Of all our senses, one of the most pronounced is hearing. Many sounds are pleasant, while others, like pounding construction noise, can set our teeth on edge. For well over half a century, Valcoustics Canada Ltd. has been one of the world’s foremost leaders in sound solutions.
Taking on projects for clients in government, residential home construction, manufacturing, institutional and other areas, Valcoustics works with architects, engineers, planners, developers, and builders to create innovative, informed, and successful solutions for any acoustical challenges.
“We focus exclusively on acoustics, noise and vibration. It’s a niche field that can be further separated into environmental acoustics, architectural acoustics, structural vibration, and monitoring,” says Michael Lightstone, in charge of project management and business development for Valcoustics. “The business has evolved over the years. We do a lot more construction noise and vibration monitoring and structural vibration assessments than we did before.”
Noise pollution control
Sound drastically affects the quality and outcome of our daily lives, reflected in the many services Valcoustics provides.
From building design – room acoustics, sound isolation, noise and vibration control – to construction noise and vibration monitoring, environmental noise and vibration studies, wind farm noise, and more, Valcoustics has played a pivotal role in noise legislation policies and served as an expert witness before land use tribunals and sometimes the courts.
One of Valcoustics’ key services is developing acoustical procedures, training seminars, design standards, and guidelines for clients Canada-wide.
This includes many initiatives that touch on Canadians’ daily lives such as Environmental Noise Guideline NPC-300 for the Ontario Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks (MECP); the Ontario MECP Offshore Wind Farm Noise Model Assessment; and Acoustical Design Guidelines for Ontario, British Columbia and Federal Courthouse Facilities.
When the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) and the Railway Association of Canada (RAC) released the revised “Guidelines for New Development in Proximity to Railway Operations,” Valcoustics was retained to provide seminars for planners and acoustical consultants throughout the country on the proper use of the guideline. When the City of Toronto recently updated its noise bylaw, Valcoustics created a manual for By-Law officers to govern implementation and was also retained to train the officers entrusted with enforcement.
“We also regularly train municipalities on issues of noise, mostly in the context of land use planning,” says Lightstone of the company, which has provided training seminars for staff from the Region of Peel, Mississauga, Hamilton, London, and other cities.
Decades of sound experience
As a student, Al Lightstone (P.Eng.) had a keen interest in sound and acoustics. While at the University of Toronto, he took an undergraduate course in acoustics in engineering school, taught by Professor George Henderson, who also had a busy consulting practice.
Soon, the young Lightstone was working in Henderson’s lab as a teaching assistant, deepening and broadening his knowledge and skills. This led Henderson to expand his private practice that he started in the 1950s, which is the origin of Valcoustics.
Dr. Lightstone has been involved in the field of acoustics with Valcoustics for over 50 years, with 2024 marking Valcoustics’ 70th year in business. Today, the company continues evolving into environmental, architecture and similar areas to meet the needs of clients from the east coast to the west.
And as provinces like Ontario focus on more housing and urban intensification, construction is bustling, with noise fast becoming a critical consideration in terms of urban disruption and planning.
“We are a company that’s always looking to provide practical, innovative, team-based solutions,” says Lightstone, “and we are usually part of a multi-disciplinary team addressing the client’s objectives. Understanding that, we put our best foot forward to make sure that the best possible outcome happens for the project.”
Partnering for project success
Thanks to Valcoustics’ unique experience in specialized services, much of the company’s business is through word-of-mouth and repeat clients. As a business-to-business enterprise, Valcoustics works frequently with government and large corporations as well as with architects and other engineering firms. “We know what we are,” says Principal Engineer and Chief Executive Officer John Emeljanow, who has been with the company since 1989.
Valcoustics has regularly been engaged on large P3 (Public Private Partnership) works in Ontario, including the new Toronto Courthouse and the addition to Michael Garron (formerly East General) Hospital. The company recently participated in Phase 1C for CAMH, The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and expansions/renovations to Mount Sinai and St. Michael’s hospitals.
With Valcoustics expanding its footprint across Canada, works under construction or recently completed include the Abbotsford Courthouse, the Riverview Hospital (Coquitlam), the Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops and the Penticton Regional Hospital Patient Care Tower Project, all in British Columbia.
Other large interprovincial projects include the Calgary Cancer Centre (Alberta), the new Corner Brook Acute Care Hospital in Newfoundland, and the Mills Memorial Hospital Replacement in Terrace, British Columbia. Abroad, Valcoustics was instrumental in the Canada Pavilion for Expo 2020 in Dubai, and in design for Four Seasons Hotels projects, such as the Nile Plaza Hotel in Egypt and others. From time to time, Valcoustics has had the opportunity to undertake a variety of projects internationally in the U.S., Europe, Central America, Asia and the Middle East.
“We are expanding our footprint in terms of where we’ll do a lot of work,” says Emeljanow. “Before, although we have done lots of work elsewhere, we were naturally focused on southern Ontario; now, we are expanding across the country. And even though Valcoustics sounds very specialized, acoustics has broad application. We have our toes dipped everywhere.”
Today, in addition to the offices in the Greater Toronto Area, the company has staff in Vancouver, Ottawa, and Kingston with plans to keep expanding.
As hospitals and other types of projects that the company takes on were deemed essential, COVID-19 hasn’t slowed down the volume of work.
Not all the company’s doings are directly related to construction. Valcoustics is involved with land use planning processes, as well as pre-design and facility planning and development activities in the background – all related to acoustics.
The company is busier than ever, especially with developers and municipalities initiating projects to address the housing shortfall in Canada. That said, finding good, passionate people to work for the company remains a challenge. Since it is rare to find applicants with an appropriate background, the company emphasizes training, explains Lightstone, who has been with the company since 2005.
“It’s not like mechanical engineering where you have a mechanical engineering degree and can start being productive on day one in a junior job. The acoustics field is so broad and interdisciplinary – for example, involving environmental, planning, architectural, structural, mechanical, and electrical engineering aspects – and we are doing a little bit of everything. There are very few specialized acoustical programs in the world, and obviously there’s lead-up training to get people to where we want them. The broader you make it, the longer it takes to become a specialist.”
Once a client…
The company aims to become involved early on with projects including acoustical feasibility and due diligence studies, noise regulations, secondary plans, land use and environmental approvals, detailed design, noise-control features, and more. As Valcoustics gains new clients, it remains involved with existing clients, a number of whom have been with Valcoustics for many years, some for decades.
One of the company’s longest annual contracts has been with the Walker Brothers Quarry in Niagara Falls, Ontario. Kicking off with initial approvals and acoustical audit measurements, Valcoustics began its journey with the company in 1988.
Another long-term client is Redpath Sugar, a continuing relationship which first started in 1995. Located on Toronto’s waterfront, the Redpath sugar refinery is a major Class 3 (heavy) industry located in an area transitioning from wholly industrial/commercial to a combination of industrial, commercial, institutional and newly built/under construction residential developments, where noise and vibration and land use compatibility are critical considerations.
“We work from rezoning and official plan amendment all the way to the end of construction,” says Lightstone. The company assists wherever it can, including in design, sound isolation, and mechanical noise control. And once construction has started, Valcoustics is there to perform vibration monitoring when required to protect adjacent facilities.
“Acoustics may seem very specialized, but people don’t realize how it impacts our everyday lives,” says Emeljanow. “It’s where we live, it’s how we travel, and it’s where we work, with noise control, speech intelligibility and privacy being relevant in all.
It’s where we play, and entertain, from churches to theatres – noise is everywhere. You don’t necessarily recognize it until you start thinking about it. It’s very broad in terms of what we get involved with.”