Why Can I Hear My Neighbor? Understanding Construction Basics

If your apartment’s construction suffers from any of the following issues, it might be why you’re able to hear the folks upstairs, next door and beyond.

Low-Density Materials

In general, the denser the material, the better the sound barrier, so for the best sound control, you want:

  • Solid wood doors, not plywood with a hollow core
  • Thick walls with proper insulation
  • Noise reducing windows, which are rated by their sound transmission class (STC). In general, the higher the STC number of the barrier, the less sound will be heard. While there are other factors that affect noise control in windows, generally, insulated glass panes, such as dual-pane (2 layers) or triple-pane (3 layers) offer much greater sound control than single pane glass windows. However, since better-rated windows can be extremely pricey, they can be a rare find in many rentals.

Single-skin walls

As the name implies, a single-skin wall has one layer. Builders sometimes use it because it’s less expensive than its cousin, the cavity wall. Unlike dental cavities, wall cavities are good.

With cavity-wall construction, two walls run parallel to each other with a space between them. In general, the greater the distance between wall surfaces, the better the structure can reduce noise transfer.

There are other factors like the types of materials between the wall and the way those materials are fastened to the structure, but this gives you a nice start.

Lack of acoustic insulation

With double-skin walls, builders can add insulation, but they may choose it for its thermal qualities, not its ability to lock out unwanted sounds. Fiberglass and mineral wool insulation work well to keep noise at bay.

Cracks and gaps

Cracks and gaps in a building’s construction can add to noise levels. There could be gaps around poorly sealed doors and windows. Your landlord may be able to use weather stripping to minimize their effect. Also, you might find cracks in walls, ceilings and floors, which might be able to be patched.

Even electrical fittings can provide a path through which sound can travel, especially if there are holes around them. An oversized plate can help minimize the noise that seeps through.

Squeaky floors

Sometimes creaky floors can be enough to wake you up at night even though your upstairs neighbor pads as quietly as possible across the floor for a nighttime trip to the bathroom.

It may be because the floorboards are not well secured to the floor joists or a wood floor is rubbing against a plywood subfloor, which are issues a responsible landlord should be able to fix.

Hard, non-noise surfaces

If you’ve ever been in a cave or canyon, you know how sound echoes on its unforgiving surface. Essentially, the sound ricochets at you from the hard surface just like a racquetball bounces around on the hard surface of a racquetball court.

And just as the ball would lose its energy if the court were carpeted, soft surfaces also dampen sound. Padded carpeting and acoustic ceilings work best to absorb unwanted noises. In general, ceramic tile is the noisiest type of surface flooring, followed by hardwood floors. Generally, carpet is the quietest.

Noisy appliances

We expect more and more out of dishwashers, refrigerators, washers and dryers. Today, along with sleek design and high performance, one of the most sought-after features in appliances is quietness. That’s why they have decibel ratings.

The lower the decibels, the quieter the device. If, for instance, a dishwasher has a score of 60 or more decibels and your apartment is not well soundproofed, you may be able to hear it next door.

If you can hear your neighbor’s appliances, it may not be their fault. Going about their lives naturally creates some noise. If your apartment’s construction did not take into account the sound-related challenges of living in close quarters, noise might be a fact of life. So, when you go on that tour, look out for sound control and other important rental considerations.

Photo by Jason Rosewell on Unsplash
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Carolyn FrithCarolyn Frith, a content consultant who owns Carolyn Frith Marketing, aims to rid the world of snore- and-bore writing on the web. Topics she covers range from Philadelphia events and real estate options to a range of other content.

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