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Dear Architects: Sound Matters (nytimes.com)
363 points by tysone on Dec 29, 2015 | hide | past | web | favorite | 138 comments

It doesn't talk about it much but...Apartment noise from neighbors. Oh. My. Gosh.

I live in an area where many expensive, luxury apartments have been built in the last few years and every single one of them have complaints from "hearing the person above me set the toilet seat down" for example.

I now base what apartment I live in by the thickness and sound isolation of the walls and ceilings/floors.

I lived in a complex built in the 80's. It's dead silent. I can jump up and down on my floor and the neighbor below me will never hear. Now in a newer complex, I can't walk across my hardwood floored kitchen without knowing my neighbor will hear every footstep. I have to take the people above me a bottle of wine and ask them kindly to try and not make as much noise as it sounds like they are moving furniture ALL THE TIME. Even though it's not their fault...and they really aren't moving furniture every evening...They are just walking around...

Architects, engineers, whoever...please, please, please, stop skimping out on noise insulation in new construction. You are creating a whole generation of buildings that are awful to live in. My next apartment, I have no idea what I'm going to do...the tour ends right away for me when I hear thumps from above the second I walk into the room.

I seriously shouldn't and don't want to know every time the couple next to me has sex or the guys on the other side of me are watching a loud action movie.

I would pay so much more in rent per month for a place that had more sound insulation. Take note building developers. I WILL PAY MORE.

I wrote about this on Quora [1] some time ago. Here are the highlights on some ways to check if the unit you're touring has an above average acoustical design without just making noise in an adjacent unit:

(1) Is the floor construction concrete and steel or a wood joist system. The concrete/steel building type is preferred. A caveat is if it is a "loft" style with no ceiling (drywall, etc) and is open to the concrete structure for reasons I'll describe at the end.

(2) Ask if the apartment building was designed to convert to condos at some point. If the potential conversion was known during design, an acoustics professional may have been involved.

(3) Is the space marketed as "luxury?" While dangerous to trust marketing this much, if legitimately so, should have "above norm" acoustical separation between spaces.

(4) Pull a wall plate off a switch that's in a demising wall between units and look for fiberglass in the wall cavity around the edges of the backbox. You may be able to knock on walls and tell if they're hollow or fiberglass filled. If you find two layers of drywall between the plate and backbox, that's a good sign.

(5) Often the bathroom/toilet plumbing is along the corridor wall in newer buildings. Can you hear the water running from the corridor? If so, you can expect to hear the neighbors' plumbing above your unit too. Listen for water hissing in the walls while you run the kitchen sink.

Yes there's noise through walls from adjacent neighbors, but be aware of impact noises above. If floors are hard (not carpet) expect to hear footfall noise unless a resilient underlayment was properly installed in the units and/or the ceiling is isolated in the unit below. If the unit has hardwood floors, check for a gap between the baseboard trim and the floor by running a business card between. If it doesn't fit, then the resilient floor is compromised and your neighbors below are likely to hear your footfalls, and chances are you will hear your neighbors' above too.

[1] https://www.quora.com/When-renting-an-apartment-how-can-I-te...

At this point, if I ever have to look at living in apartments/condos again, I will limit my search only to concrete high rise buildings. Which usually means at least 8 floors or taller -- I don't think it's possible to build that tall with plywood garbage.

I lived in a concrete high rise recently and it wasn't very nice. It didn't feel like a home, more like an office. There was noise from the plumbing and the car park was so noisey I couldn't use it because the ventilation system was almost as loud as a jet engine.

I am moving into a brand new 3 story building made with concrete slab floors and masonry block walls. It has nice high ceilings and I got the best corner with only 1 shared wall, lots of Windows and natural light, and quiet street. Unfortunately, it is very rare to find an apartment this good.

Why can't you use the car park? The noise prevents you from parking your car there?

Honestly, I would too. Having plywood subfloors might be ok if they topped it with gypcrete, but living with floor squeaks and footfalls from another tenant above is no fun.

Plywood has it's place in economical housing that's earthquake safe. The shame is just if the market rent is high enough that better construction could have been afforded by the developer in the first place.

Sounds like the entire of Japan, no wonder you have to take your shoes off before entering. All in China is concrete, I don't think I've ever heard my neighbors above me. However, I remember in my old place, they had a small dog and I heard his paws all the time. Never people feet, just paws (well, we are supposed to take off our shoes here also, floors are all hardwood, no carpet in the entire country).

Gypcrete is better than plain old floors and probably the best that can be done with wood framing.

That won't be enough unfortunately - a lot of solid brick/concrete buildings have cheap non-load-bearing walls.

Or do what I used to do - just ask the neighbours what the noise is like.

What for buildings that are brick-on-mortar?

I presume this is the exterior facade? What's the interior construction?

Chalk-Sandstone bricks on common mortar interior, it’s the most common interior construction here.

The exterior is clay bricks on mortar.

I'm not familiar with the details of this construction, but in general massive building materials (concrete, CMU, brick) are your friend. The risks are penetrations through these materials for pipes and electrical conduit or other openings at the top of wall.

It would make for a good blog post to talk about how mass relates to sound blocking between spaces and how we've learned to "hack" wall partitions using mass-air-mass assemblies (like standard drywall walls) instead of just mass alone.

I guess you should just make sure the sound reduction standard is part of the specs. The country where I live (Germany) uses a pretty simple rule to reduce the number of court cases for sound protection issues like this - a certain standard is considered "state of the art", and if a developer wants to deviate from it he needs to specify it explicitly in the contract. For residential multi-tenant buildings, state of the art is considered what is specified in class II in DIN norm 4109 appendix 2. that stated a minimum reduction of 55 DB for walls and ceilings under a certain measurement regime, and a maximum level of 25 DB for technical installments in the building, among other things. I moved into such a building lately, and most of the times (like now) it is dead silent to the point you can listen to the clock ticking. If a baby cries at night in the floor above, it can be audible, but not to the point where one gets woken up. Overall it is a good compromise that is as good or better to the places I lived in previously.

I'm sure this is all true, but I've also heard that Neubau apartment buildings tend to transmit a lot more noise (I've never lived in one), as compared to Altbau apartments with much thicker walls.

Lived in altbau buildings for 10+ years. It totally depends. In our previous flat the most silent wall was the (modern) drywall to the adjacent apartment. In the one before there were steal beams which transmitted noise if something like a speaker was positioned too close.

The worst buildings are probably the postwar period buildings which were built both cheaply and without the regulatory framework in use today.

I lived in a very quiet building from the 50s in east Germany. But my apartment was at the top, so no noises from above, and only quiet people to one site.

Take note building developers. I WILL PAY MORE.

There are three potential problems that we frequently come across:

1. Many building developers just don't care, so long as the structure meets minimum code (which is typically based on the International Building Code model standard of STC 50)

2. Many building developers (and architects) may care, but don't have the knowledge to pull it off. They may even design sound insulation measures based on existing designs, but may not be aware that a particular detail difference between the reference design and their design may render the the sound insulation moot.

3. The developers and/or architects may care and may have the knowledge to properly design the structure, but the contractors either don't care or don't have the knowledge to construct the building properly leading to short-circuits or substitutions the render the sound insulation design useless.

I'm not an architect, or familiar with construction practices, etc.

My theory is however that because the demand for high end, luxury rental apartments, or even just apartments in general, is so high in some places right now that contractors/investors know that despite short-cuts and things like sound insulation, they know they can still fill the complex and meet/beat their ROI goals.

The problem with that, I believe, is the demand will come and go and these buildings 10-20 years from now might have a hard time keeping the needed occupancy rate. So many things can affect that, i.e., young couples/families actually may not mind living in urban apartments, however; If a large number of complexes are terrible with noise pollution, they may opt to move to a stand alone house in the suburbs. And many other societal trends, etc.

I think we are cutting corners on many new buildings right now that may create low occupancy areas later on. All the growth and development of today will be for nothing. It's the mentality of, "I don't care about this neighborhood or what it will be like in 10 years+, I can make my money now and move on, who cares".

How do we make the large capital investment world care and stay interested long-term (10+ years).

In the case of sound insulation, the solution would be to mandate sound insulation (STC) and ceiling/floor insulation (IIC) testing as a condition of obtaining the occupancy permit.

Such testing is performed on HUD-financed housing and for housing where state and/or Federal authorities are kicking in funds to mitigate noise from a capital project (typically an airport, highway or rail project). For private developments, it's typically not done unless the developer thinks the architect or contractor screwed up and wants to cover his ass in the event of a lawsuit down the line.

Individuals care about the future market worth of their home quite a lot (more than is healthy, IMO). If you can tell them a particular apartment will be unsellable in 10 or 20 years, they'll listen, and may well buy a different one.

My theory is that there are enough people who don't care that much about noise that they'll sell fine in 10+ years too.

Overall people are not so smart and builders take advantage of it. They can advertise "Granite countertops" but not "concrete construction"

The problem is most people don't know enough about construction that they can tell whether a place is going to be noisy or not. Once they're in it's too much of a hassle to move just because you can hear your neighbors fighting at 2:00 am.

I toured an apartment building several years ago that had 2-story units, where a unit's living space was on top of it's bedrooms, so a cross-section of the building would look something like:

Unit C living space

Unit C bedrooms

Unit B living space

Unit B bedrooms

Unit A living space

Unit A bedrooms

This means that the space directly above one's bedrooms - their very own living space - was less likely to be occupied while they were sleeping. Seemed like a very ingenious design to me.

My life has taken me to live in SFHs now, so I don't really look at a lot of apartment buildings anymore, but I've never seen another building with this design.

Except if your sleep-awake cycle don't align. This goes horribly wrong if you are entertaining guests while your neighbours are trying to sleep, or the family upstairs is having children's saturday playtime while the doctor downstairs is trying to sleep off a 36-hour double night shift.

Read the comment again. Your room above your bedroom is your own living room. This means that the family upstairs having a party is your own family :)

Most modern buildings with concrete ceilings have little sounds transmission to the apartment above, the most annoying sound transmission is from footsteps to the apartment below. That's why that idea works so nicely.

Oh, I see! The text layout confused me. I thought you meant the layouts are stacked so that identical apartments aren't exactly on top of one another, but shifted.

^^^ This, SO much.

I'm single. I ended up in a house solely because every shared living space tried had serious noise issues.

I don't need all this room -- nor the maintenance. But I am most reluctant to share walls, ceiling, even a floor with someone else, ever again. Even if it's quiet, moving in, who knows what you're going to get next month, year?

Urban planners want us to live more densely and "efficiently." My primary response: Fix the noise problems. Then we can talk.

Urban planners want us to live more densely and "efficiently." My primary response: Fix the noise problems. Then we can talk.

Absolutely. It's not a small problem or minor inconvenience. I once got home to my flat after work to find that my downstairs neighbours had come round and aggressively criticised my then-girlfriend for the noise we'd been making walking around the previous night... when we were staying with family 50 miles away. The noise was bad enough that normally pleasant people had apparently been very much not pleasant, and it was carrying across multiple homes such that they couldn't even tell who it was that was keeping them up all night. (Spoiler: It turned out to be the flat adjacent to ours on the same level, where the thin carpets originally installed had been replaced by otherwise attractive wood flooring.)

I had to make this decision recently. I am moving into an apartment soon. It is all concrete though, so I think it might be different to the types of apartments you tried. I did think about moving into a house in the middle of nowhere but the thought of a single person living in a 4 bedroom house with a yard was just too ridiculous for me. Also, the windows of the houses were only a few metres apart so I am not sure it would have been an better. The other problem was that the demographic was very different to me.

> My primary response: Fix the noise problems. Then we can talk.

People in some other parts of the world already denser and quieter. It's a shame the US is so backward there.

This resonates (!?) with me. For 10 years or so noise from above was perhaps the single most annoying thing in my life. You can adapt to a continuous noise, but intermittent stomping ... oy vey. If I ever go back to apartment living, somehow ensuring this is not a problem (if you are just viewing it's hard to know whether pleasant quietness is temporary or permanent) is my number one priority.

There was a good article a few weeks ago about apartment noise:


I noticed this when I lived in a 12 story concrete cinderblock in Crystal city Virginia. I never once heard my neighbors. It was literally concrete between every floor. Then I moved out to Fairfax Virginia into a newer, plywood construction. I could hear my neighbors quite well. Newer buildings used cheaper materials, and as such sound travels easily.

> I would pay so much more in rent per month for a place that had more sound insulation. Take note building developers. I WILL PAY MORE.

I wonder where you live. I live in a under-developed nation with bad real-estate and there is a good number of building with special noise isolation. Granted, they are double the price. Not only because of noise isolation, they come with other perks (security, pool, quality of materials...).

If you are living in a 2million+ city, my guess this kind of estate already exists. Maybe you should search better.

United States. City is 2 million +, however the area I'm in is very hip/wealthy (mostly young professionals between 23 - 40 with salary jobs). I like to joke that our city's official bird is the crane, because there is a construction crane on every block. The speed at which they build new apartments is ridiculous. They are simply cranking them out as fast as possible to meet demand.

This city is also had the 1/2nd highest growth rate in the US in 14'/15'...if that's any clue. (it's Dallas...)

And yes, apartments do exist here that have great sound insulation, however out of the newer complexes, I'd say most do not. That is my point really.

I live in a 20million+ city in China (we call 2million a village). Everything is concrete and overbuilt (walls, floors are thick); so noise for the units around you is fine. However, outside is another story: I've had many sleepless nights with construction outside, and delivery trucks with backup warning sounds...ugh. Right now is dance-in-the-square time, and I can hear whatever music the old ladies are dancing to pretty clearly!

> Architects, engineers, whoever...please, please, please, stop skimping out on noise insulation in new construction.

Noise isolation is expensive. Owners and developers rarely want to pay for it. The problem is rarely the architect/engineer, the problem is that it's an expensive up-front design+construction cost, and also difficult to achieve after construction.

They don't care. The bottom dollar is all they care about. Even new single family custom construction will be built like crap if you don't ride them hard and pay premium prices.

The only quiet low/mid rise buildings built now are the precast concrete building (think Hampton inn). They only get built that way because of the building codes.

>> I now base what apartment I live in by the thickness and sound isolation of the walls and ceilings/floors.

>> I have to take the people above me a bottle of wine and ask them kindly to try and not make as much noise ...

I just live on the top floor.

When I was apartment hunting I refuse to live on any floor but the top for this exact reason. My heating and cooling bills are terrible because there's not much insulation, but there's no one walking around above my head.

I vaguely recall reading an article summarising research that found that one of the overlooked methods of reducing crime in densely populated cities was better sound insulation.

The problem is that it rarely is a direct cause, except in rare crime passionnel situations. However, there's a measurable indirect effect when you add up the extra irritation, lack of sleep, etc. which affects all inhabitants of an apartment block. The consequences are measurable when you look at the "average".

I can remember looking at a new build apartment in Bath (UK) and having my wife go next door and talk loudly. We walked away from it. Building regs are minimum standards.

If you are ready to pay more, why not to soundproof your room? It's not expensive.

How can you after the fact effectively silence sound from below (floor) and above (ceiling)? Genuinely curious what's possible and not expensive.

"Expensive" is in the eye of the payer. Do you think a few thousand is expensive? A developer absolutely does. Also, it takes more space, so doing it after the fact may lower your ceiling more than you're comfortable with (assuming your landlord is even willing.)

We could solve this with code updates and strict enforcement. However, pro business types will complain that it increases rents (probably true in the short term) and drives down development (probably not actually true.) Also, better sound management generates more livable spaces that better support city growth in 10 or 20 years, which is also important from a sustainability point of view. But nobody wants to pay for that. That's "someone else's" problem.

Note: Ceiling heights are part of spec. Even losing 1" could put you out of spec.

As a renter you have very little power to do anything.

Where I live you're allowed to stick things on the ceiling as long as you take them off again when you leave.

Cheaper and easier to do it during development vs. after the fact. He wants to move to a new place with sound insulation and not do it himself.

Because installing soundproofing that effectively blocks footsteps of a 3-year old is impossible after the building was built in the wrong way.

Sound propagates through floors, heating installations, windows, cable ducts etc. If those weren't properly installed and shielded it's pretty much impossible to dampen sound without rebuilding several floors.

Assuming the poster is American, he's likely talking about a rental unit (apartment), not an owner-occupied unit (condominium).

If that's the case, what can one do to alleviate noise problems in an apartment? Changing the flooring, or adding drywall, isn't usually feasible.

We recently converted an apartment space in a mixed use building to an office. It was very loft-like with 18ft exposed steal ceilings and mostly glass and concrete walls. It sounded like a gymnasium when I lived in it as an apartment. You could hear the neighbor walking around his living room and could barely understand someone speaking normally across the room. An acoustics expert recommended a number of changes but for a rental space acoustic panels like Armstrong Soundsoak and area rugs on the wood floors (with high quality padding below) are two things we did that are removable and not as expensive as you might think. They made up about half of the dampening effect while a drop ceiling did the rest. It now sounds like a library and we can no longer hear the neighbor at all (nor can he hear us).

I hadn't thought of the Armstrong panels. How do they install? I always assumed they were permanent (or nearly so), glued to the walls.

Ours are held on with strapping and few sheetrock screws since they are way overhead but they are very light weight. Picture hangers[1] would work for a small lowdown install or maybe some sort of double stick something... you would have to repaint and patch some holes/paint but its a huge difference. While we where waiting for them to be installed we just had them leaning against the walls like paintings waiting to be hanged. Even that was amazingly different.


Offically! you do this with a thing called "Impaling Clips"



My new favorite product name

This is what regulation is for. It would never work just by asking them.

The free market ought to be able to handle this fine. It's not that hard to find out how noisy an apartment will be when you're considering moving in.

A friend forwarded this article to me about a half-hour ago. After reading the article a few times, my feelings are a little mixed.

Yes, sound matters. Sound can help to characterize an environment. But I read some of the quotes in the article ("We need reverberation", "The beauty of the high ceilings and big windows was amplified, and humanized, by the scratching of chairs and the clomp-clomp of boots on hardwood floors", "There can be privacy in a crowd" etc) and I hope that architects don't come away with the message "background noise is good, silence is bad" because that's not the case.

Look at the Grand Central terminal example - yes, the high ceilings and reverberant background helps to create an atmosphere of a "great metropolis." But it also hurts the intelligibility of conversations and the PA system. You're trading acoustic comfort for atmosphere. The non-native English speaker or hearing-impared patron is not going to appreciate the atmosphere when they miss their train because they couldn't understand the PA announcement that departure platform has changed.

Similarly, yes a room sounds very different when a window is open. Sometimes you need that background noise. I remember being in a bedroom that was so quiet I could hear the blood flowing through my ears. I had to open a window to let in the natural sound to I didn't go crazy. On the other hand, you may not want that sound of sirens coming in at 3am when you, or your newborn, is trying to get some sleep.

I guess my recommendation hasn't changed - hire an acoustician! :)

Honestly, that library reading room sounds terrible. I should not have to hear chairs on the floor. And like you, I don't want the terminal to reverberate, I want it to be functional and welcoming.

I'm not looking for the acoustic atmosphere of a place to reassure me that that place is high-status. I think that the author of TFA does have that need.

I love how apropos your username is!

But yet - that is the reason why we have sound engineering and Acousticians.

Architects already know sound matters, this is just a puff piece by some who think they have discovered something that is already and actual trade.

Regardless, the execution of the smarmy article's hover for sounds, click to compare, was quite well done.

On a similar note... some of us are noise def... I can't really make out anything but the loudest sound in an environment like that... most conversations I don't get anything if the person isn't facing me, and even then it's only if their lip movements are enough of a key to get what they're saying... I have an inhuman sense of smell, but less-than-average vision, and piss-poor aural perception.

The harder part, is that rough surfaces that tend to mute the "loud" tend to collect a lot more dust and be harder to clean properly/regularly at scale, which is another concern for some spaces.

> because they couldn't understand the PA announcement that departure platform has changed

Does Grand Central have a non-emergency public-address system? Cannot recall having ever heard it.

Notice: a slight rant ahead.

I moved from a Dallas, TX suburb to a pretty "nice" place in Brooklyn, NY last June.

Holy shit, the things that people think of as normal and okay here are totally nuts.

I never heard a damn sound from anything in Dallas. Nothing. I could play my classical music pretty much as loud as I wanted whenever I wanted, and neighbors would never hear it.

Here in Brooklyn, I swear to god we live like animals, and people are okay with it.

I got a noise complaint with cops and everything the other day just having reasonably quiet sex with my girlfriend. Neither of us is noisy.

I can hear everything above and below and next to me. It's stupid. There's no central heat/ac. The building just turns on the heat when they feel like it, which is nuts. It's more than 80 degrees in my apt right now. I don't even like that temp ever. I have to open windows to let it cold air to bring the temp down to something reasonable.

There are no reasonable grocery store. If you want to cook a reasonable meal at home with your own cooking skills, you have to go to at least 5 different places, and there's nothing about a store that tells you what you can and can't get there. It's insane. And they don't tell you with a sign on the the door if they are or are not cash only.

I love the opportunities I've found in NYC, and am truly loving my job, but the tradeoffs are fucking terrible. Aside from public transportation, this is the worst, most idiotic city in the world.

Seriously, it's like living as an animal here.

And I live in one of the best parts of Brooklyn. This is just stupid, and I kind of hate it.

Reminds me very much of London, the prices are so high now that you're paying half your salary in rent and you'll very likely still end up in a shared "house" which has 8 bedrooms.

As you can imagine, a 4 bedroom house converted into an 8 bedroom house is not exactly quiet or peaceful.

When I decided I wanted to live alone (and bumped my rent to 74%~ of my salary) I was greeted with very serious road noise. Which seems to become an unidentifiable dull throb in your head after a while, rather than something you consciously hear.

I'm sure living in large cities is very bad for mental health.

Unless you're very well off.

Maybe that's why many New Yorkers believe, to an almost fanatical degree, that it's the best city on earth. It's the only way to resolve the cognitive dissonance that comes when you realize its shockingly poor quality of life.

I just want to say: that was the most beautiful article-reading experience I've ever had on a publisher's website.

No sidebars, suggestions, social buttons or anything...just quality content presented cleanly with just enough branding and functionality. The moving images with the sound was an excellent touch, and although it's specific to the purpose of this article, I love the idea of looping moving images that aren't obnoxious and add to the content.

I don't read the NYT very much, so I apologize if this is something that's been around for a while.

EDIT: I had loaded the site with Ad Block turned on...so I didn't see the social buttons. Frankly even those are done very elegantly, and if I were a user of those social networks, perhaps I'd even appreciate them.

Despite your glowing praise, I think this is actually an understatement. Every once in a while someone makes a point that is somehow simultaneously fresh and immediately obvious -- so obvious you can't believe you've never thought of it before. To me, this article did exactly that. Sometimes the design of things leaves element(s) that cause the user or experiencer pain, but we learn to stuff it in the back of our minds and forget it's even there. I've never even considered that the acoustic noise a place generates can contribute so much to the "feel" of it. Why don't we put more emphasis on this in our cities and working environments?

For me it would have been better if the movies only played on hover. Anything that moves catches my attention and distracts my reading.

I have to disagree. There were movies every two paragraphs. It is hard to read when something is moving around an inch from the text. Further the movies took forever to load. I sat and waited 10 minutes for one. So I really had big panes that were still for 15 seconds and then suddenly jumped.

The article would have been much better technically if the movies didn't load or play until asked for. I'd argue it would have been better still if the author removed half of the movies and expanded on his point more. I didn't get much more than what it says in the title. Is it good or bad to hear so much in a library? What are the differences between buildings designed by architects that pay attention to sound and those who don't?

The New York Times recently ran an article detailing the attention, expertise and cost it takes to properly sound-proof an apartment:

"The engineer tested the penthouse to find the problematic noise frequencies, then used accelerometers to measure the shaking. She determined which noises were airborne and which were from vibration. With that information she was able to specify materials and construction methods that would hush the rattle and hum.

Throughout the 3,500-square-foot apartment, pipes and ducts were wrapped in acoustic barrier insulation, walls and ceilings were hung on vibration-absorbing rails and floating floors were installed, at a total cost of about $200,000.


The solution is seldom as simple as adding insulation. Noise is insidious. No two room hums are exactly alike, and what silences one might make another worse. 'What a contractor did across town that worked 99 percent of the time might not work for you,' said Alan Fierstein, an acoustical consultant who owns a 39-year-old New York firm called Acoustilog."


I wish people spoke more about noise insulation in apartments.

If I don't have a baby, I don't want to be woken up in the middle of the night by crying babies. If I don't have any children, I don't want to hear them yelling all day long.

In my newly built house, I asked for the master bedroom wall to be soundproofed with rockwool and its inner door to be solid wood. It works incredibly well, and it makes the house appear bigger: If someone's watching TV in the living room, I can just go to the master bedroom and shut the door and there's incredible silence.

I did this because as a teenager I always struggled with privacy in my parent's house. Even though the house wasn't small, it was hard to have a conversation with my girlfriend without it being heard in the nearby rooms (my parents rarely watched TV, so there was no sound to mask my voice).

If I ever get the chance to build another house, I will specify rockwool insulation in all inner walls and all-around solid doors. In that way, I can have a small house with great privacy. Or I can study while someone else is watching a movie with surround sound in the adjacent room with no problem.

Rockwool (as a substitution for fiberglass or cellulose insulation) by itself shouldn't do all that much. Are the internal walls 2x4 or 2x6 construction? Do you know the thickness of the drywall panels?

Almost certainly it's the solid door doing most of the work. Doors and windows are absolutely terrible at keeping noise out. I had new windows recently installed, laminated dual-pane, real beasts. In bedrooms that face the street, almost no noise, they're amazing. But in the front room where the front door is? The door might as well be open.

2x4s. I can't remember the specs, but I recall doing research and it was a pretty dense rockwool. I did ask for the drywall panels to be thicker than normal, but I don't recall how much. I found out about staggered 2x4s (http://images.meredith.com/diy/images/2008/12/p_SCTC_100_04....) too late.

I have to agree with Domenic_S, it's probably the solid core doors (I'm guess the jambs and sill are well-sealed also) that's providing most of the benefit moreso than the rockwool.

Staggered studs are an option, resilient channel also works well, provided that it's installed correctly.

Edit: The Rockwool didn't substitute fiberglass -- inner walls are normally not insulated, they're just made of 2x4s with sheetrock on top. I could probably have saved some money by just using regular fiberglass in all inner walls.

It cuts both ways.

If you had a baby, you wouldn't want them woken up in the middle of their nap by someone coming home and turning on a TV, closing a door, or something else equally normal. If you had children, you'd want them to have a quiet place to study and rest, even when the twenty-something neighbors are throwing a raucous party.

I think most people, including parents, both don't want to be disturbed and don't want to disturb others.

When my sister had her first baby, I was tip-toeing around their house when her baby was sleeping and was told not to.

Apparently if you go about your normal day, babies will get used to falling asleep in a semi-noisy environment. However, you go out of your way to create an ultra quiet place when they sleep, any slight disturbance will wake them up.

True, but there's a difference between "don't bother keeping your voice down when talking in the next room" and "my baby wakes up when the neighbor three apartments down the hall slams his door". I don't necessarily want noise insulation within a dwelling, but I sure want it insulated from my neighbors.

> I don't necessarily want noise insulation within a dwelling, but I sure want it insulated from my neighbors.

For me, this would be the goal. Being able to hear the next room over for loud noises could be a safety issue, but hearing my neighbor has never been a positive. I can see zones of sounds inside a dwelling (e.g. kitchen - dining room - living room sound separated from bedrooms or office).

In my 20 years of experience with apartments and noise, "most" people do not care about disturbing others. This is at best "some" people, but likely "a few".

I live on the ground floor of a six-unit building in a university area. Not too long after the new semester starts, I find myself having to politely get the attention of a new student renter because they are playing music loudly at 3AM.

Every single time I've done it, they've apologized, turned it down, and usually thanked me for doing it myself instead of calling the cops.

I've lived here for about three years now. It's a smaller pile of anecdata than yours but I don't feel like I'm likely to see a different trend any time soon.

I don't buy it. I think being a disturbance is just much easier than one realizes.

I believe New York, or any other crowded big city, like Shanghai or Beijing is hardly the model of how things should sound.

After having lived in those cities I enjoy a lot living in places like Switzerland or Spain where there is silence or people in a much more natural way, like small buildings with pedestrian only streets.

All this background noises in big cities are just cars thermal engine vibration. I hate it. You go to savanna and you see 6 ton elephants that sound very weak because nature is efficient.

Having been dealing with some sound problems lately: I have to observe that American cities are loud compared to most overseas cities in my experience. Everything about them is louder, and I'm not sure why or how it got that way, and why it isn't seen as something to remedy. Particularly when we want to encourage increased density and inner city living. While attacking the problem through better design and insulation is one way I also think we need to look at the amount of noise produced outside too.

It is obvious to me: American cities are designed around cars and only cars.

Old cities in Europe and Japan were designed around people walking around, basically because there was not anything else when those cities were created.

They had small streets, only some of them were demolished and started anew, like Lineal in Barcelona or Castellana in Madrid. Public transportation like subways improved the situation, but it was a problem at first. Now it is something that people are starting to value, walking(or public transport) for shopping, for work and to see friends.

Cities like Boston, Detroit, those were cities designed for cars. As a student I lived a year in Boston and was shocked on how much the city depended on cars. Let's not talk about L.A, even more.

> Old cities in Europe and Japan were designed around people walking around, basically because there was not anything else when those cities were created.

This is romanticism. Old cities weren't just filled with pedestrian traffic. There were lots of carts and animals pulling them. Those lovely cobblestone streets in Europe were created for vehicle traffic. Pedestrian traffic doesn't need that kind of durable surface.

The old-world streets were (and are) smaller, but not because only pedestrians were using them.

Iron rimmed cart wheels would do it (you needed a lot of carts) along with all the people you needed pre-combustion engine to carry stuff around.



Clogs (wooden shoes worn routinely in earlier centuries) with nails in for gripping the slippery cobbles. Victorian London would have been seriously loud I imagine, at least in the main roads. Then you had music.


However, I think that the grandparent post may have a point: European cities do have dense cores, so cars tend in many cases to be routed around the edge of the core in a 'ring road' system.

As a practical example, Birmingham UK has extended the Metro into the very city centre, removing car traffic from a few main streets. It is noticeably quieter now in those streets compared to before the changes. When the system is fully operational, we will see how the acoustic footprint changes.

Once outside the main streets of the city, but still within the central core, you can find pockets of quiet - song thrush/nightingale quiet.

I think the traffic is a big part of it. E.g. the noise from I5 in Seattle (where I live) can be heard for miles either side of it, some days worse than others depending on weather conditions. I think things like air conditioning and mechanical plant on buildings warrant closer attention too.

I don't know about Detroit, but Boston was a city long before cars arrived.

If you're looking for loud overseas cities, you should visit Beijing. :) Heavy car traffic, constant honking, loud salespeople, and everyone is constantly hawking a loogie (since it's unhealthy to swallow phlegm, according to traditional Chinese medicine.)

What quiet overseas cities were you thinking about?

That's very true, add in most large Asian cities outside of Japan to that list (Bangkok, Manila, ...). I was thinking mostly of experiences in the major European/Australian/NZ cities.

A townhouse I used to live in had a two-story open area with a loft for working. It looked terrific, but sounded like a bus station, with awful echoes. Adding curtains helped some, but nothing could be done about all the flat drywall surfaces. I'm thinking that the houses of the 30's-50's, with all the built-ins, were better for this because they broke up the flat surfaces, and thus the echos.

I can confirm this.

I just moved into a classic MCM house which has a ton of built-ins (I should post some pictures when I get a chance) and although the house has really high, angled ceilings and a very open concept floor plan, it's surprisingly quiet.

You can hang a /lot/ of diffusors and add bass traps and the interior soundscape will change and feel more intimate (and your TV/stereo will magically sound better!)

But that doesn't change exterior noise transmission.

Do you have any product reccos?

Not just Architecture, but Town Planning:

When I was studying Architecture I did a group research project around this very idea, but limited it to public space in cities (particularly the one I was in at the time).

We took many recordings in Parks, Retail heavy streets, Business centers (on the weekend), tourist areas etc... We asked people to listen to the recordings and rate things like "Does this space feel Cold or Warm"? As well as asking them to draw a diagram of what they imagined (which is a whole other area of interesting research that I can't remember the name of off the top of my head).

Going through the literature, and more scientific studies, the short history is it's thought we evolved to associate loud, bass sounds, (which are less directional and imply larger masses) with danger (eg, thunder, large earth movements), which can lead to an increased amount of cortisol expression in children. It's less pronounced in adults suggesting that we get used to it when we realise it's not a real threat (CBT).

One paper looked at school children near Heathrow Airport vs. in a similar urban area with no air-traffic. The former had much higher cortisol levels generally and performed worse academically after adjusting for other environmental factors. Another looked at offices and the effect of HVAC systems droning away 9-5 (ever noticed when the HVAC goes off at work?)

What we found in our limited study was what you would expect; Places with live background music rated much more favorably. The stand out was Circular Quay (this was Sydney), where there were a lot of buskers and performers interspersed with happy sounding chatter from passes by.

Outdoor areas that reverberate (Martin Place on the weekend with skateboarders) as you can imagine didn't rate too well.

Not really groundbreaking by any means, but designing space means designing for everything we experience; light, sound, tactility, temporality.

p.s One of the problems with traditional Architectural education is that it's hard to convey sound design through a visual-centric presentation style, so not many bother. Movement, whether implied or explicit, was always important to me in my designs and relatively easy to visually communicate (animation etc). If I ever go back to finish and become a real Architect, sound will probably be just as important, luckily VR is now at a stage with entry price and skill level where faithfully constructing the sonic profile of a space should be possible and easily communicable.

Relating to background noise, in case anyone else finds these useful, my pair of Etymotic earphones [1] have been doing an excellent job of cutting out basically everything. The kids version is pretty cheap (for a mid-range earphone), and apparently differs only in that it's slightly smaller and has a higher impedance (so you may require an amplifier).

[1]: http://www.etymotic.com/consumer/earphones.html

Two things that Etymotics earphones cannot block: the sounds of your own mouth (like chewing) which are greatly increased by plugging your ears, and the scratching sounds of the earphones own wires, especially on the ER4 with the twisted wires that rub together.

Aah, I can definitely see how twisted wires would make that friction noise worse. It's especially annoying when they scratch against a beard -- augh, just awful. That being said, I normally just clip 'em if they're making too much noise and take them out when eating.


I travel frequently and I pretty much have my Etymotics with me at all times.

Are they not _fantastic_? The insertion depth can be uncomfortable at first, but the experience of listening to 'loud' music, then removing the earphones and noticing that the ambient noise was even louder is just amazing.

The only things that bother me are the fact that sometimes the earplugs get stuck and come loose as well as the microphonics caused by the wires.

I'm considering custom ear molds. Have you tried them? http://www.etymotic.com/consumer/custom-fit/faq

Most over-ear IEMs usually have better microphonics (the ER4's microphonics are notoriously bad). Shures and Westones both have good isolation and low microphonics (and start at reasonable prices).

If you are considering customs (CIEMs), I'd strongly recommend you audition some other headsets first - ERs were my first pair of IEMs, and I loved them, but they have poor bass, and there are sets w/ better detail, instrument separation, soundstage/imaging at the same price range. IMO, for the price, the UM Pro 30s w/ Comply tips are hard to beat. Another set you might want to check out might be the LEAR LHF-AE1d, a dynamic driver (vs balanced armature) IEM w/ balanced sound, and the ability to cheaply add a custom-fit nozzle.

The IEM market is undergoing a sort of cambrian explosion right now, with design approaches, quality (and also sadly, price).

I went down the rabbit hole looking at JH13s. =)

But realistically speaking my ears are not that good, I can somewhat tell the difference between the 6i (which is what I have in my pocket at all times) and ER4s but it's probably diminishing returns beyond that for me given that much of my source material are 128kbps MP3s, iTunes Radio etc.

That LEAR looks quite interesting though and I'll make a note to try to attend a CanJam sometime.

PS. That's said, I can tell that my AVR + bass setup is pretty muddy so I need figure out how to fix that.

I know you're responding to newman, but those look really cool (despite their being well outside my price range)! Definitely a long-term goal :)

Btw, completely unrelated to IEMs, there was a neat article [1] involving a fossil that predates the cambrian explosion which might be of interest to you. Not sure how that affects your simile.

[1]: http://phys.org/news/2015-07-tiny-sponge-fossil-evolutionary...

If you're happy with your IEMs I might just skip the rest - it can be an expensive hobby. If you are looking for an upgrade I'd recommend heading to an event like CanJam, try out a bunch, and trust your ears. There's no point in paying for what you can't hear. Still, be prepared to either fortify your will or be ready to sacrifice your wallet.

Neat article. When talking about a Cambrian explosion, I really mean how the market has exploded - you're seeing so many new companies, designs, and approaches. While the high-end has gone a bit crazy, the perf/$ has basically increased above the board as well (heck, the ER4s sold for like $300+ (close to $500 in today's buying power) 15 years ago, so the fact that you can get them now for ~$200 is pretty great.

I've had custom ear_plugs_ by a company that also produces compatible molds for etymotics IEMs. After a suitable break-in period (for which you're literally supplied with ear lubricant) they fit perfectly. I've never had the earplugs come out unintentionally, though they don't have cables to get snagged.

I have never seen a webpage use "hover for sound". That is an amazing technique.

The New York Times has an excellent team of web developers/designers. It's one of a short list of websites that consistently amaze me with their presentation.

Yeah, cool presentation. Just wished the videos weren't that large (as in pxs high).

I can't stand the noise situation in my office building. It's full of glass walls and granite floors, so if there is a slight squeak in your shoe, the sound bounces around and amplifies to a comical degree. For some godawful reason the bathrooms are the quietest place in the whole building, the one place where you really really want background noise.

The problem is not architects. They know. The problem is buyers, who don't want to pay for good sound management.

And when public services in the US (NY subway, say) buy from the cheapest bidder, guess what's been compromised to lower cost?

The US is a hundred years behind the state of the art in sound management, just like most other public goods.

I'm reminded of newer Apple Store in Palo Alto, before they did some work to fix it: http://fortune.com/2012/11/12/apples-new-palo-alto-store-is-...

The level of amplification that space created was really quite impressive!

Is it possible in browsers to turn off mouse events during scroll? This article uses it to good effect but in general the effect is very annoying. For instance on many websites when using the mousewheel to scroll you land up with the cursor over an element (lets say a map) and now suddenly you are scrolling the map instead without intending to.

The architects of the Hong Kong airport paid a lot of attention to sound I think. The ceiling is very high but there are panels that are at various angles that help reduce reflections. The first time I visited I noticed it right away. As a result I've found the airport to be a very peaceful space. It's calming and relaxing.

Reminds me of when I used to live in SF. moved into a building that was built in 2005; thought they'd factor in the 120+ dB measured on streets. I was wrong. Didn't really sleep for the first 2 months. Choppers grunting past, hobos fighting with chains. Fun.

cool article and all, but in all honesty I was more excited just to hear some more binaural (3d) audio. It doesn't pop up too often.

My dad is an architect, he once challenged me to find some area of study that architect's don't potentially need to know something about. I still haven't come up with one.

What counts as an area of study? Integrated circuit design? Astrobiology? Nuclear fusion? Veterinary medicine? History of warfare? Textile manufacturing? I'd definitely like to hear his some of his answers. Heck, this might even be the basis for a game. There is a deck of cards with professions (architect, banker, doctor, actor, etc.), and another deck with subject matters, and your goal is to try an come up with some tenuous reasons for why that profession needs to know about that subject. Maybe there is a timer, and there are two "professionals", and the other players judge which one had the most credible idea?

That would be an interesting game!

I think the basis of his argument generally stood on principle that most human activities involve or interact with architecture in some less-than cursory fashion. Most of the examples you gave require purpose-built architecture in their pursuit so somewhere along the line there was an architect that needed to understand the requirements of say, a IC chip factory, or a biology lab, or a history museum.

I'd buy that game if it had input from the professions included in the game.

The role of long-term trusts in jurisdictions without any rule against perpetuities?

I just finished a three-hour lecture on that one. Didn't see any architects.

Hmm, that's a tricky one ^.^ I can see how you'd need to know a fair amount about the legal system to understand the requirements when designing a courthouse, but down to particular aspects of common law probably not. I may have to see if this one stumps him. I guess it hinges on how you define an area of study: are their lawyers who specialize in this area? How much can they change an hour? (Can they afford the corinthian marble I'm specifying for their new office? :P )


I'd assume that there's certain requirements for the size of exam rooms based on an understanding of the equipment and exam tables, as well as privacy considerations: the doors should not open into a space visible from the waiting room for instance. How do you design the waiting area to put people at ease before a potentially intrusive and stressful medical exam? Does the client have the ability to bring personal items into the exam room or are their cleanliness requirements that preclude this and require you to design a coat room with storage?

For real?

Tertiary symbolism in Byzantine erotica?

For a museum or a plaza with statuary? Sure :) I think his real point was that architecture is linked to nearly every other human activity from caves to cathedrals and everything in between.

This should also be targeted at the people that run technology companies:

- You're playing music? Huh?

- You have a dog in the office? What? Yip yip yip yip.

Here's an interesting interview with Julian Treasure from a week or so ago about sound design:


After 15 years in Manhattan, I never want to live in a busy city again. Noise is a big part of why. Moving to the Boston suburbs was a revelation or me.

In India it is always a concrete slab but still get above the floor furniture moves

Beautiful writing

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