Complaining neighbors get primetime attention

After several decades of rapid population growth and insufficient residential construction, Sweden is now at the height of a major building boom. Construction companies are pushing the limits of their capacity. And, to catch up with the exceptional demand, this means that a significant share of the workforce is consists of project employed EU migrants.

Like other European countries, the Swedish authorities in charge of housing environment have established strict rules and regulations regarding acceptable levels for noise, vibration and dust – inside and outside of regular working hours.

Incessant noise and vibrations

In practice, however, these regulations are not always respected. New homes are highly needed, which may tempt some local officials and politicians to look the other way. Construction companies often work against the clock to meet strict deadlines and to avoid penalty payments for being late. Also, many of the migrant workers naturally want to make the most of their limited time in the country.

Rules and regulations are not always respected

In a recent TV newscast, residents in the southern city of Malmö described how incessant noise and vibrations from construction sites, also during evenings and weekends, make their home environment unbearable. According to the newscast, several families have already moved out to avoid the problems. Says one tenant:

“The noise and vibrations from the building site cause a lot of mental strain. You can feel the vibrations from the piling throughout your body. We have asked them to measure it, but they say that the case is already closed.”

Similar disturbances are being reported from many other cities around the country. As regions and cities increasingly compete to keep and attract businesses as well as events and tourists, negative publicity such as these cannot be neglected.

Beside the inconveniences for tenants, home owners, schools and businesses, in the immediate surroundings, there are several other factors to consider. Unhealthy work environments obviously being one of them.

Monitoring noise and vibrations

The Environmental Protection Agency (Naturvårdsverket) has published general recommendations on the issue, including responsibilities, preventive measures and limits for noise and vibrations. To avoid the risk of unacceptable disturbances, it is clearly stated that the building site management should map out the neighboring area and conduct careful calculations and/or monitor the actual disturbances.

“I was quite surprised when I saw this on TV”, says Roger Lindstrand at Sigicom in Stockholm. “Normally, the first thing a construction company or real estate owner would do when people complain is to ask a consultant to measure and document the actual level of disturbance. Within a couple of hours, they can start monitoring both noise and vibrations in the same system. Then you can compare the actual noise and vibrations with the recommended limits, hour by hour.”  

From an international perspective, the Swedish home construction boom is by no means unique. Measured as investments in relation to total GNP, it is actually lower than the EU average. But for many years Sweden was lagging behind the neighboring countries. And now, as most of Europe is slowing down, the Swedish construction market is accelerating.