Reducing Noise from Upstairs Neighbors

There are ways to take care of reducing noise from upstairs neighbors, but some of them can be costly.

By Ilyce Glink and Samuel J. Tamkin

Q: Last April, my daughter bought a new garden level condo in a four-unit building. The upstairs unit was unoccupied until last month when a new family moved in. What she immediately discovered was that the upstairs floors (her ceiling) and the one adjacent to hers are not insulated for sound. The din from above is unbearable.

The owner, who is using his condo as a rental, is uninterested in addressing the issue. Meanwhile, my daughter is beside herself and very much wants out. She thinks with the situation as is, it will be impossible to sell the condo.

The builders insist that everything was done to code. But apparently some corners were cut because the noise is so overwhelming. Is there a way for her to rectify the situation in reducing noise?

Reducing Noise from Upstairs but Could be Costly

A: Sam has seen this situation many times with former clients. There are some old vintage warehouses or buildings that were converted to condominiums. These old buildings are quite beautiful with wood ceilings and large wood beams.

However, as you mentioned in your question, the wood ceiling you see in the unit below is the wood floor that the owner above steps on. There is little, if any, noise barrier between the units. Even with a potential noise issue, there is quite a bit of demand for these types of units in some cities and towns. 

And, it’s all relative. What one owner may find unbearable, another might not have any issues whatsoever. In one situation that Sam dealt with, the owner of the upstairs unit could do little to prevent noise from their unit to the unit below, but the downstairs unit could install a dropped ceiling with sound insulation to mitigate the sound transmission. 

One of Sam’s clients hired a sound engineer to evaluate the best way to lessen the noise transmission between the units. There are ways to take care of a noise issue, but some of them can be costly.

While you might think that corners were “cut” in construction, you might be surprised at the requirements some municipalities have for noise transmission between units. Frequently, government codes deal with health and safety issues to a much greater degree than aesthetic or sound issues. 

Evaluate More Than Just the Interior of the Home

A note to our readers: When looking to buy a home, you must evaluate more than just the interior of the home and its finishes. When Sam purchased his first home. He went around the neighborhood looking at the back of the buildings to see how well the buildings were maintained. He inspected alleys for cleanliness and for graffiti. All of these items will help you better understand the property and neighborhood.

When it comes to the interior of the building, consider bringing another person with you to get another perspective on noise. A first-time buyer we know thought they had found the perfect condominium. But the so-called second bedroom was created by closing a glass partition. It was a poor second bedroom. The glass door did nothing to help sound-proof the bedroom and ultimately the first-time buyer decided not to make an offer.

It helps to keep a keen eye and ear out for what you see and hear when you see a home. In a building near a train line, make sure you’re inside the home when trains go by to fully ascertain whether the train noise and vibrations are acceptable. Want to know how noise travels inside a condo? When Sam was shopping for a condo. He would have someone make noise outside the door of the unit to see how noisy it would be inside. If the sound travels easily within the unit with doors closed. You shouldn’t be that surprised if you later find out that sound travels the same way between units. 

Only Option Might be Selling and Moving

Should your daughter fix the problem or move? That’s up to her. If she’s extremely noise-sensitive. There may be no affordable or even aesthetic way to get the noise level down to a level that allows her to enjoy her home. If that’s the case, she may be better off selling and moving. 

©2022 by Ilyce Glink and Samuel J. Tamkin.