Noise is a very subjective thing. When it comes to music, some forms are considered noise even when barely audible. The problem is not always the volume. It can be the content that offends the ear of the beholder. Such is often the case in poorly sound insulated common wall HOAs. Normal household noise travels through walls, ceilings and floors and can sound like stampeding buffalo. Round’em up and move’em out!

Noise issues inevitably find their way to the Board or Property Manager, usually at 2 a.m. The complainer figures, “If I can’t sleep, someone else should join me.” If you’ve made the common mistake of providing your home phone number for “emergencies”, you’ve probably found out that noise can have the same urgency as a three alarm fire.

There is a common misconception that because excessive noise making is against the rules of every HOA in creation, it’s up to the Board to do something about it. Wrong. Neighbors making excessive noise is a matter for the police if neighbors can’t reach an understanding. In most cases, the neighbors themselves can resolve the noise if they only talk to each other.

Poor sound insulation is common when older apartments are converted to condos or co-ops. But it still happens in new construction. Since the builder usually doesn’t plan to live there and buyers rarely get to test drive their units, noise levels can be horrific in current code construction. The most noticeable noise usually originates from the kitchen due to the many hard surfaces, then from the hallway and living room due to higher concentration of traffic. If a unit has hardwood flooring throughout, noise will be like Chinese Water Torture, only worse.

In cases of poor sound design, the Board can enact floor finish standards that require sound deadening panels below hard flooring, area carpets over them or restricting hard surfaces altogether. Clearly, it’s easier to prevent someone from installing a hardwood floor than demanding they rip it out, so the sooner these standards go into place, the sooner problems can be averted.

For those poor souls living below Buffalo Bill, sound deadening panels attached to the ceiling can offer relief. Attaching resilient metal channels to provide an air gap to which is fastened 5/8"-3/4" sheetrock will considerably reduce sound transmission. It is relatively inexpensive to install over the existing ceiling and only takes 1-1½" of ceiling height away. Adding 1" thick fiberglass insulation in the gap may help further. Even though this will cost money, it will certainly enhance livability and make the unit more saleable. As a token of good will, the upstairs neighbor may be willing to share of the cost. At least they should be asked. Their willingness to be part of the solution will go a long way toward mending fences.

Buffalo were designed to roam on the plains. When they lose their way in the HOA and begin foraging overhead, don’t get mad, get earplugs! (Just kidding.) First, talk to the neighbor to see if there is an accommodation that can be made. Most neighbors don’t want to be a problem. Assume yours doesn’t when you talk with them. If, however, the neighbor turns out to be unsympathetic (read “jerk”) or can’t avoid making noise without learning to fly, the aggrieved should either take the matter up with the police, if we’re talking domestic violence or all night parties, or install sound proofing. If there is an inherent construction design flaw, the Board can help further with proactive noise reduction standards. Oh give me a home, where the buffalo don’t roam.

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