Condo Living Soundproofing

Condo Living Soundproofing

Condo Living: Soundproofing

By Rebecca R. Konya

Posted: March 26, 2011

Sound transmission between units is one of the biggest complaints among condo dwellers today. Moving from a single-family home, many condo owners arent used to sharing common walls with their neighbors.

Although some noise in shared living spaces is normal, if you can clearly hear your neighbors conversations, you have a noise problem, said Eric Wolfram, lead acoustical engineer for Riedel & Associates, an acoustical consulting firm in downtown Milwaukee.

Wolfram explained that the state building code only requires condos to meet an STC (sound transmission class) of 45, which means that normal conversation levels between units will be muffled, not inaudible. In other parts of the country, building codes now require condos to meet an STC of 50, while luxury developments might aspire to an STC of 60 or higher.

We get calls from a lot of disappointed people, Wolfram said. They often arent aware of the issue before they buy.

Combating noisy neighbors

When it comes to noise mitigation, the most proactive solution is to address sound transmission during the construction.

The best time to think about noise control is during the design phase, Wolfram said.

With condo owners clamoring for quiet, noise control is quickly becoming a priority among Milwaukee condo developers. The best way to control sound transmission is to increase wall mass between condo units, Wolfram explained. That can be done a couple of different ways either by using concrete partitions or, in the case of wood frame structures, using a building feature called a party wall, which essentially is a double-studded wall partition with a pocket of air between insulation to help muffle noise.

Condo developers in the Milwaukee area have engaged both construction techniques successfully. Renner Architects, which developed the Harbor Front in the Historic Third Ward and the BreakWater in downtown Milwaukee, uses 12-inch reinforced concrete walls to achieve top-of-the-line acoustic separation. The Mandel Group controls sound in higher-end developments like the University Club Tower with double-framed interior walls between units with insulation sandwiched in the middle.

The best way to reduce noise in top-to-bottom units is by carpeting the condo. But because the trend for most upscale condos is toward hardwood floors and ceramic tile, many developers instead install a sound-absorbing acoustical mat before laying down the floor.

When shopping for a condo, Wolfram advised buyers to ask developers specifically what type of wall construction they use. He said that any use of the term soundproof should raise red flags.

Theres no such thing as soundproof when it comes to condominiums, Wolfram said.

Turning down the volume

Condo Living Soundproofing

Even though condo developers are taking more proactive steps to incorporate noise control features during the construction process, the fact is there are many older developments where noise between units is already an issue.

So what can be done to reduce sound transmission after the fact?

If youre willing to make the financial investment, there are innovative noise reduction solutions that can turn an older condo unit into a sanctuary of peace and quiet, said Ron Lemke of Flanners Home Entertainment in West Allis.

One option is to install acoustical insulation, although that means taking walls down to the studs. Another alternative is using dB-Bloc, a vinyl sound barrier material, which can be layered behind drywall or other finished wall or ceiling surfaces to help block noise transmission through common walls.

Wolfram suggested condo owners contact an acoustical consultant like Riedel to measure the STC levels in their unit to determine the best remedy for noise control.

While advances have been made in condominium construction so neighbors can peacefully co-exist, Wolfram said condo owners need to have realistic expectations.

There is a certain amount of noise that will happen, he said. Its unavoidable.

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