Ear to the Ground

What’s the difference between a Noise Study and a Land Use Compatibility Study?

Noise and Land Use Compatibility

Welcome to another edition of our series on Frequently Asked Questions in association with Noise, Vibration and Acoustics. My name is Sheeba Paul and I’m an Associate and Senior Acoustical Engineer with the Land Use Group at HGC Engineering. Today’s question is one we’ve received from a number of clients and from inquiries to our website, and that is: What is the difference between a Noise Study and a Land Use Compatibility Study?

What is a Noise Study?

I think I’ll explain what a Noise Study is first. A Noise Study is often required by the municipality or other reviewing authority, such as a railway operator. And this is one of the many studies that are often required for a residential development application as it proceeds through the process.

Transportation and Stationary Noise Sources

For a Noise Study we look at both transportation and stationary noise near a development site. Often there can be road, rail, subway traffic, street car, or aircraft noise. These are all transportation noise sources, and we do noise predictions of these noise sources to determine what the sound levels are at the development site.

For the stationary noise portion, we always conduct a site visit, have a look around at the area and determine if there are any significant noise sources such as a commercial or grocery store uses, or an industrial facility that could have noise sources which may impact a development site.

Noise Measurements and Modeling

As part of that review we will talk to different people during a site visit. We will ask about and look at what noise sources exist. We can do noise measurements on site; or we can use noise measurement data of similar equipment obtained from previous projects, and then come up with a noise model to determine whether there are any noise impacts at the development site.

Noise Mitigation Recommendations

And then, if applicable, we’ll propose some noise mitigation recommendations for the site.  It can be things like noise barriers or upgraded architectural and construction solutions for noise mitigation. We might also recommend adding a noise warning clause to development agreements.

There are a number of ways to mitigate noise and it can be done either at the residential development site or it can be done at the nearby commercial or industrial site, if there is some cooperation with that commercial or industrial user. All of the information that is included in the noise report assists the municipality or reviewing authority in coming up with a development agreement or subdivision agreement that becomes a legally binding document between the municipality or reviewing authority and the developer. This agreement provides direction to the developer on noise control measures that they intend to incorporate during construction.

What is a Land Use Compatibility Study?

The second part of our question is: What is a Land Use Compatibility Study?

Sometimes we get asked: Can you do a noise brief? And I tell clients that really there is really no such a thing as a noise brief. We really do need to go to the development site and do some detailed review and calculations.

Ontario D1-D6 Land Use Compatibility Guidelines

So what starts off as a request for a noise brief often ends up becoming a Land Use Compatibility Study, which is a somewhat of a longer study and document, and this Compatibility Study uses Ontario D1-D6 Land Use Compatibility Guidelines from the Ontario Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks (MECP). These guidelines outline how to approach acoustical analysis for a development site. The D1-D6 guidelines looks at the classifications of various industries and minimum recommended distance setbacks.

Land Uses Compatible with Industrial Facilities

In the province of Ontario there are three designated classes of industrial facilities: Class I, II and III.

  • Class I industrial facilities are businesses that have daytime operations only.
  • Class II can be an industry that has both day and evening operations and some shift work and has outdoor storage as well, for example.
  • Class III involves much more heavy industry and is really not compatible with a residential type of or other sensitive type of land uses.

So we look at industries surrounding a possible development, classify them as I, II, or III and then look at what kind of distances we’re getting from our development site to these industries.

There are some zones of influence that are used. There are also some minimum recommended setbacks. So once we know the industrial facilities classification, we know the minimum setbacks.

We can then do a Noise Study, review the different noise sources and determine if there are any excesses. And once a technical study, such as a Noise Study, is completed we can propose recommendations if required. There could be some instances where a buffer or noise wall is needed, or some sort of noise mitigation solution either on the development site or at the industry or stationary noise site.

Environmental Compliance Approval (ECA)

The Land Use Compatibility Study is really there to try and ensure that any industry or commercial use does not get impacted by the introduction of a residential development. So we also look at whether any active Environmental Compliance Approvals or ECAs are already in place with the Ministry of the Environment form these industries. Perhaps the industry has already done some sort of acoustic assessment, or some review of noise in terms of their operations and are already on their way to kind of making the area compliant and suitable with existing residences (if any) which will help them with future surrounding residential uses as well.


So really, the difference between the two types of studies that I’ve discussed is that a Noise Study encompasses both transportation and stationary noise sources. It’s all encompassing in one large study. While a Land Use Compatibility Study really only looks at setback distances and whether any existing industries or other facilities may be impacted by a development and how we can mitigate any noise so that the land uses are compatible.

I should mention at this point that some of the terms that I’ve used up until now are related to residential, industrial and commercial land uses in Ontario, but the concepts presented here can certainly still be applied (perhaps under different terminology) in other jurisdictions and/or other countries.

If you have any further questions on this topic, or you have a site-specific case where you require assistance, please feel free to reach out to me and I’d be happy to discuss your unique site and project and come up with some recommendations and solutions specific to your needs.