One of the surprises many foreigners have after moving to Shanghai is how noisy things can be when a big construction project starts. That quiet vacant lot across the street o your building may turn into a volcano of noise that slowly rises one story after another, or the once silent or vacant apartment next to you may become a source of constant pounding and drilling as the owners remodel it over a period of weeks.
Before you select a place, it’s good to look around and see if adjacent lots or buildings look like construction will soon take place. The worse situation is an old vacant building that will be demolished prior to rebuilding. Demolition in China is not a sudden event. It involves endless hours of a giant mechanical woodpecker pounding at stray blocks of cement to break them into tiny chunks. This is one of the most annoying sounds. Much better is the constant grinding sound that occurs when foundations are being dug or poured, for it sort of becomes like white noise that you can sleep through.
Fortunately, Shanghai has strict laws on noise requiring crews to become silent at night, I think by 11 PM, and to stay quiet until about 6:30 AM, giving you a chance to sleep. But these laws apply to ordinary companies and private owners, not to government projects like building a subway. We have a subway site under construction next to our house. Loud grinding and clanking noises will keep going until about midnight and then they are at it again at 3 or 4 in the morning. Pretty much noise all day long. How does one cope?
Make sure you have an apartment where your sleeping quarters will be away from the most likely construction site. That makes a huge difference. Also, consider adding some noise shields over your window at night, like foam board to completely cover the window. Or consider buying a white noise generator to mask the street noise. Ear plugs might also help.
But the real key is knowing what you are in for, as much as you can, before you select your apartment. Then prepare appropriately. Good luck!