The Sound and the Fury A Look at Noise and Soundproofing

 Noise is a key quality-of-life problem for almost anyone living in a  densely-packed urban environment. It’s the bane of many a condo-dweller’s existence, and over the years engineers, architects, and designers have tried  any number of ways to reduce the problem of noise in multifamily buildings—some more successfully than others. While noise is in the ear of the beholder, there are many products and  techniques on the market to help mitigate the clinks and clanks of condo  living.  

 When Noise Annoys

 As long as people have ears and the ability to use them and live in close  quarters with others, there will be problems with noise. It’s just human nature. While any unwanted sounds can be bothersome to residents,  there are different types of noise.  

 Alicia Wagner, an acoustical consultant at Acetech in Cambridge, Massachusetts,  says that there are three main types of noise: airborne noise, impact noise and  outside noise. Airborne noise is transmitted through a wall, ceiling or floor  structure and goes into an adjacent condominium—for example, the sound of the TV from upstairs or hearing two neighbors argue  from below. Impact noise is anything that exits the structure and creates  vibrations actually in the floor structure or the wall structure. Examples can  include walking around or moving furniture. Lastly, outside noise is anything  that comes from the outdoor environment, such as traffic and sirens. She adds  that impact noise is particularly bothersome “especially in the New England area, where we have a lot of older buildings that  are made with wood frames. Wood frame buildings tend to have more difficulty  isolating one unit from another.”  

 Mandy Kachur, vice president of public relations for the Institute of Noise  Control Engineering/USA, says, “Sounds that are transient, that come and go, that start and stop”—like my wife’s work on the plate—“or tonal noises, like whistles, tend to be more annoying than a steady broadband  of white noise”—like the washer and dryer.  

 What distinguishes sound from noise, however, is the ear of the beholder. “Complaints arise from the noise that someone else is making,” says Kachur. “It doesn’t matter how much noise you make.”  

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