Are Condos More Soundproof Than Apartments?


One consideration that may cross your mind when you are looking for a new place to live is “Are condos more soundproof than apartments?” From personal experience, I know what it’s like to hear those chairs scraping across the floor of the unit above you, or hearing your next door neighbors terrible taste in music at 3 am. So the whole debate on whether a condo or an apartment is noisier is one that resonates, personally.

Are Condos More Soundproof Than Apartments? Both condominiums and apartment buildings have a variety of build methods, materials, and standards. Consequently, neither one could be accurately portrayed as more or less soundproof than the other. More important are the age of the building, quality of construction or renos, and techniques used to minimize noise.

Modern fire codes do a lot to minimize noise issues in newer buildings. However, relying on this is no guarantee of how much of your neighbor’s life you will be sharing.

Are Condos More Soundproof Than Apartments?

There are a plethora of elements that affect how noisy any one condo or apartment may be, and as such, it would be impossible to say that condos are more soundproof than apartments or vice versa.

Instead, we need to take a look at how:

  • You can tell how soundproof, or otherwise, a unit might be before you move in.
  • If you are considering the purchase of a condo unit which has yet to be built, you can investigate the developers plans for soundproofing.
  • How noise travels and why that is important if you live in a condo or apartment.
  • What you can do to minimize noise from your neighbors if you have discovered your abode is not one that is bathed in peacefulness.

How Do You Know How Soundproof A Unit Is?

It can be challenging to work out just how quiet an apartment or condo is through a viewing. You may be taking a look around in the middle of the day when the neighbors are out at work. Or maybe the evening of your viewing is the one night a week when the partiers upstairs take a breather.

So are you stuck with taking a chance?

Not necessarily

To begin with, you can request additional viewings. If the agent is reluctant to show you around at a particular time of the day or night, ask yourself why. It could be that it doesn’t work for their schedule, or it could be that there is something to hide.

Secondly, inquire if it’s possible to speak with other people in the building. Ask them about their experience living there and sound them out over any noise issues.

This is actually a good idea anyway because it can give you a greater sense of the existing level of community. If you are a “get in there, mingle and become involved” type and there are no neighbors who are interested in chatting, chances are they are; the building has a more “individuals” vibe. Likewise, if you are immediately overrun with chatting, welcoming potential co-dwellers, it’s likely the building has a more “we’re a community” atmosphere.

If you are still concerned, try to find out about the construction of the building. Different techniques and materials affect the way sound travels and if you know what to look for blueprints and construction specifications can help find out how noisy a unit might be.

More About How Sound Travels Later.

Finally, if a previous noise experience has made you extremely concerned, you can have a specialist acoustic test carried out in addition to the standard home inspection. This costs around $1,000 so you have to really want the results to justify the charges, but by including a “contingent on acoustic inspection results” clause in your offer, you can have that extra level of reassurance that you are not making an offer on a unit where you’ll hear your neighbors breathing.

What Can I Do If I’m Buying A Unit From A Blueprint?

If you are considering buying in a new development and have only seen the show home, it can be difficult to know how noisy the condo might be. However, there are some things you can check.

Ignore any comments from the developer along the lines of “excellent noise suppression” or “state of the art soundproofing” because they have no real meaning and you’ll have no legal recourse if it turns out to be untrue.

Instead

Ask if the developer has worked with an acoustic consultant and if they have requested a copy of the report produced detailing the acoustic estimates, the consultant’s recommendations, and details of how the developer has taken action. You can follow this up with a request for more information about the materials used in construction and how they comply with the acoustician’s report.

Finally, have the acoustic performance of the unit written into the sales contract and ask for a certificate of acoustic compliance to be provided before taking possession.

On the other hand

If the developers haven’t had an acoustician involved, there is a reasonably high chance they have done nothing more than is required by code to dampen noise.

How Does Sound Travel?

To understand why the construction of a building is important to how soundproof a unit is, you need to know how sound is made and travels. An oversimplified version of how sound travels is:

  1. The movement of an object causes ripples in the air around it.
  2. The size, shape, and speed of these ripples determine the qualities of a sound.
  3. When the ripples hit your ears, they make the tiny hairs inside vibrate. The vibrations vary according to the qualities of the sound waves hitting them.
  4. Your brain interprets the vibrations, and you recognize the sound.

If there is anything between our ear and the point the noise is made, it can affect the sound waves, and as a consequence, what we hear. Even the air has an effect, it slows down the sound waves, making them weaker and weaker, which is why we do not hear sounds a considerable distance away.

How The Sound Gets To You

In a condo unit or apartment, when a neighbor makes a noise, the sound wave hits the wall between you and passes through the sheetrock and then any insulation, etc. It then hits the sheetrock on your side of the wall and into your room. The ability of these wall elements to reduce the vibration, and as a result reduce the noise that passes into your apartment, is what affects the sound in your unit.

Having said that.

It is not just the walls that transfer sound. Because noise is just vibrations in the air, it can be transferred by many elements of a home. I know of one new condominium where the residents spent months trying to track down the source of an annoying, low pitched hum. They finally discovered it was from the water pump in the basement and the sound was being carried into each condo through the pipes.

What Can I Do To Minimize Neighbor Noise?

What if you are already in a noisy condo and have no option but to stay? There are ways to minimize the sounds you hear from outside of your unit:

  • Screw an additional layer of sheetrock over your existing walls.
  • If the noise level is awful, you could invest in a product called QuietRock. It is a specialist noise reduction sheetrock.
  • An alternative to screwing drywall in place is another product called Homasote. These panels are made of cellulose fibers and recycled newspaper. Wrapped in fabric to make them more appealing to the eye, they can be hung on the walls and will dampen noise.
  • The final wall solution is to hang fabric panels. The thicker the cloth, the more it will deaden sound.
  • “Green Glue” can be used on floors, walls, and ceilings. This product dampens the sound waves and is an effective second line of defense when used in conjunction with other solutions.
  • Floors can be carpeted, but you don’t have to go to the trouble of wall to wall. One or two rugs will help, and in fact, a few strategically placed thick rugs will be more effective than a thin carpet across the entire floor.
  • Ceilings are more difficult. The best solution is a dropped ceiling, but this can be expensive. The next best thing is a sheet of acoustic tile covered by sheetrock, and finally, as with walls, fabric can help.
  • For front doors, you can replace the whole thing with an acoustically certified alternative if this isn’t possible install sound seals and a threshold panel.
  • Finally, you could consider a white noise machine. These are especially effective if there are distant “phantom noises” where you cannot identify the source and take any action.

Final Thoughts

Neither a condo nor an apartment is any more or less soundproof than the other. Consequently, you cannot choose one over the other on the basis of noise levels. What does affect the sound in a unit is the construction method and the materials used. You can go some way to investigating these details and make an educated decision. However, there is no guarantee you will have a unit quiet enough for you. Having said that, there are things you can do to minimize sound from outside your condo or apartment.

Noise is a significant but underappreciated element of our quality of life. Finding yourself living in a place where the sound is obtrusive can have devastating effects. Do not leave your assessment of this to a question of “condo or apartment, which is noisier?”

Check out our latest article on how to sound proof your condo for some great tips and tricks of how to get rid of excess condo noise.

 

Geoff

Geoff Southworth is the creator of RealEstateInfoGuide.com, the site that helps new homeowners, investors, and homeowners-to-be successfully navigate the complex world of property ownership. Geoff is a real estate investor of 8 years has had experience as a manager of a debt-free, private real estate equity fund, as well as a Registered Nurse in Emergency Trauma and Cardiac Cath Lab Care. As a result, he has developed a unique “people first, business second” approach to real estate.

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