Acoustics for Residential Apartments

There has been a fairly decent-looking spike in enquiries for apartment soundproofing, understandably – as more people are spending most of their time indoors. I fully empathize with folks who try to do their best and function amidst constant distraction – and not all of it is sound-related. WFH Women, take a bow right now. And all you males who help your wives WFH, take a bow too. <Imagine saying this the other way around. We’re so far away from that, right?>

Having borne a kid who impact-tested every vessel in my house for hours on the floor, I hope you understand the full import of my words when I say I do empathize. We are lucky we have the basement parking floor below us, else such a consistent activity in a quiet dead-end street in quaint old Malleshwaram would’ve raised some hackles for sure.

Now, coming to what you can do when you have noise coming into your house from your neighbour’s house upstairs, the first thing to understand is that if any vendor comes to you with porous materials and acoustical tiles and promises *sound reduction* out of them, pay them only if it works. Call them out on their promise, ask them to put their product/money where their mouth is, because the number of cases we find like these are not funny anymore. The only porous absorber that will work to reduce impact sound is a carpet – in your neighbour’s house, not yours.

So that’s the first solution. If your neighbour has kids that are going to run around the house and throw things around for a few more years, it might be worth considering asking your neighbour if they’d be willing to carpet their floor. Most likely they will not be willing to carpet the floor, child care being the glorious random mess it is, and carpets being the high maintenance things they are.

Anti slip mats are your next best bet. This is especially useful in your kitchen counters and utility areas where the impact of vessels being washed and kept is significantly reduced by placing them on a mat instead of a stone counter. You also get wash basins that cost slightly higher but are less noisy than the steel ones.

The third thing you could look at is to get your neighbour to put a wooden flooring with an acoustic underlay all over his place. Notice we still haven’t stepped into *your* home with treatment options. Because sound, once it hits a medium, travels all around the place indiscriminately – depending on its strength and the conductivity and continuity of the medium. You’ll not only need to do a false ceiling, you’ll also need to add decoupled layers to your walls, because sound’s going to flank straight through and out of it. Sound also converts itself from air-borne, to structure-borne to secondary airborne as it feels like, so much that we can hear even the mids and highs of a song,  let alone the all-pervading bass – in a test room a few floors down from the source, with no visible air path. So stopping sound at source is not only the smartest thing to do, it’s also most economical.

Also, if there’s a regular, dedicated kids play area in your neighbour’s house, consider asking them to install styrofoam floor tiles that you get in any kids toy shop. That ought to help too.

Now all this is assuming footfalls and utensils are your worst problem.

If your neighbour has music practice sessions daily, consider asking him to get himself a jam room built, so others don’t have to involuntarily  experience his journey as a musician as it unfolds. For the vocalists, there are voice booths available that have ventilation features for hours of uninterrupted practice that does not intrude into anyone’s lives.

Now, coming to the false ceiling options inside your own home. This has to be carefully planned with the specific use case in mind. You have to build a room-in-a-room structure to be completely free of all outdoor noise, and this will be at the expense of natural ventilation – not something one would decide to do in a hurry.

This doesn’t address noise coming in from open windows, or even through closed windows. If you’re considering that to block out outside noise, consider getting things quantified from a professional. Sometimes increasing the air gap between two layers of glass can get you more soundproofing than adding that third layer. Sometimes gaskets aren’t all you need.

We also will touch upon the idea of taking calls from home and providing a somewhat soundproof room for the occupants. Typically nice, heavy doors are enough to keep low-key conversation completely out. The deal is in the door seals. Consider having someone install drop down seals in your door if a lot of animated calls are heard across by others in your family. Be sure to check a mock up of their product if you can.

<beginpreach>Skip to the next paragraph if you think you’re a kind person. So I have to say this – to those on the other side : and to those of you who are not –  please be considerate to your neighbours. Empathy is what got our civilization this far. Read here about that. If there are old people near you who need an hour of sleep in the afternoon, schedule your practise sessions and playtime for later. That sleep could be the difference between their normal BP and high BP, a migraine attack and a normal day. As cities grow denser, show consideration to homes with babies even if you suffer on account of them. So many those darlings have had to stay cooped up indoors for more hours than they want to.  Don’t honk the daylights out of a sleep-deprived parent with a kid in the car or a senior citizen, or heck, even a young newbie, not quite parking as suavely as you do, offer to park their car instead. Honestly, my own driver – otherwise a gem of a guy, used to psyche female drivers, creating a sense of urgency where none existed,  and I had to call him out on it :).   Noise does make monsters out of people, and I say this because I once got a call from someone calling about wanting soundproofing, while calling their neighbor vile names. In a minute they went on to tell me that their 10 year old kid was on some autism or hyperactivity sort of spectrum and would jump around the house at weird hours of the day. I’ve been around such a kid once and I know that their parents fight a battle every minute of their lives. Just see what can be done instead of giving in to more basal instincts. Just try to keep your own karma squeaky clean.  Lead by example. Don’t use those SUV horns at someone 2 feet away, if you can help it. Keep those party speakers facing inwards when you call friends over on Friday night.  Try to maintain timings for interior work happening in your house, even if your apartment isn’t strictly enforcing those. It’s enough show-cause for you if anyone’s complaining about it. <endpreach>

To the builders: we get that apartments stand one on top of the other. But just what were you thinking when adding a squash court next to someone’s kitchen wall, and showing them that the airborne sound of the impact of the ball is less than 45 dBA just to wash your hands off it. If you have your heart in the right place, you can solve this.  How can you be okay if someone else has to live with a problem you created? Remember, while the law measures the average of all sounds, it’s easier for humans to tune out continuous sounds. Discrete sounds get our attention, and we have to overcome our distraction and bring our mind back to what we’re doing. That entire excursion takes up cognitive energy.

To automobile engineers: We have high and low beams for light. How about such a thing for sound? I don’t need 110 dBA on my SUV when I’m crawling through roads that don’t allow you to go at any self respecting speed.

And if all else fails, use silicone rubber earplugs. Hopefully things don’t come to that, but if they did, you’d be amazed at how much peace a few decibels less can give you.




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