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A decibel (dB) measures the intensity of sound.

What is a decibel?

A decibel (dB) is a unit used to measure the intensity of sound. The scale is a logarithmic one, meaning that a 10 dB increase in sound level corresponds to a tenfold increase in sound intensity (though to the human ear, the perceived difference in loudness is only twofold). 

Understanding the decibel scale

To understand the decibel scale more intuitively, the following list shows the decibel measure of common sounds:

  • 0 dB – near total silence
  • 15 dB – whisper
  • 60 dB – normal conversation 
  • 70 dB – vacuum cleaner or hair dryer 
  • 90 dB – lawn mower or motorcycle 
  • 120 dB – rock concert or jet engine
  • 140 dB – firecracker 

Decibel levels and your HVAC system

As you can see, decibel levels can vary significantly depending on the type of sound. When an HVAC system makes too much noise, not only is it disruptive, but it is a sign that energy is being wasted and not used efficiently. This may be caused by a dirty or restrictive filter, or incorrectly sized ductwork.  In order to maintain a comfortable home environment and reduce energy consumption, it’s important to ensure your HVAC system is running at an optimal noise level. 

Ideally any appliance or HVAC system should never create sound louder than 60 dB inside your home. Trane air conditioners have sound levels as low as 57 dB and heat pumps have sound levels as low as 43 dB in their quietest mode. With Trane systems, you can rest assured that our high-efficiency compressors and specially designed tonal envelopes provide low sound levels in both air conditioners and furnaces. 

How to measure decibel level

Getting a rough measurement of the decibel level of your HVAC system is relatively straightforward, though not generally necessary. All you need is a sound meter, which can be purchased online or at a local hardware store. You may also be able to download a free app on your smartphone for measuring sound as well. Once you have a sound meter, just place it near the HVAC system and record the reading. This will give you an idea of how loud your system is running, but there are several caveats.

Surrounding sounds can influence the decibel reading, as can your distance from the source. Because of this, measurements made with a sound meter or app at home should not be compared to the decibel values provided in your AC unit or heat pump manual. The provided values were measured carefully in a laboratory environment. The best way to determine if your HVAC unit is making too much noise is to ask yourself and your family members if the noise is intrusive or distracting, or if the noise levels seem to have changed recently. 

If you find that your system is too loud, there are several things you can do to reduce noise levels. For example, adding insulation around ductwork and regular maintenance can help minimize sound levels. In addition, Trane offers systems with specially designed tonal envelopes for even quieter operation. Speak with one of our experienced technicians to learn more about these.

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