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Ask an Expert: The lowdown on soundproof windows

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Q.  I recently bought a co-op apartment half a block from a fire station. Between the sirens and the garbage trucks hauling trash in the middle of the night from the restaurant across the street, it's tough to get a good night's sleep.  The windows are cheap aluminum framed ones put in by the sponsor 10 or 15 years ago, and I'm thinking of replacing them. What kind will do the best job keeping the noise out, and there is anything else I should know about shopping for them or about the co-op board approval process?

A.   According to our experts, windows with two or, better yet, three panes of glass (a.k.a., "double-" or "triple-glazed") will do the best job at muffling streetnoise, 

"If one pane of glass is thicker than the other(s), the transmission of sound waves is reduced even further," says Leon Geoxavier of Rand Engineering & Architecture.

For a clearer idea of a window's noise-muffling capability, suggests Geoxavier, check its Sound Transmission Class (STC) rating, a number given to all building materials.

"As a general guide, a product with an STC of 25 will allow normal speech to be heard on the other side," says Geoxavier. "A product with an STC of 60 or higher will insulate against most sounds, making them inaudible on the other side."

You will definitely need to get your co-op board's approval. Your board may have certain requirements around the type of window you can use, the manufacturer, and the color, explains architect Ethan Gerard. And if you live in a Landmark Preservation Historic District, you will need to file for approval there as well.

If you can't get approval, don't want to go through the hassle, or can't afford to replace your windows, our experts recommend a less expensive option that is at least as effective at reducing street noise.

"More and more city dwellers"--(including renters)--"are installing noise reducing interior windows, which are fairly easy to install as they are installed inside your apartment to create a sound barrier," says property manager Michael Donuk of Argo Real Estate.  "Most co-op boards should/will allow this as it doesn't affect the exterior aesthetics of the building."

These interior windows generally reduce street noise by 60 to 90%, says Michael Damelin of Cityproof, which sells and installs the customized windows.  The amount of noise abatement depends on the thickness of the laminated glass (which starts at 1/4" and goes up to 3/4") as well as the quality and kind of the exterior window, the amount of air space between the interior and exterior windows (which acts as a buffer zone) and the type of noise you're trying to address.

"The noises from sirens and garbage trucks are very difficult to eliminate when compared to normal traffic," says Damelin, explaining that the same is true of other high or low frequency sounds. "However, they can be greatly reduced." 

Michael Wolfe of Midboro Management recommends installing windows like Cityproof in one area of your apartment first as a test: "If this doesn't work, you may wish to relocate. Hope not!"


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