Carla J. Swick is a freelance writer who resides in NW Pennsylvania and works in higher ed technology.
When the quaint Cape Cod I was renting proved to be a little more rundown than I realized with costly and outdated utilities, I opted to search for an apartment again—somehow forgetting my previous experiences with apartments and apartment noise. It didn't take long for me to remember why I had chosen to rent a house in the first place, but privacy comes with a price.
So with lower utilities and a community swimming pool, I was wooed back again into apartment living. It became apparent very quickly that noise was going to be an issue.
The Apartment Below: Hard-of-Hearing Older Adult
Below me lived a senior lady who was hard of hearing. I remember walking to the laundry room on the basement level passing her apartment door and saying, "Wow, that TV is loud!" It wasn't long until I realized that the "loud TV' was transmitting right into my living room starting at 7 a.m. and ending around 9 p.m. While the air conditioning ran during that first summer, it covered the noise, but as cooler weather set in, I had to discuss the issue with my landlord. It wasn't long until it got quieter, but not perfect. I still know that every night I'm going to hear an hour straight of game shows right after dinner. I guess I can live with this noise sometimes turning on those same game shows and watching in stereo by proxy.
The Apartment Above: Rowdy, Young Couple
On the floor above me lived what we called affectionately called, "the ogres". Our expectations were that these active folks were a bit on the heavy side which is why we could hear every footstep as they traveled around their apartment. This was followed by loud video games, fighting, and . . . bedroom noises. UGH! There were nights I was jarred awake at 2 and 3 a.m. to such antics.
Finally, we came to realize that these were not ogres at all, but a rowdy, young couple who probably had no idea how much we could hear. One night, my frustrated daughter decided to handle this one herself and knocked a stool on the ceiling so hard that I found myself repairing two perfect holes where the impact landed. I'm not sure it made it any better, but at least they knew someone was living and listening below.
We Were Sometimes Guilty, Too
As quiet as I try to be, one night the family came over and we were quite riotous with games and singing and didn't realize it had gotten late. Around midnight the police showed up at the door and politely told us to keep it down. Embarrassed, we broke up the party guessing that the complaint came from downstairs. So when it comes to apartment noise, none of us is immune to creating and enduring it.
Step 1: Choose Your Apartment Wisely
That said, the first step in dealing with apartment noise should be to choose your apartment wisely. Apartments with cement blocks between the units will definitely be quieter than wood structures, so don't be afraid to ask that question when viewing an apartment for the first time.
The location of the unit will also be a large factor. If it is beside a laundry room, ventilation system or some other mechanical structure you might be picking up noise from these areas. Choosing to live on the top floor so that you only have neighbors below or on a basement level so you only have people above you may be a better option than a middle floor apartment where you hear tenants above and below. Choosing also an outside wall can reduce what you hear from your neighbors on the sides.
When you visit an apartment, visit it later in the day when other tenants are likely to be home from work. Listen hard while you're in the apartment. Talk to other tenants and in particular, if you can talk to the tenant who is currently living in the unit, no one will know as good as them if noise is an issue.
Step 2: Mask the Sound With White Noise and Noise Cancellation
Another optional deterrent to apartment noise is white noise AKA sound masking and noise cancellation.
Lou Manfredini, TODAY contributor, recommends the Sonet Acoustic Privacy System or the Noise Shield, both of which offer sound masking technology. "One of the best ways to quiet things down," says Manfredini, "is to actually add noise to your home using white noise machines." "Sound masking (or “white noise”) is often confused with sound cancellation," says Speech Privacy System website. "Sound cancellation – or “active noise control” – electronically alters an incoming sound wave to minimize or eliminate it altogether. Sound masking, on the other hand, works on the principle that when background noise is added to an environment, speech is less intelligible."
During the day, noise is one thing, but it's at night that I find sound most irritating. White noise machines are used in many work locations and doctor's office to produce privacy where privacy is needed (cubicles, waiting rooms). I have discovered that running a cool-mist vaporizer (in winter) and an air cleaner or air conditioner in spring/summer has been enough for me to get a good night's sleep. It might take some getting used to, but it works like a charm. Experiment with different levels of machine noise and see which one best works for you. You can use any of these machines, a fan or the sound masking devices above to help mask or decrease irritating noise in your apartment.
Some apartment dwellers also point to earplugs as helpful, while others discuss acoustic panels to deaden the noise. It appears that the verdict is still out on what works and panels can be quite costly. Because I notice them mentioned quite often in feeds on apartment noise, I felt they were worth mentioning if you'd like to do further research.
Step 3: Take Action
According to Mike Riggs at Atlanticcities.com, if noise is particularly bothersome in your apartment, "you should either talk to the neighbor yourself (if you live in a building that's small enough where you won't be able to avoid them), or go straight to the landlord."
Riggs recommends avoiding calling the police over noise as law enforcement has bigger fish to fry. When I contacted my landlord about the loud TV that was roaring almost 12 hours a day, the office told me, "We will handle this". With any luck, you'll have a cooperative landlord who will handle the concern with class and diplomacy so it doesn't totally harm your relationships in your building.
Finally, I really like Riggs's suggestions on if a quiet apartment is important to you, you should address this upfront with your landlord.
You Have a Right to a Quiet Home
In summary, when it comes to quiet apartment living, choose wisely, know what options are available for sound masking, and take appropriate action when necessary. You have a right to a comfortable, quiet place to live.
- Manfredini, L. (2007, September 20). Neighbors too loud? Indoor noise solutions. TODAY.com. Retrieved April 30, 2014, from http://www.today.com/id/20874484/ns/today-today_home_and_garden/t/neighbors-too-loud-indoor-noise-solutions/
- Riggs, M. (2014, March 17). The Apartment Dweller's Honest Guide to Noisy Neighbors. The Atlantic Cities. Retrieved April 30, 2014, from http://www.theatlanticcities.com/housing/2014/03/apartment-dwellers-guide-noisy-neighbors/8548/
- Sound Masking vs. Noise Cancellation Sound Masking and White Noise by Speech Privacy Systems. (n.d.). Sound Masking and White Noise by Speech Privacy Systems. Retrieved April 30, 2014, from http://www.speechprivacysystems.com/sound-masking-vs-cancellation/
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This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Vicki on September 26, 2019:
Thank you for the information.
Carla J Swick (author) from NW PA on September 20, 2019:
I certainly understand. My neighbors TV was so loud it was louder than mine. The noise in that apartment, which I really liked, is what eventually drove me out. I don't have the credentials to provide legal advice, but I can see that there are some legal sites out there that have information such as: https://www.legalmatch.com/law-library/article/noi... and https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/neighbors-...
The Nolo website has this to say, "Are noisy neighbors breaking the law? You bet. Almost every community prohibits excessive, unnecessary, and unreasonable noise, and police enforce these laws. To find your municipality's noise rules, look up the local ordinances, either online, at your local public library or the city or county law library (usually located near the courthouse), or y calling the office of the city attorney, mayor, or city manager."
Best of luck to you.
Vicki on September 19, 2019:
I live in apartments, and my next door neighbor is 75 years old and hard of hearing. He was blasting his TV so loud, and it also has a lot of bass, and it was coming into my apt to where I couldn't concentrate on anything I read, and it drove me crazy. I asked him nicely if he would keep it down, and he got smart with me and wouldn't cooperate, so I went to the manager. She talked to him, and he bought earphones, and he's worn them for two years. Now, he told one of my neighbors what happened, and she came to my door and told me off. She said I'm dictating his life, and he has a right to play his TV as loud as he wants because he's hard of hearing, and it's the law that he can. That's not what my manager told me. She said all tenants have to keep noise low enough that it doesn't disturb their neighbors. Now, that this neighbor is on his side and making a big deal over what happened two years ago, I'm afraid he's going to start up again. It's really loud, not just a little loud, but really really loud. I can't tolerate it for hours and hours every day. I can barely get through one hour. Do you know if he has rights that he can play it as loud as he wants because he's hard of hearing?
Carla J Swick (author) from NW PA on May 14, 2014:
Glad it is helpful - yes, definitely talk to tenants... they'll tell you the most about noise, landlords and etc. I have another hub in this series as well - watch for more.
Dianna Mendez on May 12, 2014:
As we downsize the next year, this is something we will have to keep in mind. Thanks for the tips.
Carla J Swick (author) from NW PA on May 08, 2014:
Thank you, Ms. Dora - it's good to know I'm not alone : )
Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on May 08, 2014:
I can relate to the unwanted noises of apartment living. The white noise idea is interesting. Thank you for the information on that. Helpful article.
Carla J Swick (author) from NW PA on May 04, 2014:
Amen to the Gamerjimmy - I think the best course of action is preliminary action instead of acting after the fact. Thanks for reading.
Jimmy Gent from California on May 04, 2014:
Agreed, when living in an apartment setting there are few options available to completely resolve noisy issues. Talking to the landlord, as you pointed out, is probably your best bet once committed, but even that could backfire causing increased tension between tenants. Thus, perhaps "Step #1" should be overemphasized. After all when it comes to real estate it is all about location, location, location.
Carla J Swick (author) from NW PA on May 01, 2014:
Thank you for reading - NYC apartment living must be a real adventure.
Mackenzie Sage Wright on April 30, 2014:
Great advice. I've almost always lived in apartments, having grown up in NYC. When my husband (also NYC raised) and I moved we rented a house and talked about getting one, but frankly it felt like a lot of upkeep I just wasn't used to so we opted for co-op complex apartments with amenities. We're just too used to apartment living. Nice hub and definitely something people should consider- voted up.