Quieting an Apartment

J.D. Writes:

I found your email on the website and am hoping you can help! I live in an apartment that occupies the half of the bottom floor of an owner occupied home. The apartment is approximately 500sq ft and the home is about 4 years old. My bedroom is directly below my landlord’s and despite the six inches of concrete between our spaces, the ability for noise to travel from up to down is amazing. I can hear their bed squeak when they rollover in bed and even hear them fluff their comforter in the morning. The footfall noise is unbearable. I’m wondering what options there might be to create a buffer between my ceiling and their floor. They seem unwilling to purchase a rug or foam padding on their end, so is there a product that can be hung or attached to my ceiling

Thanks so much for your help.

Unfortunately your problem is extremely common and incredibly difficult to help, even a little bit. I get probably 10 calls a week from people in a similar situation. After I go through my whole explanation of how to fix the problem, I am asked something like “Can’t I just put up some acoustical foam panels? Won’t that help at least a little?” Unfortunately that’s not the case, and it can even make the problem worse.

Sound travels through the structure as a vibration. The sound is a wave of energy, and as it hits the structure it is turned into a vibration. That vibration makes it’s way through all of the hard surfaces that come in contact with each other and come out the other side as an airborne sound.? Without decoupling (separating) the finish ceiling from the structure, the sound has an avenue to travel through. Even IF this is done, with ceilings like the problem you are experiencing, the walls still touch the ceiling which remains a hard surface transmission channel.

Acoustical foams and the like are designed to absorb echo, not to stop sound. They are typically light, fluffy products that are mostly air. If someone puts them up to try to stop sound from an adjacent space, it will make their space quieter. The quieter the ambient noise in a room, the easier it is to hear the sound coming in from another room. If you think of a library, it is so quiet in there that you can probably hear someone whispering to you from twenty-feet away.

The most effective way to stop floor-to-floor sound transmission is with an acoustical underlayment like our Acoustik recycled rubber tiles. These would glue to the sub floor and a new layer of exterior grade or marine grade plywood would be glued to the top of it. The finish floor would then be installed on top of the second layer of plywood just as it would normally. A lot of times, with occupied spaces, or even finished spaces, this isn’t possible. If it is, I would strongly recommend this approach because if the energy can be taken out of the structure at it’s source, it is MUCH less likely to be as loud below.

In order to fix (or even help) the problem, some construction will need to be done, and a lot of times, this isn’t possible when someone is renting an apartment. If one was to proceed, I would first suggest the RSIC-1 Resilient Sound Isolation clip system. This system basically “floats” a new ceiling over an existing ceiling. This new floating ceiling must not touch any of the side walls, and the gap between the two should be filled with a non-hardening acoustical sealant. You can then go ahead and tape and mud the ceiling like normal and finish with paint. This system will drop your ceiling between 2″-2 ½”.

You could also put a new layer of sheet rock and use a layer of Green Glue. This is a viscoelastic damper that is intended to used between two layers of sheet rock.

You might want to try to use one of our SoundScreen white noise machines. Believe it or not, this will actually make your bedroom louder, rather than quieter. By increasing the ambient noise in the room, it will be harder for you to make out other sounds coming into the room. Try this, this is a little example that I came up with the other day. Go to your car. Turn the radio on the lowest setting possible so that you can hear the words of a song. Then turn on your car’s blower fan to heat the car or defrost the windows. Start with the fan on one. Turn it up, slowly all the way. Once the fan is blowing, then turn up the radio so that you can understand the words again. Then turn the fan off, the music will seem MUCH louder than it needs to be, this is because of the difference in the ambient (background) noise. The radio had to be turned up so that it was audible OVER the background noise. By increasing the background noise in your apartment, it will be harder for your ears to pick up the sound that is bothering you now.

The white noise theory might not help with severe impact noise or with bass from a sub-woofer, but it is a low cost, very easy approach that might at least help.

I REALLY wish that I had better news because I would then be able to help a LOT more people. It is just very unfortunate that your problem is a difficult situation because of the limitations with the rental situation. If you would like me to walk you through these products over the phone, please feel free to contact me. I wish I had better news, but this is a difficult problem to fix, or really to even help.


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