When you live in a multifamily building, it can be all too easy to be reminded of your neighbor’s presence. From the children who love to bang on the pots to the neighbor’s yapping Chihuahua – the soundtrack of your community can quickly intrude upon your life.
So, how do you address thin walls when you live in a building that many people call home? The best way is to ensure proper soundproofing throughout to minimize noise transference; and implementing policies and community rules to control noise and encourage courteous behavior among residents.
According to Robert Plichta, AIA, NCARBm CPP, a senior consultant and forensic architect at ESI, a national engineering and scientific investigation firm with offices in Florida, “Noise issues in multifamily buildings are more common than not. Unfortunately, I think a lot of boards just think, ‘That’s the way it goes,’ but I’ve definitely worked on a number of projects where I’ve been called in to assess what’s going on in relation to noise complaints and to help rectify the conditions that are causing them. Then it’s a matter of determining who is responsible for the repairs—the association, the homeowner above, or the homeowner below.”
‘Noise,’ is also highly subjective. One person’s perfect dinner accompaniment can be another’s maddening racket. Plitcha provides a scientific background as to how sound is considered. “There are actually two mechanisms that help guide architects and engineers in designing a proper building system to help minimize the amount of noise—the first, Sound Transmission Classification, refers to airborne noise, like the sound from a TV, or a stereo, or a person talking very loud in the unit above. The second, Impact Insulation Classification, refers to noise from direct impact, such as a person walking across or dropping something on the floor of an upper unit.” The international building code requires a design characteristic of 50 decibels for both airborne noise and structure-borne noise in multifamily structures.
According to Owens Corning, batt insulation are lightweight, flexible fiberglass insulation-based panel that attenuate sound and can be delivered in various sizes to deliver noise control.
Unfortunately, many unit owners cannot alter existing structures, and therefore, have to rely on managerial and social solutions.
“Most associations have a provision in their declaration that references and prohibits nuisance activities in their community,” says Michael Ungerbuehler, an attorney with The Association Law Firm, serving multifamily communities throughout Florida, “and that provision allows them to set forth rules and regulations that would go into detail about what might constitute a nuisance activity.”
There’s always a solution to a problem,” explains Plichta. “It’s just a matter of finding the solution that is most economical for the association. I think the creation of bylaws with thoughtful acoustic requirements and/or acoustic review of renovations at least puts people on the path of conscientiousness. Maybe you want to include parameters for hardwood flooring in your bylaws, designating certain flooring systems that have been approved by the association. That way, you don’t have a resident pulling up carpeting to install a laminate floor in direct contact, which suddenly leads to a tremendous amount of noise complaints.”
The key, according to Ungerbuehler, is that term, ‘reasonable.’ “We had one community where an owner kept complaining about hearing constant noise from her neighbors. The manager finally visited the owner’s unit and didn’t hear any noise. The complaining resident then led the manager over to one of the walls in her living room and told him to put his ear against the wall. Her issue was that she heard people talking all the time—when she put her ear against the wall. It’s not reasonable for somebody to be sticking their ear against the wall. We need to ensure that noise complaints are reasonable. Focusing on addressing reasonable noise complaints, though, is a win-win, because healthy noise levels in the building can lead to healthier, happier residents.”