How Loud Is Too Loud: Decibel levels of common sounds

too loud. damage hearingNoise is measured in units called decibels (dB), on a scale from zero to 140. The higher the number in decibels, the louder the noise. The louder the noise, the greater the risk of hearing loss. Hearing loss can occur with regular exposure to noise levels of 110 decibels or more for periods longer than one minute. No more than 15 minutes of unprotected exposure to 100 decibels is recommended. Long-term exposure to 80-85 decibels or over can cause hearing loss.

Here is a list of common noises and their decibel levels:

  • Aircraft at take-off (180)
  • Fireworks (140)
  • Snowmobile (120)
  • Chain saw (110)
  • Amplified music (110)
  • Lawn mower (90)
  • Noisy office (90)
  • Vacuum cleaner (80)
  • City traffic (80)
  • Normal conversation (60)
  • Refrigerator humming (40)
  • Whisper (20)
  • Leaves rustling (10)
  • Calm breathing (10)

Noise levels of 130 decibels or over will be painful and is very likely to cause immediate hearing damage.

Perceptions of increases in decibel level

The list below gives you an idea of how noticable a change in decibel level will be to you:

  • 1dB  –  Not noticable
  • 3dB  –  Barely noticeable
  • 5dB  –  Clearly noticeable change
  • 10dB  –  About twice as loud
  • 20dB  –  About four times as loud

Decibels are measured on a  logarithmic scale, which means that the difference between values increases as the values get larger. For example, the difference between 10dB and 20dB is smaller than the difference between 100dB and 110dB. Logarithmic values are used to make reading what would be large number much easier. If decibels were rated on a linear scale, i.e. the difference between 10dB and 20dB would be the same as the difference between 100dB and 110dB, then instead of writing 100dB we would have to write 10000000000dB.

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