The Carolina Hurricanes have been calling themselves the “loudest house” in the National Hockey League for years, and if recent playoff games are proof, PNC Arena will in fact leave your ears ringing.
What stadium is actually the loudest in the NHL is obviously up for contention, with many fan groups claiming the title. But the Hurricanes claim dates back to 2002, when the franchise was on one of its first deep playoff runs, according to Mike Sundheim, vice president of communications and team services for the team.
That year the Canes made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals before losing to the Detroit Red Wings, but the nickname for what was then called the RBC Center stuck around, said Sundheim, who has worked with the Canes for 21 seasons.
So far this year, the highest decibel readings in PNC Arena, which has jammed nearly 20,000 fans in the building at times in these playoffs, has been around 117 decibels, according to Chris Greenley, the team’s senior director of CanesVision and in-game marketing.
Though that reading isn’t quite a true reflection of how loud it can get in the arena, he said.
The decibel meter sits next to Greenley, who himself is located in the stadium’s control room on the top floor of the building. That means it is recording the noise at the top of the building rather than on the ice, which is where the crowd’s chants and screams are directed.
Efforts are underway to perhaps get a more accurate depiction of what level players are encountering.
“It is measured in real time on a decibel meter that sits by me,” Greenley said in an email. “However, we are trying to relocate it to get a more accurate measurement of the volume in the bowl near ice level where it is the loudest.”
He added that the noise level is probably about 8 to 10 decibels higher on the ice level.
That means fans sitting rinkside and the players on center ice could be exposed to noise levels of nearly 130 decibels, a noise amount that many fans online remember the arena reaching during past Stanley Cup Finals.
To put that in perspective, 130 decibels is the equivalent of a military jet aircraft taking off from an aircraft carrier with an afterburner, according to a noise comparison chart from Purdue University.
The players have noted that the loudness of the arena has been an advantage for them this playoffs, where they are still undefeated at home going into Game 3 versus the Boston Bruins on Tuesday night.
“It’s loud in there and … they are smart fans and they know exactly when to cheer,” Hurricanes forward Jordan Martinook said during the sweep of the New York Islanders last round. “You take so much energy from that.”
The sound level of 115 decibels is comparable to something like a steel mill or an especially loud rock concert, according to the Purdue chart.
Something similar to 70 decibels is a vacuum cleaner.
Significant noise difference
The decibel scale is logarithmic, so the difference between 130 decibels and 115 decibels is actually quite significant, said Philip Griffin, an audiologist at UNC School of Medicine.
Though he warned that you have to be careful with stadium measurements.
“I remember seeing a shot for the (Seattle) Seahawks back in the Super Bowl, and they said it was loudest stadium ever,” Griffin said in a phone interview. “They showed it at 135 decibels, but they were actually using a different scale” so it was misleading.
He added that it sounds like the Hurricanes measurements are more realistic.
Griffin, who both teaches at UNC and treats patients, did caution that being exposed to noise levels like that for an extended period of time can be damaging to ears, noting that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration actually has guidelines for how long workers can be exposed to certain noise levels.
Griffin said he often treats musicians who have been exposed to live music for long periods of time, though athletes haven’t really been a large patient group.
“If you were to listen at 110 decibels continuously OSHA says you can only take 30 minutes of that,” Griffin said. “After 30 minutes you are in the risk of permanent hearing damage.”
Most of that damage is going to be on the more subtle side of hearing ability, he said. And while noise levels affect everyone differently, a general rule is that if there is “ringing in your ears, you can assume that was too much noise for you.”
Griffin said he always brings hearing protection to music events and regularly uses a decibel reader on his phone to see how loud a room is.
Noise exposure levels
A study from 2006 actually looked at noise levels during the Stanley Cup playoffs, specifically measuring noise levels during the finals between the Carolina Hurricanes and the Edmonton Oilers. The study, however, only took measurements at home games in Edmonton.
But it found that the average exposure levels for each game, which were each longer than three hours, were between 100.7 decibels and 104.1 decibels.
Eighty-five decibels for eight hours is considered the maximum allowable daily noise dose per day, the study says, but the louder the noise the less time you are recommended to be exposed to it.
“For the levels experienced in game 3 of (that) series (104.1 average decibels), the time to reach the maximum allowable daily noise dose was less than 6 minutes,” the study reported. “In terms of projected noise dose, each person in the arena not wearing hearing protection received about 8,100% of their daily allowable noise dose.”
“If you are someone who relies on hearing for your job or your enjoyment, where you work in an Emergency Room or in the military or are a musician, those people really should be taking care of their hearing,” Griffin said. “Everyone should be ideally.”