Monday, February 11, 2013

Sound Advice For Good Neighbors

I'm a very quiet person generally. I don't play loud music. I don't throw loud parties. I typically keep to myself. I'm every neighbor's dream come true. Unfortunately for me, I've had experience with neighbors who don't share those same sentiments. I think we've all had experiences with bad neighbors, and the problem is only getting worse, not because people are getting noisier, but because houses are being built closer and closer together. Luckily for me, I don't live in a home that's attached to another, but I know plenty of people who do, and many of those homes aren't sufficiently insulated in between their adjoining walls. The result? Well, as Mike so eloquently put it in a recent interview on a radio show in Ontario this past January, if you can hear your neighbor fart, your house probably isn't sufficiently insulated. In this article, reposted from the National Post, Mike talks about the challenges of living close together, and practical ways to deal with the noise issues that inevitably happen between neighbors.

From the National Post:
Mike Holmes: Sound advice for good neighbours

Mike Holmes | Feb 11, 2013 8:00 AM ET | Last Updated: Feb 8, 2013 4:18 PM ET
More from Mike Holmes

Alex Schuldt, The Holmes Group Proper insulation along common walls in condos or semis will help mitigate noise transfer between units.

It’s no secret that lots are getting smaller and homes are being built closer and closer together. You can tell just by looking at older subdivisions — and I’m not even talking that old, just 20 to 30 years — and comparing them to new ones.

Attached living spaces, like townhouses and condos, are more popular. Most major cities across the country are seeing this huge push for more multi-unit living spaces. This all spells out one thing: We’re living closer to our neighbours.

And the closer we get, the more likely noise is going to be an issue — and the more popular soundproof products and materials are going to be.

When noise becomes an issue between neighbours it can be a real nuisance. You can feel awkward bringing it up to a neighbour if their noise disturbs you. You’re probably going to be telling the kids to keep it down more often, which isn’t fun for anyone. You might feel like you have to whisper and limit noisemaking activities — such as vacuuming or playing music — to certain times so you don’t bother anyone. It can feel like being a prisoner in your own home.

It’s really no one’s fault — just less-than-optimal construction.

You could have the quietest neighbours. But if the walls between your homes aren’t properly constructed, you will hear the footsteps, the talking, the kids.

Sound is measured in decibels, so pros will use a decibel meter to measure how much noise travels through a surface, such as a wall or ceiling. We use STC or sound transmission class to measure how much sound moves between the exterior and interior of a home and between living units. The higher the STC rating, the better. A wall built to minimum code should be able to block 46 STCs.

The problem is that there are high and low frequencies. High frequencies are easier to eliminate. Homes built to minimum code can block out high-frequency sounds. It’s the low frequencies that are harder to deal with. Low frequencies are the bass or the boom you hear when people walk. To get rid of those, you have to spend money.

So what can you do to solve the problem?

A contractor interested in a quick fix might tell you to add another layer of drywall — right over the existing drywall, which will help. But I’d rather use a better drywall product that gives a lot of soundproofing for not a lot of material.

Soundboard is one option. But some drywall products are equivalent to eight sheets of drywall. One type has viscoelastic polymer on both sides of a thin layer of metal. The viscoelastic polymer eliminates sound by converting acoustic energy into heat. This product will stop sounds such as yelling and screaming, or the phone ringing — all high frequency sounds. It will also stop any low-decibel bass. But if you have a high-decibel bass where you crank the volume to the levels of a concert speaker, you’re going to need more than just better drywall to stop the sound.

If sounds and noise are getting into your home, the culprit usually is missing insulation. You want to use a proper, safe insulation on a shared wall. This serves two purposes: One, it stops sound. Two, it stops fire. You don’t want to hear your neighbours and you don’t want a fire on their side to spread to your side.

Many attached living spaces will have a double wall. That means there’s one wall on one side and another wall on the other side, and both walls are divided in the middle by drywall. Minimum code says that if you have a double wall, only one of them needs to be insulated. But as long as we build to minimum code, things aren’t going to work properly. If you want to make it soundproof, add more insulation.

After going through the trouble of taking down drywall and adding extra insulation, you might as well go the extra mile. I would use sound wrap on any electrical boxes and receptacles along a shared wall. These are weak points that allow smells and sounds to travel. But sound wrap is like a putty; it sticks to any surface. And when you wrap it around electrical boxes and receptacles it doesn’t let sound travel through.

You really get what you pay for. You could have a beautiful home, with major noise issues. But if you spend a little more money, you can stop the problem. The best solution is building it right the first time. I think most homeowners would be willing to pay for that extra silence if builders gave them that option. Because putting your money in the right place makes living at home sound a lot better.

Catch Mike Holmes in his new series, Holmes Makes It Right Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on HGTV. For more information, visit For more information on home renovations, visit

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