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Daily Journal of Commerce (Portland, OR)

Construction sometimes can be downright noisy. But contractors working near residential and commercial properties are finding ways to reduce their impact. They range from simple to high-tech, and often involve meeting with neighbors or shifting schedules.

At the Block 17 multifamily housing project in the Pearl District, Andersen Construction senior project manager Jerrod Kowalewski brought earplugs to residents at the adjacent Sitka Apartments when noise levels rose during six weeks of pile driving. Many neighbors at home during the day complained to the city that its regulations exempted pile driving from noise decibel levels, he said.

"We know it's annoying," he said. "We work in it, so we can empathize. "

Andersen's project leaders returned neighbors' phone calls and set up a Facebook page to alleviate some concerns, Kowalewski said. The company and its pile-driving subcontractor, Vancouver, Wash.-based DeWitt Construction, experimented with use of a blanket to muffle the noise, but that method proved neither safe nor effective, he said.

"If you build a wall, the sound reverberates off the wall," he said. "If you put a pad on the hammer, it lessens the blow and takes away the energy, so you have to hit it more. "

Paul Van Orden, noise control officer for the city's Office of Neighborhood Involvement, said Andersen did a good job of being proactive and "getting the word out" that pile driving was going to happen.

"They were pretty responsive," he said. "They tried to notify the neighbors about the timing of their schedule. The psychology of noise is that if you know when the sound is going to happen, you usually react better. It's a good practice. "

At the University of Portland, Skanska USA Building is using its "inSite Monitor" to detect noise, dust and vibration levels as it constructs the Beauchamp Recreation and Wellness Center close to a residence hall and on-campus housing for priests. The monitor, which the company has used elsewhere in the U.S., is connected to a tablet computer that project managers can adjust to preset limits, said Steve Clem, vice president of preconstruction.

"The monitor is linked to an app that Skanska created so we can manage it in real time," he said. "We can adjust the monitoring levels and set them below what we've agreed to. If it gets close, the iPhone says we're getting close. "

For the U.S. Bancorp Tower project in downtown Portland, the city decided that public safety would be at risk if lobby demolition were to occur during the day, so it granted an exemption for Turner Construction to perform the work at night.

That did not always sit well with guests at the Courtyard Portland City Center hotel across the street, said Len Anderson, Turner's project superintendent. However, constant communication with the hotelier helped resolve many issues. Hotel operators would call Turner if work became too loud, and the contractor would then stop work, he said.

"It was very rare where we had to stop what we were doing," he said. "We would say, 'We're going to be doing this until 10 o'clock at night - is that a problem?' Ongoing communication was the key. "

Turner also took steps to muffle the sounds of demolition work, such as when it dropped heavy bundles of trash into an empty dumpster, Anderson said.

"An empty box magnifies the noise," he said. "We would load it earlier in the evening where it's not impacting people's sleep. That muffles a lot of the noise. "

The city will likely address the construction noise issue with public hearings starting in the fall, Van Orden said. Developers, contractors and residents would be invited to discuss concerns and the costs of new, noise-reducing technology, he said.

One possibility is creating a sound shield around piles as they are driven. That approach has been found to reduce noise levels by about 10 decibels, but an additional crane is needed to create the sound shield, Van Orden said.

Also, Andersen is in discussions with city officials and residents about the possibility of using a quieter auger drill instead of a pile driver for future projects near Block 17. The challenge with using an auger drill, Van Orden said, is that it would cost about $1 million more than they spent on pile driving.

"The city will explore those options and costs," he said. "It is hard to say what the costs are, but at a minimum, we will see if they have some applicability in Portland. "

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© 2014 Dolan Media Newswires. All Rights Reserved.

June 6, 2014

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