How to find a quiet apartment

By V. L. Hendrickson  | December 13, 2011 - 7:20AM

If a quiet apartment is a top priority for you, then put down your earplugs and listen up to these tactics for finding peace and quietude on your next apartment hunt. 

Get smart about neighborhood noise

Common outside-noise culprits include hospitals, police and fire stations (think sirens), religious institutions (crowds, traffic and church bells/calls to prayer, etc.), busy avenues (car horns, and trucks bouncing over manhole covers and potholes), busy intersections (gridlock!), and elementary schools (playground noise).

“I usually start by asking clients to consider neighborhoods that are likely to be less noisy in general,” says William Doscher, a sales agent at Nest Seekers International.

He suggests the Upper West Side or Upper East Side, but nowhere close to Second Avenue, where subway construction is keeping many New Yorkers from getting their eight hours. Traffic to local hospitals and East River bridge-and-tunnel crossings is also an issue there.

“For those clients who don't want to live uptown, the Financial District is a good option because it tends to quiet down at night after the workday ends,” says Doscher.

Remember that the closer you are to main thoroughfares, the more noise in your apartment.

However, unlike noise emanating from inside your building, most external noise can be significantly muffled by soundproofing your windows.

“Everyday normal street traffic and talking can be almost eliminated to the point where you see the cars, trucks and buses passing by but you don't hear them,” says Michael Damelin of Cityproof, a top manufacturer and installer of soundproofing windows and a sponsor of BrickUnderground.

“We can advise on what has worked in a particular neighborhood and possibly put you in contact with people experiencing what you think you will,” says Damelin.

Neighbors and other indoor disturbances

Some of the worst in-building noise problems occur in brownstones originally built for single-family use. They were never meant to be subdivided.  Be particularly wary if you have young children--or someone else in the building does.

And while some swear that the larger pre-war apartment buildings are the most sound-proof in the city, Alan Fierstein, the president of Acoustilog, an acoustical consulting firm, isn’t convinced that it comes down to construction.

“There are good old buildings and bad old buildings,” he says. “And now matter how well the building was built, modifications can change things.”

If apartments have been combined, the new layout could mean the neighbors are walking over a bedroom or using a bathroom that wasn’t there before. Find out what kinds of renovations have been done around your apartment  and whether anyone’s lost sleep over them.  

Ask the doorman or super, or if you're buying, make sure your attorney checks the building's minutes.  While you’re at it, ask neighbors about their experience with noise issues – and whether they happen to own any subwoofers or home theater systems. 

“Look for apartments that are rear-facing and/or are on the top floor corner,” says Iris Walls, an agent at Stein-Perry Real Estate, Inc.

Living next to the lobby, above the boiler room, beneath a roof deck or near a mechanical room, trash chute, elevator or elevator shaft can also be a noisy experience. 

If you're buying an apartment, suggests Steve Sladkus, a real estate attorney at Wolf Haldenstein, "make the seller specifically say there have been no noise issues while they’ve lived there in the contract.”

Learn how to listen--or hire someone to do it for you

The smalltalk you and your broker are making may be distracting you from sounds that might annoy you later.

“Sit down and read for a while,” says Fierstein. “You have to put yourself in the mindset of quiet – like when you’re reading or getting ready for bed."

Visit the apartment at different times of day and on different days, says Fierstein. You may be able to hear a pin drop at noon, but will the kids start skateboarding in the hallways when they get home after school?

If noise is a make-or-break issue for you, you might want to have the place monitored for a few days before you commit. 

Acoustilog sets up decibel recording equipment in the space for a few days or a week. Sounds are recorded and then analyzed back at the office to determine how much noise can be heard around the clock.

The test is an investment -- it costs a few thousand dollars, depending on how many days the property is being monitored – and the expense as well as the logistical hurdles mean it probably only makes sense for buyers.  

Related posts: 

How to buy a NYC apartment

Soundproofing to save your sanity: Affordable options for renters

Ask an Expert: Can my co-op kick me out because my kids are loud?

The 7 worst places to live in a building

Secrets of a NYC window soundproofer: New York's noisiest neighborhoods and what can be done about them (sponsored)

Prewar versus new: Which is better?

Second Avenue subway pain, as measured in soundproofed windows

Brick Underground articles occasionally include the expertise of, or information about, advertising partners when relevant to the story. We will never promote an advertiser's product without making the relationship clear to our readers.