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Soundproofing for New York Noise (nytimes.com)
136 points by miiiiiike on Dec 20, 2015 | hide | past | web | favorite | 157 comments

Street noise can slowly wear down your nerves.

I live in SF, and when I was dating my GF (now wife), she had an apt on a busy street (Oak Street); I live in an in-law garden unit. The first time I slept over at her place, I got barely any sleep. When she slept over at my place, all she heard was birds, leaves and the very occasional Harley or emergency vehicle. When she slept over, she woke up feeling so much better. So when it came time to move in together, there was no question where she wanted to be!

On that topic: I wish we could have acoustical limits on vehicle noise. Those loud motorcycles with the fat pipes: they seriously need to control those.

By control them, I hope you mean impound them, fine the owners tens of thousands of dollars ($1 for every ear they've assaulted should be enough), and permanently revoke their motorcycle license.

Those exhausts are already illegal, but the punishments are a joke and the enforcement is non-existent.

> Those exhausts are already illegal

In most places they're not. The sound limit is quite high.

It's ~90dB and bikers routinely retrofit their bikes with loud, illegal exhausts that are louder than that to show off and because they believe it makes them safer on the road - "loud pipes save lives". 100dB+ is common, that's 10x louder than the already generous limit.

100dB isn't 10* louder in terms of perception, 10dB will be heard as a doubling in volume to a human listener (despite being 10 the energy as you correctly state)

In the U. S., the EPA specifies dB limits on exhaust noise. 84dB, I believe, but I'd have to look it up to be sure (IIRC, 84dB is what's stamped on my stock exhaust). There are local limits as well. The limits just aren't enforced as a primary offense unless the cop really just uses it as an excuse to check for DUI.

It would be a nice start if national parks started turning them away at the gate, as Glacier NP has talked about doing. I'll laugh my ass off when I see Harley and Harley-wannabe riders doing u-turns at national park entrances.

I also lived once in an apartment that was on a noisy street, I did all sorts of research on decibel limits in cities and briefly considered starting to record and trend using a decibel meter - then I remembered I have a day job.

At least in Seattle, there is an ordinance, but it isn't enforced often, and the most clear rules are some silly "if you can hear a sound system from 75 feet away from a car 'clearly'".

I reached out to the public non-emergency PR part of our police dept, essentially their summary was 2-fold, as I remember:

1. The most common noise enforcement calls were construction vehicles and semi trucks using jake brakes, both of which were a priority when there was opportunity to enforce (i.e. a pattern) 2. Many vehicles are very loud, whether legally authorized or not: sirens and emergency vehicles, Harley's, etc. Vehicle enforcement is rare. (They would not say never enforced, but that's the feeling I got)

In my opinion, the only thing louder than the motorcycles were all of the city buses. :(

Fortunately, the new buses are MUCH quieter.

Once all of the D60HFs/D40LFs are gone, the problem should be solved.

Many municipalities have limits but find it difficult to control loud bikers because when the police attempt to stop them, they speed away dangerously. Enforcement needs to change, but it's likely difficult in the US where my understanding is tickets/suspensions can't be issued just based on who owns the vehicle, they have to be issued to who was operating the vehicle, which is much more difficult to prove without stopping the vehicle.

I think you're confusing tales of people on sportsbikes running from cops with those on cruisers. Cruisers can't outrun anyone. Cruisers are the ones with the loud rumbly exhausts that most annoy people. Sportsbikes have higher pitched, tinny, buzzy exhausts. Still loud, but less annoying.

> difficult to control loud bikers because when the police attempt to stop them, they speed away dangerously

i don't buy it. people who run from cops get the helicopter called on them. loud bikers have always gotten a pass from cops for some reason. it's another example of uneven enforcement of laws which erodes the confidence and trust people have in police.

You only ever hear about people who run away from cops badly. Motorcycles are usually long gone before the police have a chance to call a helicopter, which they would be able to outrun anyways if they were on a straight road.

To be clear though I don't think that's the reason loudness isn't enforced. I imagine it more has to do with the fact that they aren't watching for it since they don't have any way to easily test it like speed.

"You can't outrun a radio" is pretty common refrain among sportsbike riders upon hearing a tale of someone running from police.

Said by those that never try, and by cops that believe their own macho BS. Though often successful, I highly discouraged it, because it's very dangerous for yourself and endangers others as well. Additionally, make a habit of it and you'll eventually get caught and enjoy free accommodations courtesy of whatever county you're in at the time.

But one can most certainly outrun a radio.

What movie is that in?

Loads. They're all on YouTube filmed with Gopros.

Seriously bikes run from cops all the time. They're gone in a flash.

If they have a video with a license plate record of them running away from police, then why don't they revoke the plate and impound the vehicle at the registered address?

I take it you haven't seen the license plate covers popping up all over that basically make it impossible to read a plate from beyond a few feet away?

A representative example off GIS: http://www.v6mustang.com/attachments/dsc00087-jpg.35600/

Why aren't these cars/bikes fined while parked on the street?

I, too, would love to know the answer to that question. I've been seeing them all over in NY, where I understand they're illegal, and have no idea how they're not cop magnets.

Back in the day, I lived on a dirt road, and I never washed my car. So the tag was a little hard to read. But hey, there was nothing obviously intentional about it.

Good thing we have license plate readers. Impound the bike for noise pollution and a bonus felony for running away from cops!

I moved to NYC a few months ago, from Long Island, and I have been experiencing morning headaches. If I look at my sleep logger app, I notice that after around 5-6 AM, my sleep quality goes way down and moves into mostly light sleep, almost no deep sleep or REM. There's definitely something to be said about how street noise affects our sleep patterns.

For me, I'll have to try using earplugs more, but the stress on my ears isn't so nice because I'm a side sleeper. I wish I could just go to bed earlier, but I work on a remote team which is half in LA, and it would be counterproductive if I wasn't able to stay up past 10-11 PM... not to mention my schedule would conflict with that of my friends and roommates.

Have you tried adding white noise, like sleeping with a fan on? I find it just as effective as earplugs, which make my ear canals hurt if I wear them all night. For me, it's not the volume of noise that hurts my sleep quality; it's the variations in the noise.

FWIW, pink noise helped tremendously with my urban-noise-induced tinnitus at night.

Hmm, I used to sleep with a fan on back in college for the heat and I did get used to it at the time. Maybe I'll try some white noise. Thanks.

Consistent white noise absolutely works.

agreed. I grew up sleeping 35ft from a busy highway with rumble strips. A 5000btu window unit air conditoner 3ft from my head drowned it all out. I sleep with a small fan running in the corner now and use a white noise app on my phone when I'm away from home.

This white noise maker has worked well for me for 8 years: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B000LQI2S0

They work by increasing the volume of the background noise. Sounds that would normally affect or you sleep end up blending in with the background noise.

Try this site, I use it occasionally to help me ignore the fan / vibration noise in this building and it works really well (for my purposes at least). There are plenty of different presets to choose from or tune your own.


I use that one, Darkness, overall volume up a little and first two sliders down a little. Works like a charm.

I'm a side sleeper as well and I have been using Ohropax Classic earplugs for years. They are made out of wax, so you can roll and bend them a bit. This way they fit in my ears, nothing sticks out.

German company, but available in the US: http://www.amazon.com/Ohropax-Reusable-cotton-Plugs-Carrying...

I'm also a side sleeper and had trouble with normal earplugs. A month back I bought these DIY custom molded earplugs. http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B003A28OW6 I use them every night with no discomfort, they do a better job of blocking out noise and they stick in all night regardless of my tossing and turning.

Also a side sleeper with the same issues.

I tried two pairs of these Radians and couldn't get them to work well. They don't form a proper seal I think, not exactly sure. Def. not as effective as normal ear plugs when it comes to blocking out sound for me. I'm not sure if I did something wrong during the molding process or my ear shape is somehow incompatible with them but I did carefully try twice to no avail.

Any tips?

How long do they last you, on average? I've seen these before but worried about them breaking down.

I may look into getting some custom molded silicone sleep plugs in the future, I have some noise attenuating ones already for concerts and they're pretty comfortable.

Here are dirt cheap earplugs for you, Home Depot sells many similar variations by 3M:


You can take a pair of scissors and slightly trim from the big (non-rounded) end, so that they aren't long enough to interfere with side sleeping, but they are still long enough that you can easily pull them out in the morning.

I haven't tried custom silicone earplugs, but these disposable ones are very soft and comfortable. You twirl them into a smaller thickness and they gently expand once you insert them.

I started using them a number of years ago when the guy in the house next door got a very loud dog that he insisted stay outside at night and/or early morning. So of course the dog did nothing but whine and bark! Fortunately he finally got rid of the dog.

A single "disposable" pair of plugs can last a week, or even a month if you want. The sound effectiveness decreases slightly over multiple uses. But that's OK. They start out really quiet, they claim something close to 30 dB. So if they're only 15 dB after multiple uses, that's OK. You probably don't want total isolation anyway.

I've had them a little over a month and show no signs of breaking down.

I've used ear plugs for a long time; they really help. My current favorites are the Moldex 6604 Sparkplugs. Even as a side-sleeper, they work great for me.

Extended use of earplugs (say every night for a couple years) can be a contributing cause to developing tinnitus.



It looks like it's not earplugs, but sensory deprivation that can cause tinnitus. If you're listening to a normal volume of noise for at least a few hours a days, it won't be a problem.

Dunno if this is true but if you're already afflicted prolonged use of earplugs will make it a lot worse, in my experience.

> they seriously need to control those.

Good luck with that. It's fairly common for riders to knock the baffles out of the tail pipes to intentionally make them louder. That's why police officers can be seen sticking their battons up those fat tail pipes as a check. Whatever new tech one could make will surely be circumvented too.

"On that topic: I wish we could have acoustical limits on vehicle noise."

I'm fairly certain there will be in your country. There are in the UK at least - it's a requirement that's supposedly checked when vehicles have their annual roadworthiness test. The problem is A) it's a subjective measure, open to the testers judgement and B) there's nothing stopping the owner re-tuning their vehicle before & after the test to get a pass. So ultimately, it's just not policed.

Let me preface this with "I do not have any data to back this up" but my gut tells me about 90% of road noise is caused by 10% of traffic. In London at least.

"Those loud motorcycles with the fat pipes: they seriously need to control those."

I'm totally with you on these, but really it's any of these two-stroke bastards, even mopeds these days. The fashion is to tune them to the point of nuisance.

Silence is extremely unsettling. At my parents' suburban home I need a window open or a fan running in the room or I have no chance of sleep. If the power goes out and the fan stops I wake up immediately. I've never slept better than with an open window at a Beale Street hotel in Nashville and street musicians below, or in downtown Chicago with the soothing rush of cars and sirens.

> The first time I slept over at her place, I got barely any sleep.

I'm guessing you meant on account of the noise. And weren't referring to a great next of sexy fun.

I just went through a fairly thorough soundproofing project for my apartment in SF. (If anyone has any questions or needs advice, I'm happy to help.)

Few things I learned: 1). It doesn't have to be expensive. My problem was that I live in a 2BR apartment with a wonderful roommate -- but we share a bedroom wall, and that wall is thin. So you can imagine the....awkwardness...at times.

I got quotes from various soundproofing specialists that ranged from $10k to $25k (!!!) to thicken the shared wall and reinforce the bedroom doors. Hogwash. I did some research, bought some raw materials (Green Glue, QuietRock sheetrock, solid-core doors, door seals) and did the whole thing for a fraction of that price.

2) Sound science is fascinating and DIY projects like this are kinda fun :) I've never been much of a DIYer around the home, but it takes on a whole new appeal when you have a clean end goal in mind and your quality of life takes a major improvement when the mission is completed.

Anyway -- this is a fascinating subject and I'm happy to geek out about it with anyone who's interested.

You should do a blog post!

Had you just reinforced the wall, or windows, too? If anyone has advice for sound-proofing street-facing glass, I would be obliged.

Secondary glazing with an air gap of min. 100 mm (4 inch) can be very effective.

That'd be great. I live on Hyde st right by a busy road and the cable car. I've become more immune to the noise but would love to reduce it. Acoustic dampening curtains have mixed reviews and are an expensive experiment. Any other ideas?

Outside shutters, either roll up or swinging; better windows, with thicker glass and more layers; making sure the windows and door openings are properly air sealed, as well as all construction joints (corners, inside corners, where the wall meets a floor or the roof, the connection between the foundation wall or slab and the walls...). Also, all penetrations for wires, pipes, etc. need to be air sealed.

I'm closing on a first house on Tuesday. What is the most cost efficient thing you've done when it came to soundproofing? Any products that you can really recommend?

The single most cost-effective thing I did was replace the garbage hollow-core interior doors with nice hefty solid-core doors. Hollow-core doors are common for interiors since they're cheap -- but they also act effectively as sound amplifiers since they're just two vibrating planks with a small air gap.

Solid-core doors -- even ones filled with dense fiberboard (vs pure solid wood) are VERY effective at reducing sound. And they're cheap -- you can get a nice basic one for ~$100. If you pad the door frame with $5 in closed-cell weatherstripping and put in a $10 door sweep at the bottom (creating a nice seal around the door), you've eliminated one of the lowest-hanging fruits of sound transmission for very little $.

Next on the list: Green Glue. If you don't mind a bit of messy DIY stuff, you can make your own drywall/Green Glue sandwich for a very reasonable amount of $.

Doors & Walls cover about 80% of sound issues, and it doesn't have to be expensive.

One of the culprits:

> air-conditioning units (which are basically unrestricted openings to the street)

Window air conditioning units are virtually unknown in a large part of the warm weather world. We use "split systems," where only a couple thin pipes and some wires connect the outdoors with the indoors. NYC's fascination with inefficient window units is really quite strange. I suppose landlords enjoy not having to pay for installation and maintenance of permanent units.

> NYC's fascination with inefficient window units is really quite strange. I suppose landlords enjoy not having to pay for installation and maintenance of permanent units.

Fascination is not the right word. As you correctly assert, landlords have no interest in installing permanent AC, so my window unit is my only option, and it isn't particularly fascinating.

Given that a window unit is on the order of hundreds to a thousand dollars (for a REALLY nice unit) and the permanent external/internal systems are on the order of $5-10k, I think the fascination is pretty obvious.

What the hell? An indoor/outdoor system costs less than $1k on Amazon:


In an apartment building, installation is going to cost you more than the actual unit. You need to run fairly heavy hoses to the condenser. You also aren't going to put a fleet of little one-ton units on the roof, so you're looking at much larger central condensers or possibly cooling towers for chilled water (which often ends up cheaper for large installations but requires more space).

Huh...have you traveled to other parts of the world? Look at an apartment building in Japan or China, those are all over the wall and is the de-facto AC solution.

Really, installation takes less than an hour and the rest of the world think Americans are bizarre with the window units.

You also aren't going to put a fleet of little one-ton units on the roof

Sure you are! Or, well, you could. I lived in Chicago condo that had 20 or so one-per external units on the roof.

Some arguments in favor of this approach here:


These things always have the worst remotes.

Not to mention that when renting a unit, you don't have the option to put in central air. So you do what you can - stick a unit in a window.

It's not central air, most Americans don't know what indoor/outdoor system mean. It's something like this:


I looked into split system A/C when I moved to NYC. The gist is that attaching anything to outside of a "historical" building requires planning approval, complete with engineering drawings and a public hearing.

But hanging a window A/C out into the street? Somehow this does not affect historicity and so no approval is required.

I'm vague on whether the rules apply to non-street facing installations (I live at the back of my building), but I don't know if I can be bothered to spend the money to find out. So window A/C it is.

In NYC is it a thing to have the owner pay for heat for the whole complex via one giant efficient boiler in the basement, and the individual apartments cool by electricity they're separately billed for? This is not unusual in the midwest.

On one hand in my bachelor pad apartment a really bad August was like $40 of electricity for cooling, on the other hand times 40 apartments, I'm sure the owner would prefer "we" pay instead of him.

Very common, to the point of being nearly universal except in relatively recent construction. Many (perhaps most) NYC apartments don't have thermostats. Don't like the heat the landlord has chosen? Open the window or buy a space heater. Want to be cool in the summer? Buy a window air conditioner.

Any idea how that system got common? NYC used to have mainly heat based on steam radiators, which are perfectly easy to control per unit by just adjusting the radiator valve. Since the 1930s, there are even "automatic valves" that raise/lower the radiator inflow automatically to maintain a set temperature, like a thermostat (this is the invention that Danfoss was built on). That's exactly the system I had when I lived in Copenhagen, and it worked pretty well. But it seems to have been largely replaced in NYC with forced-air heating that has no individual controls? So yes, to "adjust the thermostat" downwards, people literally open their windows in January, blowing heat into the outdoors.

NYC landlords are a unique species of scum. If it's doesn't cost them anything, it's good.

There's a lot of history that got us here. One of the outcomes/legacies of this stuff is rent regulation, and the standards of operation there extend into unregulated apartments as well.

Fixing the steam heating valves will decrease their energy costs as tenants reduce the heat they demand, since they all seemed to be overheated. I wonder why they don't do it.

Because the tenant pays the bill, not the landlord so the landlord has no incentive to fix.

With a proper working housing market the landlord might have an incentive to fix (because people just won't rent from your wrecked place if they can get a better place for the same money) - but given the housing shortage in cities like NYC, even a run down shack is better than sleeping in the park.

It gives them an excuse to raise the rent. I'm sure that rents aren't falling this year with gas prices!

There are two things. One, many of the steam units have a knob which doesn't actually work (landlords seal/paint it to the point that you cannot move it.) One of the apartments I grew up in in Brooklyn had one of these "units", and according to my grandmother, the knob hadn't worked in many decades (she started living in that apartment in ~1930.) How this came to be is definitely a mystery.

Two, some steam apartments don't have a unit at all, just a pipe from floor to ceiling. Older tenements feature these (the one I'm living in now has one, for example.) If you want to adjust the temperature with this, your only choices are A/C or the window. These apartments were just built this way, and this was likely the cheapest/only tech available at the time.

No, steam heat is still quite common in NYC. It's just those valves work approximately 0% of the time.

To agree with chmullig, NYC apartments I've seen are almost all steam heated, but I don't think I've ever heard of a working valve. Most people I know adjust temperature in the winter by opening windows (apartments are largely overheated, for some reason).

The reason we heat with full-apartment systems and cool individually is that landlords are required to pay for heating (and hot water) but don't want to pay for cooling.

I'm from a warm climate part of the developing world and we got split units for a long time and the window ones are not really common due to inconvenience during the install process and despite their relative economic pricing to their competitors.

It's not necessarily only window units. Many apartments have in-wall units also. It would be cost prohibitive for most to close up a hole in a brick wall to install a split unit.

I guess this might be an example where leapfrogging technology by being a bit late ends up with better results? One reason split units are popular in southern Europe is precisely because they're cheaper to install than wall units, since you only have to drill a small hole through the wall, not open up a big gap. But I can see that if you already opened up a big gap, because you installed A/C back when the ductless split units weren't widely available, then it'd be more expensive to close it back up again. A/C has only really gotten common in Italy, Greece, and Spain since the '90s or so, so they went straight to the modern split units when retrofitting.

This doesn't explain NYC, where a huge number of apartments use window units. Landlords don't feel compelled to provide A/C, so tenants need to provide their own, but tenants aren't allowed to drill any holes at all, so they're left with window units. Plus, window units are cheap as chips in NYC--under $200.

In any case, almost nobody in NYC uses the sort of split system so common everywhere else. Older buildings are left with window units, while new buildings have built-in units, often with the most horrible control panels you can imagine from some dudes in New Jersey.

My building, from the 80s, has no central air, but through wall cutouts the size of a window unit. However, when I went to buy an air conditioner I found that only one company made a unit the exact right size and the cost 3x more than the BTU equivalent window unit.

How about using the radiators and district cooling? Distributed hardware is usually not very efficient, especially here with space and noise constraints.

Radiators do not work for cooling. Cooling creates condensation, which will drip on and rot the floor unless you move it out of the building somehow. Cool air also needs to be forced to circulate, whereas hot air will do that on its own.

I just left a 3 story walk up with central air and I can say the during the summer the large roof mounted AC units (technically split systems as you describe them) drove me absolutely insane. The humming caused by multiple machines running made it almost impossible for me to stay at home and fall asleep.

I'm sure there are smart mechanical engineers working on vibration free AC units, but until then I'm looking for a house.

The propeller was invented 200 years ago. I think the aerodynamics for silent ones have been known for 70 years (laminar flow).

The rest is just politics - those who pay for the conditioning system are not the ones who suffer from the noise - and even if they were, they have no competence to differentiate.

Maybe if apartments had noise ratings, and they could charge neighboring buildings for the measurable loss of worth from noise. Maybe there are precedents from airfield politics.

Seconding mandatory noise ratings for buildings and all thermal conditioning machines. In Europe they've invented all sort of energy efficiency ratings to sell wares already, i don't see why it can't be be done for noise.

I believe what you describe is partly caused by a beat frequency: the humming of different units is at slightly different frequencies, giving a noise with time-varying perceived amplitude. This is much more disturbing than a constant noise.

building laws, zoning, and history, all conspire here. Now new energy efficiency regulations may finally push the move to centralized or similar systems. Still the zoning restrictions tend to run into issues when more than two percent of a buildings space is classified as mechanical.

Also NYC does a lot of older structures that would be too costly to retrofit

Soundproofing can be extremely useful, but it's also expensive and unavailable for most tenants. Because it involves construction work, quality soundproofing can't happen without the consent of the landlord.

I think a lot of people are overlooking a solution that would improve quality of life: Make it easier to punish noisy people.

Even when I've lived near busy streets like Van Ness, most of my annoyances have come from inside the building, not outside. It's amazing how much grief a careless neighbor can inflict on the dozens around them. All it takes is a subwoofer and a taste for bass. Even if multiple neighbors complain, there's little that can be done. In my case, most of the neighbors –including myself– gave up and moved. Had the laws been more reasonable, the only one moving would be the cause of the nuisance.

Yup. Another thing is that many older NYC apartment buildings are built with paper thin walls/floors, which obviously has no easy fix. Another issue, especially for people who are just "passing through" the city is a lack of concern for others since they aren't around long. My current building, for example, has people moving in an out every 4-6 months. Hard for many to care when they view their apartment as a glorified hotel room.

The choices in these cases are passive-aggressive notes in the lobby, or direct confrontation at 3AM when the bass is pumping, which is what it usually comes down to, unfortunately.

Older buildings, at least those built prior to WWII, are specifically sought out because they don't have paper thin walls and floors. They generally have plaster interior walls, thick poured concrete floors, and triple layer masonry exterior walls. Postwar buildings on the other hand tend to have gypsum (sheetrock) interior walls, thinner reinforced concrete floors acoustically bound to the frame, and thinner exterior walls. Newer windows are much quieter, but that's something that can be updated fairly easily.

The worst buildings were probably built from the end of WWII to the early 1970s. Stuyvesant Town apartments, for example, are terribly noisy.

The buildings I've lived in were built in: 1910 (Lower East Side), 1920 (Yorkville), 1915 (Kensington), 1928 (Brighton Beach), and 1910 (Upper East Side), and all of them were awfully thin. Maybe we have different definitions of paper thin, but I have always been able to hear my neighbors: walking, talking, playing music, taking a shower, or watching TV.

Interesting. Do you know if any/all of them had plaster walls? Maybe they had all been gut renovated at some point?

No clue at all.

Don't most renters have to sign a year lease?

Yup. Doesn't seem to stop people. They just take the security deposit hit and move on.

Until I was 15 I lived in a house in Brooklyn on a residential but busy street close to a major commercial intersection. To this day I actually find external city sounds soothing - ambient traffic sounds, even police and fire engine sirens.

But for a good part of my adult life I lived in apartment buildings. Except where I was lucky (for example, living for a year in a top-floor Chicago apartment sharing a wall with an absentee neighbor), I've had many problems with inside-building noises due to other residents. I know well the subwoofer-bass problem, the sounds of a television traveling from the ceiling or floor, the sounds of footsteps and chairs scraping across the floor above. All horrible. But external city noises have mostly not been a problem.

Everyone has to make noise sometimes, and it's not just distasteful bass. Good luck succeeding in a noise complaint about a crying infant. I'd rather make it illegal to build paper-thin walls.

True. But it's much harder to block a low-frequency sound like a thumping bass, than a high-frequency sound like a crying infant. Thicker walls etc. would take care of the sound from crying infants, but can it ever get rid of a thumping bass? Harsher punishments might be necessary for low-frequency sounds.

There's gotta be a way to isolate the subwoofer from the floor to at least reduce it. My dream apartment would have 60dB+ of isolation above 60Hz, but that would probably be prohibitively expensive and bulky if the walls weren't already concrete.

> if the walls weren't already concrete.

And that’s when you make concrete walls mandatory.

Considering that multiple complaints from multiple neighbors couldn't stop one guy from blasting music, I think current laws (at least in SF) err too much on the side of non-punishment.

> I'd rather make it illegal to build paper-thin walls.

Let's say you manage to pass a law forcing all new construction to have excellent soundproofing. That won't fix the problem for a century. Buildings last a really long time. Heck, tons of old buildings still have asbestos or lead paint. I seriously doubt their soundproofing is going to be fixed before those. Punishing noisy people is the only solution that works with our existing infrastructure.

If sound isolation became a feature that people wanted, with the initial push provided by building codes, then apartments could compete on isolation and both noisy and noise-sensitive individuals would move there. Then landlords would start providing more isolation to attract tenants.

Of course, that's moot if supply is artificially restricted to the point where renters have no choice where to live, but not all cities have that problem.

Wouldn't an epic startup idea be to build a ventilated, sound-proof, vibration-proof box for sleeping in and then sell it directly to consumers? I imagine it would be a hell of a lot cheaper than sound-proofing an entire house or having to move because of crappy neighbors and I'd sure as hell buy one if it existed. A device like that probably would have saved me from having to move from my last house under quite bad terms, plus imagine being able to have parties in your house and then being able to sleep when you get over it without having to wind down the whole party. There's probably multiple user-cases for such a device but I honestly don't know how practical this would be to build - acoustics != my field.

Well they exist in the phone booth size:


We have one of them in my office, it's uncanny how much noise they block.

I could see one of these being made in various bed sizes and have some integrated shelving & lighting to act as a nightstand. They have versions that look like hardwood panelling, they look pretty cool.

You could still get lots of sunlight since they are mostly window on two sides. I think they would need a side window version and a vertical window version depending on the orientation of windows in your bedroom.

It would solve one class of noise problems for sure!

They would also be renter friendly, and possible to black out since your can install your internal shutters.

This is remarkably similar to an idea presented, and prototyped, on the most recent season of Nathan for You:


And it worked under the most extreme conditions! If you could build something a bit bigger and more elegant looking, I'd totally give it a try.

There are companies that offer sound/vibration isolating chambers [0][1][2][3][4], typically they're geared toward audiometric testing or musicians. From what you are describing, you'd like something a little smaller, but even then they're going to be bulking, heavy and expensive if you want them to provide any reasonable attenuation.

[0] http://www.iac-acoustics.com/us/soundproof-rooms-and-booths/

[1] http://www.wengercorp.com/sound-isolation/index.php

[2] http://www.whisperroom.com/sound-booth-applications-practice

[3] DIY solution: http://www.soundproofing.org/infopages/portable_sound_contro...

[4] http://www.gretchken.com/sound_booths.htm

A great idea if you spend most of your time outside and your house is like a hostel for you to have a bed to crash on but if you spend a good amount of your time at home or you have a famliy, it would make more sense to invest more in securing your house altogether and not only the bed or sleeping pod as you suggested.

A great idea that could be extended to include a soundproof work or study space?

Very hard sell. Most people love not sleeping in a box, and love their double or queen size beds.

And how would ventilation work? The box is powered, with its own climate control? What about safety such as waking suddenly in the dark and cracking your head on your sound proof box, or needing a quick exit in emergency?

Nobody wants a very large ugly thing in their small bedroom, used only sometimes. Can it be folded away? Unlikely.

Sorry, but a sound proof box for sleeping in is the worst idea I've heard in a long time!! Funny though. A better idea is noise cancelling headphones which can be worn in bed - soft, no hard edges or wires so can sleep on your side without issue.

> ... is the worst idea I've heard in a long time.

That's probably what most people said about twitter the first time they heard about it. I suspect there's a way to make this concept work quite nicely. After all, people also don't mind spending a lot of time in cars, which are also air-controlled soundproofed boxes.

I still say that about Twitter!

And the topic here is sound proofing an apartment. Think about how small an apartment bedroom is, and imagine installing a pod big enough, heavy enough and practical for moving out of the way when you don't need it. Wouldn't work. Forget about it!

...unless the "pod" only covers your head somehow, "cone of silence style" while you sleep. There might be something in that, but a pod for your whole body is not practical in an apartment bedroom.

Definitely not for the apartment, but I did happen to check out and stay in a rent-able nap pod (10-15€/hr) while passing through MUC. It was a surprisingly pleasant experience - http://www.napcabs.com/

For sure, I don't doubt it was comfortable. They look like proper installed commercial pods.

But as you say, not for an apartment - which is the point of this topic on sound proofing.

Do you know how hygiene/bedding works in those things? I would hate to go into one just after someone left and they were using the sheets/bed.

I didn't experience firsthand, but apparently cleaning staff are dispatched when you "check out". For what it's worth, the bedding seemed fresh and the room was spotless. (I didn't check more carefully with a UV light for invisible stains.)

This would be really useful for those that want to practice playing acoustic instruments like drums, or even as a space to practice singing.


10/10 Please someone make this happen.

How would you deal with claustrophobia?

Like a capsule hotel: A high ceiling (enough to sit up inside the thing) and good ventilation should be enough to fool your brain into thinking you're in a larger space than you are.

Maybe even have a curved screen on top and have a picture of the stars (or anything you like).

That device is called ear-plugs.

Ear-plugs don't help with low-frequency vibrations like that from an elevator. The manager of my last building would disable the elevator from midnight to 6AM which provided some relief.

Noise, vibration, light pollution (e.g., excessively bright white LED street lamps) is something more people will deal with as urbanization increases. Also, when you have a lot of neighbors in close proximity someone will keep you from getting sleep. Whenever I meet a grumpy neighbor I now assume they are sleep deprived.

The light pollution is solved with an eye-cover, at least.

Some people cant tolerate ear plugs for long periods of time. They block the throat tubes and lead to painful infection.

If you are sitting, then noise cancelation headphones are a hygenic alternative. But this does work for mosr sleeping positions.

They block the throat tubes and lead to painful infection.


Your eustachian tubes that connect the back of your throat to your inner ear aren't affect by ear plugs. Your ear drum seals your inner ear from your outer ear.

Pretty sure there's some alternatives to in-ear plugs that can be a compromise between headphone like hearing protection devices and solutions that jam foreign objects into your ear. For a cheap alternative, those ear muffs that barely cover your ears without bands may be worth a try.

Heck, you can always use products like this that seem to be sufficient http://www.amazon.com/Hibermate-Sleeping-Luxurious-Exterior-...

Hah, nice to see I'm not the only non-crazy person here.

Noise is one of the factors we considered in buying a house. Through some experiments, we derived some metrics. We realized that anything closer than .25 miles from a highway and we would hear the noise during rush hour. Also you didn't want to have a house right adjacent to any of the busy streets. Its amazing how when we walk just one house away from a busy street how much the noise is attenuated. The peace and quiet when sitting in your backyard is something to value.

We did similar experiments while looking for houses. One of the most surprising findings was that noise from the highway is much louder on cloudy days. Our theory was that clouds (or at least low altitude clouds) reflect noise back. It was strange to hear, quite clearly, highway noises from a mile away.

I live in a condo next to a highway. With trees, some double pane glass, concrete construction and who knows what else, I don't hear highway noise at all. When I open the porch window, it sounds like quiet background white noise.

I actually hear people coming in and out of the condo more than the highway.

With trees

FYI, trees don't block sound unless the strand is extremely dense and at least 100-ft thick. Their value is more psychological (out-of-sight, out-of-mind) than physical in reducing the perception of noise.

> Sirens, rooftop fans, construction and upstairs neighbors who clomp about like a team of clog-dancing Clydesdales are common conditions of city living.

It's amazing how oblivious some people are to the fact that every step they take is actually a huge stomp. I'm surprised their ankles don't shatter from repeatedly hammering their full body weight down onto their heels.

Isn't it uncomfortable for them to use their heels like pistons? How does it not hurt?

And yet everyone wonders why many choose to commute and not live in a crowded city or next to a freeway. The Bay Area is extremely noisy with most housing near major transit. Definitely a growing market for abatement services.

I don't know why you were downvoted - transportation noise is the major noise course in this USA and creates a lot of negative affects. We as a society need mechanized transportation to function as we do, but it creates some negative effects. At the risk of sounding self-serving, we need to do more to help reduce these effects, but noise control is waaaaaaaaaaay down the list of problems that are addressed in capital transportation projects.

> noise control is waaaaaaaaaaay down the list of problems that are addressed in capital transportation projects.

At least in Europe it is considered almost always.

But seriously, this sounds like a vicious cycle:

1. Streets are too loud.

2. So you move further away, use car instead of walking.

3. Streets are even louder.

4. Even more people move into the suburbs.

At least in Europe it is considered almost always.

I should have appended "in the USA" to that sentence. Europe is far, far ahead of us in terms of addressing noise in general and transportation noise in particular.

For example, many Americans may have noticed that kitchen/home appliances (dishwashers, washing machines, etc) have gotten significantly quieter over the last decade or so. The reason for that is that an EU directive set maximum noise levels for common appliances. Because many manufacturers sell the same units to the US and to Europe, they designed all of their products to meet the noise spec and we Americans got the benefit.

In terms of transportation noise, I am continually blown away by the public and private sector support consultants in western Europe get in support of noise analysis and noise mapping. I've seen projects in Europe spend more money address flow noise from a high-speed rail door handle than we get addressing noise over an entire rail corridor.

This kind of noise is the bane of my existence. Any good texts on this subject out there?

For a book that's lightly technical, there's F. Alton Everest's "Master Handbook of Acoustics" that discusses many aspects of acoustics, but does cover noise control and sound abatement.

For more technical treatments, my go-to books are Leo Beranek's "Acoustics" (or Beranek's "Noise and Vibration Control" if you just care about the noise control aspect) and "Fundamentals of Acoustics" by Kinsler and Frey.

Your username lends your post an air of authority :)

Great, thanks!

Can we hire her to tell the drunk people outside to shut up and the neighbor not to blast his tv at 2am?

Drunks are a big problem in my neighbourhood, especially on weekends. Last night I had to get up at 05:00 to tell a bunch of drunks to bugger off. They didn't like that, so they made more noise. Sigh.

My strategy: shine a bright flashlight and don't say a word until they leave.

This. People (especially drunks) don't like confrontation. Just make them feel uncomfortable and they'll want to get away from you, not the other way around.

Shining a flashlight on them is freaking hilarious.

That actually sounds like a pretty good idea for smaller groups. Will definitely give it a try!

As a owner of an apartment in Greenwhich village, noise-proofing windows is the extent to which I am allowed to modify my apartment. All else will involve appealing to the board, appeasing the neighbors during the construction phase and other headaches - not to mention the cost.

But these windows at about 500$ do a pretty good job.

Noise is a particularly complex topic (and spiral) here in NYC.

First, the housing stock is old. It’s hard to build new, mostly for zoning reasons. Old building will be more leaky and creaky.

Unlike most of the country, even new construction does not include central air, and often does not include central heating. They use wall units called PTACs, even in “luxury” buildings. These units are loud.

NYC is dense, which means each neighbor’s noise matters more, including our automotive “neighbors”.

That said, sirens are far and away the biggest problem. They are loud enough to distort in one’s own ears. Well over 100db at street level. Apartments are close to the street. And clogged streets means emergency vehicles move slowly, while screaming.

Reducing this outlier would be the single biggest win, even over car traffic, which is comparatively benign.

I dunno. I think garbage trucks at night are by far more annoying than sirens. Maybe it depends on your neighborhood? I really think that NYC should mandate electric garbage trucks.

They wake me up every wednesday night. I live in a dead end street, so they have to reverse for the entire length of the street, all the while going beep beep beep, this vehicle is reversing, beep beep beep. I'm surprised that stuff isn't illegal.

You should see them in my street (Kiel, Germany) in winter: Backing out, on ice, beep beep beep, sliding the hill back down, trying to back out again beep beep beep ... and repeat.

I'm surprised how little focus there is on noise insulation for apartments. This does not seem to be a high priority for most apartment complexes being constructed. For example, most people seem to care more about the size of the apartment than whether or not it's quiet. Personally, I'd rather live in a quiet 500-square-foot apartment than a noisy 2000-square-foot one. But I guess I'm different from most people.

New apartments are built to be sold, not be lived in. If it looks good when it sells, that's all that matters.

For this reason, much of the sought-after stock in NYC are townhouses that were built for, and occupied by, particular families and then later subdivided.

Amazing! Anyone knows a good source for acoustics fundamentals?

See my response to pervycreeper

No one ever mentions this, but do you know what is almost as bad? The ocean. I have romantic ideas about living next to the beach. Worse than living next to a highway.

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