Noisy Neighbors: Reduce Noise in Apartment Buildings

Updated March 27, 2024

While the essence of community is cooperating and coexisting with neighbors, that can be difficult when they’re constantly making noise. Over half of all Americans are bothered by their neighbors’ noise issues multiple times per year, while over a third deal with such annoyances on a monthly basis.1

In apartment complexes with shared walls and many tenants, such problems are likely more frequent and louder than in detached houses. Due to close quarters and modern building techniques, sound control can be a complex issue within multi-unit dwellings.

Luckily, there are steps you can take to mitigate the sound issues caused by your building’s noisy neighbors. With some acoustic panels, sealant, a few other materials, and the know-how to get the job done, you can significantly decrease noise transfer between apartment units.

Common Sound Issues in Modern Apartment Buildings

When you have neighbors living above, below, right next to, and across from each other, there’s a lot of opportunity for noise creation and transmission. More often than not, however, noise issues in apartments come from two primary sources:

  • Neighbors above, who may stomp around or drop things on their floor
  • Next-door neighbors, who may talk loudly or rattle the walls with loud, bassy music

These two distinct noise sources are caused by a couple of the most common types of sound transmission: impact noise and airborne noise. To effectively mitigate both of them, we must understand their causes:

  • Impact noise – Impact noise, as the name suggests, is produced from objects physically hitting one another, when sound travels through a solid material. Whether it’s transferred by the aforementioned heavy footfalls from above or neighbors banging on adjoining walls, impact noise can literally shake your place and cause quite the ruckus.
  • Airborne noise – Loud voices, cranked-up televisions, and blaring speaker systems from other apartments are considered airborne noise, as the sound travels not through solids but through air. Such sound doesn’t come with the thud of a loud smack against the wall but can cause a nuisance nonetheless.

Additionally, there’s a third, less common medium of sound transfer to consider—especially in larger apartment complexes:

  • Structure-borne sound transmission – Structure-borne transmission is when sound radiates or pulsates through a building’s structure before reaching your ears. Think of a tenant a few stories above drilling into their walls and the resulting vibrations you hear in your apartment—that’s structure-borne sound transmission.

There’s no snap fix for these issues; however, there are steps you can take to ensure minimal interference from outside noise and disturbances.

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Choosing a Quiet Apartment

The best strategy for dealing with noise is to avoid it altogether. The most sound-adverse tenants among us may want to consider a place with a strict Homeowner’s Association or Condo Board that places stringent restrictions on how much noise is allowed.

Not everyone can live in such a neighborhood, however, so you’ll likely need to take another approach to creating a sound-resistant space. Tenants can get a feel for an apartment’s ability to reflect and absorb sound before signing the lease by:

  • Doing a tour with a handheld radio turned up and noting how sound transfers between rooms
  • Having a friend stomp on the floor above
  • Listening for clunks and transferred noise emanating from the pipes and plumbing
  • Slamming the cabinet doors to see how far the sound travels
  • Checking for traffic and other ambient noise coming in through the windows
  • Checking the distance to any elevators or garbage chutes
  • Looking for sound seals on entryways and apartment doors
  • Ensuring your building isn’t located on a flight path
  • Asking the builder or agent what Sound Transmission Class (STC) or Impact Isolation Class (IIC) ratings the complex was built to—the higher the number, the better

Most modern buildings adhere to structural codes with a minimum STC rating of 50—meaning, on average, the walls and floor will block 50 decibels (dBs) of sound from coming through. This figure can be deceiving, however, as it usually only denotes the materials used in construction rather than the building’s functional sound-blocking capabilities.

The best practice would be for architects and builders to use materials that go above and beyond the STC 50 minimum, and to consider the holistic sound transfer rather than the raw materials alone.

Especially once the units are occupied, regular wear and tear can decrease soundproofing even further. If there’s a minor crack in the drywall or ceiling—even one as small as 1/16th of an inch—your STC can drop by over 20%. Thus, not only do such units effectively fall below minimum legal requirements, but they don’t even prevent sound transfer in hushed environments such as libraries (40 dB average noise level).2

So, if the finished building is subject to substandard structural noise reduction, what steps can you take to create a more calm, relaxing atmosphere within the apartment walls?

Canceling Noise Within An Apartment

If an upstairs neighbor is constantly creating excess noise, tenants do have the option to take legal action to secure their space’s serenity and calm. Consistent, audible noise from other apartments might be a violation of the building’s lease or local ordinances enshrining the right to peace and quiet. Oftentimes, however, this can be a long and arduous process that might not yield the desired results.

Unfortunately, it’s difficult to block sound from an upstairs neighbor. The most salient solutions start at the source: the apartment above. In order to minimize sound in the downstairs apartment, you may want to consider installing:

  • Carpet – Carpeting provides a high degree of impact isolation and prevents significant noise transfers between the floor of one apartment and the ceiling of the other. Harder flooring styles—such as hardwood or tile—allow for more reverberation and, thus, more noise seeping down into the lower dwelling.
  • A flooring underlay – Not everyone appreciates the feel and look of carpeted floors. If keeping the hardwood is a non-negotiable, consider a flooring underlay to isolate impact noise. Our  ACOUSTIK™ Acoustic Underlayment is a cost-effective solution that significantly reduces impact noise and can even extend the life of the finished floor—giving an extra incentive to pull up the boards and get to work.

As a tenant, this requires cooperation from your neighbor, approval from the landlord, and a financial investment, so you might have to plead a convincing case.

If you’re thinking ahead about reducing sound in an apartment you own or are building, the best time to take action is before tenants move in or during turnover periods. However, if tenants are commonly complaining about noise levels, most would welcome the work required to protect their peace.

For noise traveling laterally through the walls, acoustic panels are an excellent solution. Like underlay, however, they’re best installed near the source of the sound—so you’ll once again want to talk to the tenants directly to cooperate on a solution. From the affected apartment, though, you can still try to make the space as soundproof as possible by:

  • Insulating the ceiling – Depending on the kind of ceiling, there are several routes to minimize impact noise from above. If the building’s structure is made of concrete, you can try adhering acoustic panels directly to the ceiling to minimize noise transfer. Alternatively, if you have (or are willing to install) a drop ceiling, your best chance of blocking impact noise from above would be to utilize vinyl ceiling tiles in conjunction with a barrier-decoupler.
  • Paneling your own walls – While acoustic panels work best by absorbing sound as it emanates from the source, they can still help reduce reverberations through the apartment’s adjoining walls. Additionally, panels such as those from our NOISE S.T.O.P. FABRISORB line not only effectively reduce noise transfer, but they come in custom sizes and colors to seamlessly blend into the apartment’s aesthetic.
  • Sealing up any cracks – As mentioned, even the smallest cracks in the walls or ceiling can allow a disproportionately large amount of noise to seep through. Even if other tenants are opposed to installing underlays or panels, they’d likely be much more open to a smear of green glue noiseproofing sealant across any gaps in their walls. While you’re at it, you might as well seal any cracks on both sides of the wall to lower the sound transmission for all tenants.

Realistically, noise issues within apartments are tough to solve. The close proximity of tenants means more sound transfer than in detached homes and the solution isn’t usually one-sided.

The most effective solutions involve working collaboratively with all tenants involved. Ask them to walk and talk lightly or turn down their music—especially the bass, which travels through walls much more easily than higher frequencies.3 If the problems persist, consider installing the appropriate soundproofing solutions so that all neighbors can enjoy some peace and quiet.

Secure Your Sound Control Solutions from Acoustical Surfaces

Acoustical Surfaces is the neighborly solution for all your soundproofing needs. Whether it’s the noise from one apartment to another or excessive sound in the workplace, we offer soundproofing and noise control materials for any situation.

From acoustic panels to sealants and even sound absorbing paint, we have noise-control products that will both beautify your home and make it more peaceful. Contact us with your noise concerns and we’ll help you find a solution that works for landlords, tenants, and anyone else who wants a shared space without shared sound.



  1. National Association of Realtors. Over Half of Americans Are Irked by Neighbors.
  2. Royal National Institute for Deaf People. How loud is too loud?
  3. Computer Network. How to stop subwoofer bass from ‘leaking’ into other rooms.

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