People who have lived in apartments or condominiums are familiar with noise created by other occupants and likely have experience with condominium noise complaints. However, homeowners downsizing from houses to condominiums are often surprised by the noise they did not experience while living in a detached house.
If you are buying a condominium, it is crucial to consider the question of condominium noise complaints and soundproofing in advance of your purchase. Issues with acoustic comfort in condominiums are different from detached houses. Read more about soundproofing in houses in this blog post.
Condominium noise complaints
People in high-rise buildings live near each other and (literally) on top of each other. Furthermore, condominium owners often feel they own their suite and are therefore entitled to do anything they want at home, including making a lot of noise without considering their neighbours. This leads to noise complaints and, if left unresolved, significantly reduced quality of life. There are even important legal issues concerning noise complaints in condominiums, as outlined in this Toronto Star article.
Many people believe that modern concrete buildings provide sufficient noise separation between suites. This, in most cases, is different. Before 2010 there was no soundproofing requirement in Canadian National Building Code. As of the 2010 edition of the code, a minimum airborne sound attenuation requirement between residential suites was introduced, defined as Sound Transmission Class (STC) 50. In the 2016 edition of the National Building Code, this requirement was modified to minimum Apparent Sound Transmission Class (ASTC) 47. Even though this number is lower than in the previous code edition, it can be verified by field testing and enforced. This number is the minimum, and in most situations, this level of soundproofing is still inadequate. The table below explains how different levels of ASTC values of wall partitions are perceived.
How is this sound attenuation perceived
Speech can be clearly heard through this wall
Speech can be heard through this wall, but not easily understood
Loud or amplified speech audible, loud music audible, bass notes particularly strong
47 to 50
Loud or amplified speech faintly audible, loud music slightly audible, but bass notes quite noticeable. This is the minimum STC required by National Building Code for separation between dwellings.
Speech and loud music are inaudible, except for powerful bass notes. This level should be the minimum required for high-end construction.
Blocks almost all sounds that can be normally expected in a dwelling. This level is the minimum required for special applications, such as a recording studio. Requires specialized wall assembly design.
For example, a typical 3 to 4-inch thick concrete partition provides about STC 40 to 45. Flanking noise paths will further degrade the noise attenuation of the wall, resulting in a lower ASTC value. Wood frame buildings require special wall assemblies to meet the minimum (or better) soundproofing requirements. The table below [from reference 1] provides STC and ASTC values for different types of buildings.
A different situation exists concerning structure-borne impact noise - the sound of a footfall, dropped objects, and chair shuffling heard from neighbours above. There is no building code requirement for a specific amount of attenuation of impact noise. This type of noise can also be very distracting to occupants and is the most frequent cause of condominium noise complaints.
Impact Insulation Class (IIC) is an essential measure of building noise control. Ask your builder or property manager about the level of construction in your building. The table below [from reference 1] provides IIC and Apparent Impact Insulation Class (AIIC) values for different types of buildings.
not specified in Canada
not specified in Canada
What should a condo buyer do?
Soundproofing is generally difficult to retrofit in a finished building, as explained in this article. So what can a condo buyer do to address the noise issue? Below are a few suggestions that may be helpful:
- Do not assume that a concrete building or new construction will not have noise issues.
- If you are buying from a builder, ask pertinent questions:
What level of soundproofing is provided between suites? (STC 50 is the minimum, more is better).
What is the level of impact noise control between floors? (This is measured in IIC, the more, the better).
- Inquire about your building's classification. Do not assume that the price of the condominium correlates with the building quality classification. Demand the results of Apparent Sound Transmission Class and Apparent Impact Insulation Class testing for the apartment you buy.
- Ask the condominium corporation what provisions they have about noise and noise complaints.
- Please look at your suite's location within the building; some locations will be more noisy than others.
Is it next to an elevator shaft or next to a garbage chute?
Is it near a gym or a party room?
Does the neighbour above you have small children?
Is the apartment on the top floor?
- If you can access detailed construction drawings for the building, ask a soundproofing consultant to review them and give you his assessment.
- If you are doing a major renovation in your suite, get a soundproofing consultant to advise you before renovations, not when it is all completed. Never assume that a contractor will take care of it. Most contractors do not have the expertise.
 Architectural Acoustics by Marshall Long, Second Edition, Academic Press 2014
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