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The primary impact of road-traffic vibration is perception or ‘feeling’ vibration, which might cause concern or disturbance.  Road-traffic vibration seldom reaches levels that could cause damage to buildings or structures.

  • What are the impacts of road-traffic vibration?

    The primary impact of road-traffic vibration is perception or ‘feeling’ vibration. There is a wide range of sensitivity to vibration, with some people able to feel low levels of vibration.

    People can generally feel very low-levels of vibration when they are focused - especially when they are resting or completing an activity which is quiet and/or requires concentration. This is particularly true when there is noise associated with a vibration event, such as the noise of a heavy vehicle passing by coincident with vibration.

    In some case, vibration might be annoying - especially at night when it is generally quieter inside and outside of a house, and both noise and vibration are more noticeable. This annoyance can occasionally lead to sleep disruption or concerns about damage to your house or property.

    Although some people become concerned, it is unlikely road-traffic vibration levels will be high enough to cause cracks or other structural or aesthetic damage to a building.

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  • Will you measure vibration at my house?

    The Transport Agency does not routinely undertake vibration monitoring in response to customer complaints and queries. If you are concerned about vibration at your house, we will undertake the following process:

    • review the location of your house with respect to the road
    • review records of road surface condition near your house
    • potentially conduct a site visit to review the current road-surface condition and to observe felt vibration when heavy vehicles pass by

    In most cases, problematic vibration arises from a defect in the road surface such as potholes, rutting or a poor transition to a manhole cover.  Vibration monitoring is not required to identify these defects, as they will be visible to the person reviewing the query/complaint.

    For new roads and most existing roads, it is unlikely road-traffic vibration will exceed relevant criteria for annoyance or damage.

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  • What can the Transport Agency do to reduce vibration at my house?

    Generally, when significant vibration can be felt inside a house this is a result of a nearby road-surface defect such as a pothole, rutting, or a manhole with an abrupt transition to the surrounding road surface.

    If such a defect is confirmed, the Transport Agency will review the significance of the vibration concern, the condition of the road, and any programmed road maintenance/re-surfacing work in the area and develop a plan to repair/correct the defect, if required.

    In some cases, there may be issues with the road pavement (the engineered ‘soil’ layer that provides a strong and stable base for a smooth road surface) which can cause vibration to travel farther from the road and/or be more noticeable. In such cases, the Transport Agency will review the requirement to re-construct the road pavement. This is a major undertaking, and if required, would likely be programmed in at the time of the next major road rehabilitation/resurfacing work in the area.

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  • I have recently noticed cracks or other damage at my house. Could this be caused by vibration from road traffic?

    People can feel vibration at levels approximately ten times lower than the level where minor building damage may occur. It is unlikely road-traffic vibration would cause cracks or other structural or aesthetic damage to buildings. Typically cracks and other similar damage result from building construction defects, natural building ageing effects or ground movement (beneath foundations), such as that resulting from clay shrinkage or building settlement.

    However, people can notice existing damage such as cracks in a wall or ceiling lining if they notice vibration from a road or other sources. This is because feeling vibration can raise concern of damage and can draw attention to existing damage that was previously unnoticed or forgotten.

    Concerns about vibration can be heightened by noise, for instance the noise of a loud truck passing by may cause your windows to rattle or ground vibration might cause glasses in a cabinet to rattle.  This noise may make vibration levels seem greater than they actually are.  This is particularly true at night, when it is generally quieter inside and outside a house, and both noise and vibration are more noticeable.

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  • What factors influence road-traffic vibration levels at my house?

    There are several factors which influence vibration arising from road traffic at nearby houses. These include the following:

    Distance from road to house: Vibration levels decrease with distance from the road. Although it is unlikely, vibration levels may occasionally exceed annoyance criteria when a house is located within 20m of the active carriageway of a road. At distances greater than 20m it becomes increasingly less likely annoyance criteria will be exceeded.

    Condition of road surface: In most cases where significant vibration is identified, the cause is a defect in the road surface, such as a pothole, rutting, or a poor transition to a manhole cover.

    Traffic conditions:  Road traffic vibration is related to traffic volume (number of vehicles travelling a road per day will affect frequency of occurrence), traffic speed (vibration is proportional to speed), and the number of heavy vehicles using a road. 

    Presence of underground services/utilities:  In some case vibration might travel farther distances from a road or occur at higher levels if underground services are poorly constructed (generally poor backfilling of a trench), and/or if services such as waterlines or drains, are leaking causing deterioration of trench backfill.

    Ground conditions:  The magnitude of vibration and the distance vibration levels are felt can depend on the both the soil type and the stratification of soil.  Vibration travels farther in hard/stiff soils than in loose/soft soils. Vibration can also travel ‘preferentially’ in hard/stiff layers of soil. 

    House foundation/construction type and condition:  The type and condition of house foundation can influence vibration levels felt inside.  Vibration is more likely to be felt in houses with foundations in poor condition, foundations with ‘rigid’ connections between the ground and the house, and/or with significant surface area contact between the ground and the foundation.  House construction can also influence the vibration levels felt inside, such as whether there is a timber or concrete floor.

    Road pavement condition:  In some cases, road pavements (the engineered soil layer provided beneath the road surface to allow for a stable and smooth road surface) deteriorate over time causing defects in the road surface that might cause vibration issues. Occasionally, pavements in poor condition may also directly induce vibration in near surface soils that can be felt at nearby houses.

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  • My windows rattle when trucks pass by my house is this from vibration?

    Rattling of building components, such as windows, is most commonly caused by wind or the pressure from sound waves travelling through the air rather than from ground vibration (vibration travelling from the road through the ground to the building foundation). 

    However, ground vibration may occasionally cause windows to rattle, notably where there are defects (such as potholes or rutting) and other surface features such as manholes or road surface joints.

    Given the sound waves and ground vibration might occur at the same time it can be difficult for people to distinguish the cause of window rattling.

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  • Why is vibration worse at night?

    In most cases normal daily household activities (such as walking in a house, cleaning, cooking, etc.) cause vibration levels greater than that from road traffic. These types of activities are less common at night and thus background vibration levels are generally lower. As a result, when vibration occurs at night, it may seem to be worse, but it is likely just more noticeable in the absence of other sources of vibration. Also, at night when we are trying to sleep, lower levels of vibration may cause more potential disturbance than they would during the day.

    In some circumstances trucks may be travelling at higher speeds at night (e.g. in rural towns) and which may lead to an actual increase in vibration.

    Concerns about vibration can be heightened by noise, for instance the noise of a loud truck passing by may cause your windows to rattle, or ground vibration might cause glasses in a cabinet to rattle.  Noticing noise may make vibration levels seem greater than they actually are.  This is particularly true at night, when it is generally quieter inside and outside a house, and both noise and vibration are more noticeable.

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  • How does the Transport Agency assess the vibration effects of new or altered roads?

    There are no New Zealand Standards applicable to annoyance or damage from road traffic vibration. In the absence of a New Zealand Standard, the Transport Agency has adopted Norwegian Standard NS 8176E:2005 Vibration and shock – Measurement of vibration in buildings from land-based transport and guidance to evaluation of its effects on human beings. 

    NS8176E sets out vibration levels for roads based on human response (perception and annoyance) to vibration. The Transport Agency applies this standard to ‘vibration sensitive’ activities, such as interior residential and educational activities, hospitals and places of worship. These criteria are not applied to commercial or industrial activities or businesses. 

    For new roads, and also for significant alterations to existing roads (such as a road re-alignment bringing traffic lanes closer to a house), the Transport Agency will endeavour to meet the Class C vibration criteria in NS8176E, where practicable. Class C corresponds to the ‘recommended limit value for vibration in new residential buildings and in connection with the planning and building of new transport infrastructures’.

    For existing roads, the Transport Agency will investigate and, if appropriate and practicable, seek to mitigate road-traffic vibration in dwellings found to exceed Class D in NS 8176E. Class D corresponds to vibration conditions that ‘ought to be achieved in existing residential buildings.’

    In the same way noise from a road is heard, meeting either Class C or Class D criteria does not mean vibration will not be felt or that vibration will not cause disturbance or annoyance. These criteria are based on community response to vibration, acknowledging that while most people will find these vibration levels reasonable, a portion of the population may be annoyed/disturbed.

    The Transport Agency has also adopted the applicable criteria from both BS7385-2:1993 (Evaluation and measurement for vibration in buildings. Guide to damage levels from groundborne vibration) and DIN 4150-3:1999 (Vibration in buildings - Part 3: Effects on structures).  These international standards relate to building damage from vibration (as distinct from NS8176E, which relates to annoyance/disturbance to people). 

    The damage criteria in BS7385-2:1993 and DIN 4150-3:1999 are significantly higher than those in NZ8176E, and seldom come in to play when assessing road-traffic vibration.

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