Sounds of silence are increasingly elusive in the COVID-19 era

Canadians are just a few weeks removed from observing the first anniversary of a lockdown that changed the way we labour, communicate and celebrate.

The magnitude of the COVID-19 pandemic became evident when we were asked to do practically everything from our homes. This made many Canadians experience the weekday sounds of their neighbourhood for the first time.

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When Research Co. and Glacier Media asked Canadians about their experiences over the past year, 28% told us that their home has become noisier. A similar proportion (27%) say their city or town is noisier than it was a year ago, while slightly fewer (23%) feel the same way about the street where they live.

It would be easy to envision a generational war on silence, where older respondents are more likely to complain about the current state of affairs. The reality is completely different. Canadians aged 55 and over are the least likely to say that their city or town is noisier than it was in 2020 (21%), compared with 28% among their counterparts aged 35 to 54 and 33% among those aged 18 to 34.

Regionally, just over three in 10 British Columbians (31%) say their surroundings are noisier this year, followed by those who live in Saskatchewan and Manitoba (28%), Quebec (also 28%), Ontario (27%), Alberta (21%) and Atlantic Canada (18%).

In 2020, we learned that Canadians who were compelled to work from home were enjoying the experience and hoping they could continue to do so once the COVID-19 pandemic is a thing of the past. Many of these professionals who turned kitchen tables into work desks may be finding it difficult to concentrate on the tasks at hand because of audible distractions.

We asked Canadians if 14 different sources of noise have bothered them over the past year while they were at home. Three in 10 (30%) point the finger at unnecessary noise from vehicles, such as motorcycles and cars revving up.

Three other noises are a bother for at least one in five Canadians: dogs barking (24%), loud people outside their home (20%) and car alarms (also 20%). Loud music appears to be equally bothersome coming from a vehicle (18%) or a nearby home (16%). In British Columbia, we could blame the weather for pushing loud stereos in cars to 22%, the highest number recorded in the entire country.

The proportion of Canadians who despise human-made noises is similar, with 18% bothered by yelling or screaming at a home nearby and 16% upset with loud gatherings or parties. While every Canadian jurisdiction has rules in place for the proper use of car horns, 12% of respondents complained about motorists using theirs excessively – including 17% of those in Atlantic Canada.

Fireworks – an undesirable occurrence for Canadians with infants and pets – are a nuisance for 16% of Canadians, jumping to a striking 28% in British Columbia.

Finally, 9% of Canadians were bothered by a home alarm – a particularly annoying event if there is nobody around to reset the system – and 5% recall hearing cats meowing loudly.

The incidence of noises that disturb us at home diminishes uniformly from one coast to the other, from a high of 72% in British Columbia to a low of 61% in Atlantic Canada. Only 34% of Canadians were not bothered by any of these noises in the past year – a proportion that rises to 40% among those aged 55 and over.

We may be quick to recall the noises that disturb us, but only 21% of Canadians have taken steps to deal with them directly. The most popular option is wearing earplugs or earmuffs to mitigate noise while inside the home (12%), followed by acquiring hardware, such as noise-cancelling headphones or earphones (7%). Significantly fewer Canadians have reported noise concerns to the police (5%) or moved away from their previous home because of noise (4%).

It is also worth noting that the biggest audible nuisance recalled by Canadians is created by people who operate their vehicles with a voracious need to gratuitously announce their presence. •

Mario Canseco is president of Research Co.

Results are based on an online survey conducted from January 24 to January 26, 2021, among 1,000 adults in Canada. The data has been statistically weighted according to Canadian census figures for age, gender and region in Canada. The margin of error, which measures sample variability, is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

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