part 1: reducing noise in your apartment rental
Apartment noise results from three sources:
• Neighbours: telephones, music, voices, activities and appliance.
• Building services: refuse chutes, elevators, plumbing, mechanical and electrical.
• Exterior noises: traffic and construction activity.
Noise control in apartment rental buildings has a significant bearing on your privacy and well-being. Complaints about loud music and voices, telephone and television noise, doors slamming, garage openers clattering, water pipes banging and ventilation fans humming, are common in multi-unit residential buildings. The sound of aircraft, traffic, construction, tree pruning and lawn cutting can be an annoyance in almost any place we call home. Humans have learned to accept a certain amount of noise as an inevitable consequence of urban living. Yet, there are limits to the noise you should tolerate, and ways to improve the acoustic privacy in your apartment.
Acceptable levels of noise depend on several factors: how well the building was constructed, the loudness of the sound, your tolerance for noise and the time of day. For example, some noise from your neighbours may be tolerable while you are watching television, but would be objectionable at bedtime. Your perception is influenced by the sound frequency.
A low-pitched sound is harder to control in a building than a high-pitched sound. This is why the thumping bass sound from a neighbour’s stereo can be annoying. The impact noise of a dropped object, slammed door or footsteps on a stair can also be irritating, and is a common cause for complaint in multi-unit residential buildings.
This article provides basic information about the behaviour of sound and noise, and suggests ways to improve the peace and tranquility in your apartment or condominium. It includes a discussion of improvements you can make yourself and others that can be made with the help of your building management.
Airborne sound reaches you through doors, cracks, windows, floors and walls from sources such as voices, audio equipment and traffic. The common types of floor and wall assemblies used to separate dwellings in multi-unit residential buildings have been tested in laboratories to determine their ability to absorb sound vibrations.
The National Building Code of Canada uses Sound Transmission Class (STC) to gauge the ability of floors and interior walls to absorb sound as it moves between living units. It measures the average transmission loss of sound at different frequencies after it has passed through a separation between apartments. A floor or wall assembly with a high STC rating has better sound reducing characteristics than an assembly with a lower STC rating.
Building regulations are the responsibility of the provinces and territories, and some municipalities, which may adopt the model National Building Code of Canada (NBCC) or develop their own building codes. Therefore, the requirements for sound control in residential construction may differ between provinces and territories. The NBCC requires that walls and floors in newly constructed multi-family buildings have a minimum STC rating of 55 to separate residential suites from adjacent elevator shafts and refuse chutes, and 50 from every other space in a building. The NBCC does not address sound coming from outside a building, which may also be an annoyance to residents.
Impact noise results from foot traffic, dropped or sliding objects or banging, causing sound to migrate through construction materials. Although impact noise is transmitted primarily through floors in residential buildings, it also moves through the walls and structure. It is often perceived as a sharp tapping sound in buildings with concrete floors. In buildings with wood-frame floors, it is often heard as a dull thud. Padding or cushioning on top of the floor or between the floor layers will significantly reduce the movement of impact sound in both types of construction.
Airborne and impact sound have some things in common, but impact transmission is more difficult to measure and control. The character and loudness of impact noise transmitted through a wall or floor depend on many factors including the nature of the object striking the surface and the force of the blow, the rigidity of the assembly, and the resilience of the surface. Construction with a good STC rating for airborne sound will not necessarily provide acoustic privacy for impact sound. Different construction techniques are required to reduce impact noise. For example, a concrete floor topping on a wood subfloor reduces airborne sound transmission, but allows impact sound to move through the floor much more readily. A cushioning layer should be placed between the concrete and the wood subfloor to absorb impact noise vibrations.
Airborne sound can also come from outside in the form of traffic, sirens, construction activity and voices. The NBCC does not address sound control requirements for exterior walls. Heavy materials and insulation in exterior walls in combination with solid fencing and landscaped berms, can provide 50 dB or more relief from outside noise. Windows are less effective in controlling sound transmission with most providing noise reduction of 25 to 30 dB, or less if they are very leaky.
reducing noise from neighbours
The first step in reducing sound from human activity is to make residents aware how their activities affect others. An agreement between neighbours is likely to be the most amicable and cost-effective solution to occupant-caused noise problems. If discussions with your neighbours fail to correct the noise problem, consider consulting the building management. Many lease and condominium agreements restrict noisy activities or limit them to certain time periods during the day, or on weekends.
Make neighbours aware of the noise they make. Managing sound involves co-operation. If neighbours’ activities are noisy, consider these steps:
• Get to know your neighbours. Contact may lead to co-operation on noise issues.
• Speak reasonably and calmly with neighbours about noise. There is a good chance that reason will lead to a workable solution.
• Speak with other neighbours and consider a joint strategy. Ask others who are also bothered to discuss noise with the offending neighbour.
Discuss with your neighbours ways to reduce objectionable noise:
• Stereo and other audio equipment should be situated away from walls shared with other units.
• Footfall sound can be a problem in apartments, especially those with hard floor surfaces. Avoid walking in high heel and other hard-soled shoes.
• Dropped objects or scraping chairs in areas with hard floor surfaces will cause impact sound in adjoining units. Use carpets or mats in areas where objects are more likely to be dropped, and felt cushions under chair and table legs.
• Place objects, such as shoes, on a floor rather than dropping them.
• Keep music and TV volumes at a reasonable level and be receptive to comments from other neighbours, especially those with special needs.
• Although they may be accustomed to the noise their children make, neighbours should be aware that some occupants don’t have children and may be irritated by the noise. However, all neighbours must understand that children have a right to live there and to behave like children.
• If hosting a party, neighbours should advise other occupants about when the party will take place, and consider inviting them if it will be an open party.
• Observe reasonable hours for noisy activities. Vacuuming, moving heavy furniture, repairs and alterations generate noise that can travel to other apartments. Restrict these activities to daylight hours or in accordance with the lease or condominium agreement.
• Further action such as complaints to law authorities are beyond the scope of this bulletin, but should be considered as a last resort after good-neighbour options have been exhausted.
— CMHC, www.cmhc-schl.gc.ca