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.
(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.
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.
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.
The exterior is clay bricks on mortar.
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.
The worst buildings are probably the postwar period buildings which were built both cheaply and without the regulatory framework in use today.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
People in some other parts of the world already denser and quieter. It's a shame the US is so backward there.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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".
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.
As a renter you have very little power to do anything.
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.
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.
My new favorite product name
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! :)
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.
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.
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.
Does Grand Central have a non-emergency public-address system? Cannot recall having ever heard it.
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.
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.
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.
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 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."
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.
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.
Staggered studs are an option, resilient channel also works well, provided that it's installed correctly.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
What quiet overseas cities were you thinking about?
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.
But that doesn't change exterior noise transmission.
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.
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.
I travel frequently and I pretty much have my Etymotics with me at all times.
I'm considering custom ear molds. Have you tried them?
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).
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.
Btw, completely unrelated to IEMs, there was a neat article  involving a fossil that predates the cambrian explosion which might be of interest to you. Not sure how that affects your simile.
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.
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.
The level of amplification that space created was really quite impressive!
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 just finished a three-hour lecture on that one. Didn't see any architects.
- You're playing music? Huh?
- You have a dog in the office? What? Yip yip yip yip.