Noise is a given in New York City but that doesn’t make living with it any easier. Trying to sleep when traffic is loud or your neighbors are making a racket can increase your stress levels. So what can you do to dampen the noise coming into your apartment?
If you own your place you have more options when it comes to soundproofing because you can make structural changes and add insulation if necessary. However there are some steps renters can take as well.
Most rentals and co-ops have a clause in the lease that states 80 percent of the floor must be covered with either carpeting or rugs. “Insulation and adding textiles will muffle sound,” says Molly Franklin, an agent with Corcoran. However that’s not always enough to deaden a noisy neighbor above you.
[Editor's note: A previous version of this post was published in May 2018. We are presenting it with updated information for January 2022.]
We rounded up Brick Underground's best advice and ideas for soundproofing apartments in New York City. Read on for some ways to get some peace and relative quiet in this noisy city.
Adding soundproofing to ceilings
Ned Shatzer is the founder of Hush Soundproofing and says between 80-90 percent of his work involves ceilings—noise coming from upstairs neighbors is a top complaint.
“Recessed lighting is one of the main issues—the more holes we have for electrical, the more sound transfer there is,” he says.
This is something to be aware of if you’re checking out an apartment. Shatzer says there’s an increasing trend by developers towards using hidden LEDs on the exterior of the ceiling and this is a much better alternative to recessed lighting when it comes to sound transfer.
It’s always sensible to ask questions about soundproofing when you’re viewing an apartment. The quality of the construction will give you clues about the level of attention given to soundproofing. What you want to hear is that there are two layers of sheetrock on the ceiling plus insulation. For more, read: ”Buying a new construction condo? Ask these questions to get your money's worth.”
If you’re encountering problems after buying, Shatzer says the process he uses to address noise from above is multi-layered and includes separating the ceiling sheetrock from the joists in order to reduce vibrations and insulating to prevent the noise from amplifying. The cost of the process is generally $85 per square foot with price breaks for projects over $500 square feet. You’d also have to pay to stay somewhere else while the work is carried out.
Ways to dampen the noise
On the flip side of noise problems: It's no fun living next to unfriendly neighbors who ask you repeatedly to turn the volume down or worse, get the board involved. If you’re the one making the noise, you might want to invest in soundproofing the subflooring. You can read about one DIYer's experience in: “Soundproofing floors: A brownstoner's step-by-step guide.”
If you’re renting, you’ll want to look into carpeting and rugs with sound-dampening padding, especially if you have concrete or tile flooring. “Adding soft furnishings can help,” Franklin says.
If the noise is above you, it’s not easy to get a neighbor to comply with an 80 percent floor covering rule but experts have some suggestions: "Can I force my noisy neighbors to get more carpeting?" For more tips, read: ”What to do when your NYC neighbors make lots of noise—Brick Underground's best advice.”
If it’s a banging door you’re being plagued by, it may be as simple as tightening a hinge. See if the super can help—even if this kind of work is not part of their main gig. Read: "How can I get my building's uncooperative super to actually fix things?" (A tip might help.)
Limiting street noise
Installing new, soundproof windows can be effective at keeping street noise out. Windows have a Sound Transmission Class (STC) rating, a number given to all building materials and a rating of 60 or higher will insulate against most sounds. If you’re asking questions of an agent, triple-glazed windows are the best. For more, read: "The lowdown on soundproof windows.”
If there’s a cracked pane in a window, you’ll find street noise is harder to ignore. Broken glass is something that should be addressed by a landlord (or co-op board) under the warranty of habitability. Franklin says you certainly want your landlord to take care of property maintenance but “in desperate times you can even say you’ll contribute—sometimes we contribute more than we should to make things livable,” she says.
If you’re a co-op owner, you’ll need approval for any window replacements. For some clarity on this, read: "What repairs are co-op and condo owners responsible for, and what do buildings take care of?"
The noise from sirens and jackhammers is going to be difficult to completely eliminate but there are companies that can soundproof the interior of your windows with custom screens creating an air-space buffer that blocks noise. For other tips, read: “How to block out street noise, and turn your NYC apartment into a soundproofed oasis.”
Insulating walls and floors
A renovation project can present the perfect opportunity to install some soundproofing in walls and floors depending on your budget. For more, read: "If I'm already renovating, should I soundproof my apartment in the process?"
When soundproofing a wall, Shatzer reframes the existing wall with another layer at least a quarter inch thick so vibrations don’t transfer. The cost is similar to the work he does on ceilings.
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