Changing the Shape of Mixed-Use Residential Projects

Discover New Ideas of Community Living that Combine how we Live, Work and Play

Mixed-use residential units offer city dwellers the luxury of being able to grab a bite for lunch, go to the gym, drop their dog off at daycare and enjoy live jazz without getting in their car.

In many cities where space is a premium, mixed-use residential buildings are becoming increasingly common. Developers combine retail, residential, and commercial uses into one vibrant location. Condo amenities are no longer limited to a swimming pool or small gym. Today, developers are expanding amenities that service neighbouring areas such as grocery stores, fitness centres, restaurants and even co-working spaces. Surprisingly doggy daycares are one of the most in-demand amenities in these kinds of buildings.

Convenient Amenities Shouldn’t be a Burden

But buildings with multiple uses can be a blessing or a curse. Combining a residential space with a place to socialize can bring multiple challenges that need to be addressed before construction. For example, a restaurant may need a patio but it means condo owners need to keep their windows closed to keep the noise out. Or a doggy daycare nearby might mean barking day and night.

Condo owners should not have to worry about whether or not to open their windows or wear noise cancelling headphones. With proper planning, residents and commercial venues can co-exist in peace.

Things to Consider When Building Mixed-Use Residential

For developers looking to build a mixed-use space, there are some key considerations:

1. Think beyond the building code

In a residential building, noise means worrying about the neighbour’s sound system or foot-fall but a mixed-use building needs to consider the potential noise from non-residential tenants, such as the grocery store loading dock, large fitness centre, three floors of offices and possibly the dogs being cared for downstairs. It’s important to understand what people might hear so you have a sense of what potential residents might face. A lot of builders, architects and designers consider noise from just a Building Code perspective and assume that if they meet code requirements, they won’t face any major issues or complaints.

My previous blog talks about Building Code changes that affect suite owners living adjacent to each other. Restricting design to just the code requirements is short-sighted. You can meet every acoustic code but that won’t cover the potential noise issues around circulation with building residents, members of the public and deliveries for the stores. Having deliveries at early hours or trucks entering and exiting loading docks can be a nightmare acoustically. This article by our friends at McIntosh Perry explains why designing to the minimum Ontario Building Code (OBC) requirements might not get you a pass when it comes to sound transmission class (STC) rating.

Here are some noise elements that are not in the Ontario Building Code but you should consider for mixed-use residential buildings:

  • Impact noise like the sound of weights hitting the ground in a gym or the ball hitting the wall in a squash court
  • Noise from outside
  • Noise that will go through windows

Remember the code is great, but it is a MINIMUM standard. If you’re advertising your development as high end, you should make sure your acoustic design reflects that intent.


2. Seek professional advice during the design phase:

Once you have identified potential sources of noise, consider hiring an acoustical consultant to help you during the design process. Our team has been called in the past to determine the noise impact of a new restaurant and patio. We were asked to do noise monitoring before and after opening to determine the impact. While this may appear effective, it’s not the best application of resources. It would have been more cost-effective for the developer to bring in experts during the design phase to determine the potential noise and build in a way that mitigates noise.

Take the time to complete a model of your mixed-use residential project or get an idea of what the sound levels will be on people’s balconies, in living rooms and inside people’s bedrooms. These are often not difficult exercises and knowledge of the impact beforehand gives you ample opportunity to address the mitigation while constructing the tenant space, incorporating acoustic mitigation at that early stage.

It’s much more expensive to fix noise issues post-construction particularly if you’re under pressure to find a fix from your condo buyers.

3. Understand that some separation is okay:

Mixing residential and commercial is a bit of a misnomer. There are times when some kind of separation is the best option. For example, if you have a mixed condo that allows long and short-term rentals, consider separating the rental and owned spaces. Even if there are fewer rentals than owned units, it is best to have separate dedicated elevators for rentals as there will be significant usage due to tenants moving in and out multiple times a month, throughout the year which can be inconvenient and noisy for permanent residents. The same applies for shipping and loading docks. Consider positioning these away from residential units to accommodate the needs of the commercial units without impacting the residents.


No one wants to create a building for residential and commercial purposes and then face a barrage of complaints from unhappy residents and tenants due to noise. Before signing, ensure everyone is clear about their expectations of the space. When designing mixed-use residential buildings, it’s important to be proactive in determining and managing potential noise issues. Because a good developer who has looked at these things will be all too happy to share and demonstrate how much further they’ve gone compared to their competition.