demand.

As Metro Vancouver continues to densify to meet the needs of a projected 3.8 million resident population expected by 2050, developers will need to consider the impact increased construction noise and emission levels have on existing communities. By working closely with city regulations and developing strategies to lower noise and emission levels whenever possible, developers can continue providing more housing options while maintaining positive community relationships.

Understanding the impact on communities

For many established communities both in and around Vancouver’s Downtown, today’s increased construction starts are certainly being felt. With more Canadians working from home than in years prior, developers must consider that daily construction noises may interrupt someone’s working day and their regular life at home.

There are a variety of ways that construction can impact communities, but most commonly, residents are usually affected by noise and additional congestion from workers and deliveries driving to and from a building site, heavy machinery used during construction, generators, power tools, and music played by site workers. In the summertime, when residents are more likely to have windows and doors open, construction fatigue is often amplified. Construction fatigue is the frustration felt from constant noise, traffic, and disorder caused by building construction.

The emissions caused by construction vehicles are also a concern, as these trucks release fossil fuels when transporting materials to and from sites. Concrete trucks are the worst culprits for vehicle emissions, as these vehicles must run for concrete to pour. Simultaneously, the production of concrete also adds to an influx of emissions.

As of 2022, cement needed to make concrete accounted for seven per cent of global carbon dioxide emissions. As a result, concrete is responsible for the most construction pollution and noise on a building site. 

Current challenges and regulations

As construction noise and emissions can be disruptive, municipalities throughout Greater Vancouver have their own regulations to limit construction fatigue.

In the City of Coquitlam, developers are permitted to work Monday to Friday from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., with fewer hours of operation on Saturdays. No for-profit construction may occur on Sundays or Statutory Holidays in Coquitlam. Working hours can be among developers' greatest challenges, as construction needs to progress according to the project timeline.

Weather is also another challenge for developers. When construction is halted due to the weather, project timelines are delayed, which often means construction crews will continue working in a community longer than expected. At Adera, building construction takes place year-round but the ideal time for construction is in the summer, when weather conditions are the best, daylight is prolonged, and projects can advance the quickest. 

Strategies for lowering noise levels and reducing emissions in construction

Besides being mindful of the seasons and municipality regulations, the best way to lower noise levels and emissions on construction sites is through the use of mass timber.

Mass timber is manufactured off-site, thereby limiting the amount of construction and heavy machinery noise heard at a building site. Mass timber is also prefabricated, which allows it to be brought onto the site solely for installation, thereby reducing construction time, noise, and disturbance.

Using mass timber also involves cranes, which are often relatively silent, to unload prefabricated panels off transport trucks. Usually, only one transport truck is needed on-site at a time, limiting the amount of traffic and vehicle noise significantly. Unlike traditional wood-framed buildings, which need to be hammered and nailed onsite by workers, mass timber buildings require fewer people on site, and installation is virtually silent.

At Adera, we’ve prioritized using SmartWood, our proprietary building material made of cross-laminated timber (CLT), for a variety of reasons, including its ability to sequester carbon while contributing to a more positive construction experience for the community.

In addition to mass timber construction, another strategy implemented at Adera is relationship building between the company and the communities in which our buildings are built.

We make an effort to reach out to neighbours early in the project timeline and continue to ensure lines of communication with the Site Superintendents remain throughout the construction process. Having a direct line of communication between neighbours and the developer has been instrumental in Adera’s construction success in many communities. Using an in-house Site Superintendent allows neighbour concerns, if any, to come directly through Adera, allowing our teams to address these concerns promptly.

As established communities continue to densify, developers must recognize that construction noise and emissions will continue to impact residents.

With various challenges, including municipality regulations, limited hours, weather conditions and holidays continuing to cause interruptions, developers must incorporate new strategies into their existing practices to keep positive relationships with the communities they are building in. Using prefabricated mass timber, working with in-house construction teams, prioritizing work in the summer months and practicing Good Neighbour Policies are all ways to limit construction fatigue while building positive relationships with neighbours.

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