Condominium Noise Complaints – Buyers Beware.

condominium noise complaints

People who have lived in apartments or condominiums are familiar with noise created by other occupants of the building and likely have experience with condominium noise complaints. However, homeowners downsizing from houses to condominiums are often surprised by noise that they did not experience while living in a detached house.

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If you are buying a condominium, it is very important to consider question of condominium noise complaints and soundproofing on 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 in close proximity to each other and (literally) on top of each other. Furthermore, condominium owners often feel that they own their suite and are therefore entitled to do anything they want at home, including making lot of noise without considering their neighbours. This leads to noise complaints and, if left unresolved, to significant reduction in quality of life. There are even important legal issues concerning noise complaints in condominiums, as outlined in this Toronto Star article.

Condominium soundproofing

Many people believe that modern concrete buildings provide sufficient noise separation between suites. This in most cases is not true. Prior to 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 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 edition of the code, it can be verified by field testing and therefore can be enforced. This number is the minimum, and in most situations this level of soundproofing is still inadequate. Table below explains how different levels of ASTC values of wall partitions are perceived.

ASTC
How is this sound attenuation perceived

30

Speech can be clearly heard through this wall

40

​Speech can be heard through this wall, but not easily understood

45

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.

60

Speech and loud music inaudible, except for very strong bass notes. This level should be the minimum required for high-end construction.

70

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.

As an 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 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.

Building classification

STC

ASTC

Minimum Code

50

47

Minimum quality

55

50

Medium Quality

60

55

High Quality

65

60

Impact noise

Different situation exists with respect to structure borne impact noise - the sound of footfall, dropped objects and chair shuffling heard from neighbours above. There is no building code requirement for specific amount of attenuation of impact noise. This type of noise can be also very distracting to occupants and is the most frequent cause of condominium noise complaints.

Impact Insulation Class (IIC) is an important measure of noise control in buildings. 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.

Building classification

IIC

AIIC

Minimum code

not specified in Canada

not specified in Canada

Minimum quality

55

50

Medium quality

65

60

High quality

75

70

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 few suggestions that may be helpful:

  • Do not assume that a concrete building or a 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 price of the condominium correlates with the building quality classification.  Demand to see the results of Apparent Sound Transmission Class and  Apparent Impact Insulation Class testing for the apartment you are buying.
  • Ask the condominium corporation what provisions they have with regard to noise and noise complaints.
  • Consider the location of your suite 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 get access to 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.

[1] Architectural Acoustics by Marshall Long, Second Edition, Academic Press 2014

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About the Author Ivan Koval

The author is the publisher of the Soundproofing.Expert website. He is a soundproofing and building acoustics consultant working in Toronto and GTA, Ontario, Canada. Telephone (416) 471-2130

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