Are you planning to open a veterinary hospital? A doggy daycare? A kennel? A private dog park? If so, then make sure that you consider the noise issues ahead of time (i.e., the barking)! Although these types of projects only account for a small portion of our work at Acoustics By Design, we end up assisting with noise control for at least a couple of these animal facilities every year. And when it comes to building the perfect doggy daycare or kennel, there is always a common list of acoustic roadblocks.
Roadblock # 1: The primary acoustical issue to address is the noise impact on the community. Animal facilities routinely meet resistance from residential neighbors. This resistance can sometimes be enough to prevent owners from receiving the necessary permits to construct and operate the facility. Some county and city governments will require the owner to prepare a technical assessment to predict the resulting noise at nearby properties. This prediction will usually include sound level measurements from similar facilities or a calculation based on the number of dogs, distance to the residents, benefit from any intervening walls, and other factors specific to the facility design and the site. The noise assessment needs to consider not only existing developed property adjacent to the planned facility, but also any nearby undeveloped residential property.
A past project of mine comes to mind. I was asked by the project architect to provide a noise impact study for a 48 dog SPCA (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) shelter that they were designing. The County required a noise study be done before building permits were issued. With the architectural design almost complete, the architect and the building owner were surprised that a noise study was being required of them. I arrived at the project site to measure the existing ambient conditions. The site was located in the desert and the nearest houses were a half mile away. There was nothing nearby but packed sand and sage brush. However, the empty desert property immediately adjacent to my client’s property was zoned for residential development. Fortunately, my client’s parcel was large and the facility was to be situated such that it would be several hundred feet from the property line. This distance was sufficient to attenuate the noise to below the County’s 55 dBA (Leq) daytime noise limit. Unfortunately, not every doggy-daycare has the luxury of large distances between their facility and the property lines.
Roadblock # 2: An even worse scenario is to build a doggy daycare or kennel in a county that doesn’t have measurable noise level restrictions. These counties rely on subjective definitions of terms such as “noise nuisance” or “disturbing noise.” Working against such subjective definitions is always an uphill climb, and some residences will find the barking to be “disturbing” no matter what the definition.
Roadblock # 3: Another noise issue that we are regularly asked to address during design (and perhaps more often after move-in) is barking in waiting rooms and in-door kennels. The basic solution for both is to include sound absorbing finishes in the design of the room. For reception and waiting areas, there are sound absorbing finishes to suit any aesthetic. For indoor kennels, the selection is much more limited because it is often a facility requirement to be able to wash the ceiling, walls, and floor with high pressure sprayers. Still, there are a handful of suitable sound absorbing finishes.
Some years ago, I was asked to look (and listen) to a newly constructed, 150 dog, County pound. This indoor kennel was one large room with a poured concrete floor and walls and a ceiling of exposed metal deck. It was rare for more than about 10 dogs to bark simultaneously, however, even with this small percentage of the dogs barking, it disturbed the facilities personnel whose offices had doors opening to the kennel and windows to the kennel. In this case, the designer should have specified acoustical seals as part of the door hardware packages, and they should have required window glazing that would provide better sound isolation. These were relatively low cost items that could have been included in the design. The most beneficial solution, however, would have been to treat the entire ceiling of the kennel with a sound absorbing material, though that would have had a much higher price tag.
I will close with a suggestion to owners of private dog parks, doggy daycares, and boarding facilities. Offer discounts and free initial year memberships to your immediate neighbors. Some facilities, especially dog parks, have operating permits that must be renewed every few years. If your neighbors are customers, they will likely support the renewal rather than oppose it.