Townhomes and condos provide the community engagement that homebuyers often flock to suburbs for, without sacrificing walkability and a vibrant urban enviroment. Moving to one of these communities is exciting, but you could be surprised by something you didn’t anticipate: noise.
Sometimes the disturbance comes from neighbors returning home after a night out, sometimes it’s people on the sidewalk below your window. In other communities, trains, planes and automobiles can be the culprit.
If noise reduction is key to your comfort, but the townhouse lifestyle is calling to you, fret not! You can take steps to minimize sound in your new home.
Noise Consultants Help Design Quiet Communities
Before you buy a condo or townhome unit, ask questions about spesific construction practices that minimize noise.
Find out if your developer brought in a noise and wind consultant. Skyline Tower, a 67-story high-rise in Long Island City brought in a noise consultant to help manage the noise pollution from the subway station at the base of the building.
“The building has double-paned extra thick glass with a glazing system that reduces sound levels,” says Eric Benaim, CEO of Modern Spaces Real Estate in Queens, NY. “Normal decibel levels are 50 or 60 and the decibel levels in this building are 40 even though we’re in a busy city neighborhood.” They also put parking, retail, and amenity spaces on the lower floors so that the first residential floor is on the fourth level away from the subway.
CitySquare in Irvine, CA, an all-electric net zero energy townhome community, had to contend with “noise coming from [their] proximity to John Wayne Airport,” amongst other common sources, says C.R. Herro, vice president of Innovation for Meritage Homes.
“Noise travels in the air, so we built an airtight envelope for the houses and used spray-in foam insulation like people use for a recording studio,” says Herro. “We did sound abatement testing and found that noise is reduced 4000 times from the outside of the house to the inside with doors and windows in place.”
In addition, Meritage’s installation of high-performance windows and doors assist in blocking sound. Closing off attic vents, which helps seal the townhouses for energy-efficiency, also reduces exposure to exterior noise, says Herro.
Construction Techniques Limit Interior Noise
So the builders have taken steps to successfully cut down on exterior noise, but there isn’t anything to be done about boisterous neighbors… right? Wrong.
Among others, “one of the most important questions buyers should ask when looking at a condo is whether it is a steel-and-concrete building or what we call stick-built,” says Valerie Grange, a sales manager with McWilliams Ballard in Washington, D.C. “Ideally, you want a steel-and-concrete building because in between the floor and the ceiling you’ll have 7 to 12 inches of poured concrete, which we have at Chapman Stables in D.C. You’re less likely to hear people walking around that way.”
Buyers should ask whether they have gone beyond the code to reduce noise. For example, she says, top-of-the-line buildings will have insulation or acoustic sound barriers in between units.
To reduce noise in between the townhouses at CitySquare, Meritage uses sound attenuating materials including extra drywall and insulation so that neighbors can’t hear each other through the walls.
“Skyline Tower is a poured-in-place concrete building with nine-inch slabs of concrete between the floors to reduce noise,” says Benaim, but “there’s also insulation and sheet rock between the units.” Extra protection for any social gathering you might not want your neighbor to be having.
Choose the Unit You Buy Carefully
There are also steps you can take as a homebuyer to decrease sound. If noise is a big concern for you, Grange suggests being aware of the section of the building where you purchase.
“You may not want to be near or above the front entrance where you can hear people come in and out,” she says. “Some people want to be close to the elevator for convenience, but you need to be aware of how loud that could be. People like the idea of a street view in the city, but a condo facing a courtyard may be quieter.”
In a high-rise condo, homes on higher floors are often more expensive than those on lower floors and not just because of the view.
“The higher you go, the less noisy your home is,” says Benaim.
Post Move-In Ways to Get a Quieter Home
Be intentional about your home décor, and be a good neighbor. It’s nearly impossible to soundproof a home against everything, says Grange, but homeowners can help each other by adhering to condo bylaws that require some of their hard surface floors to be covered with area rugs and avoiding installing massive TVs and surround-sound systems on shared walls.
“Rugs can absorb sound in your home, too, along with drapes or curtains,” says Grange. “A door strip on the inside of your condo helps keep out sounds, smells and warm or cold air.”
If, despite noise abatement measures by builders and your own efforts, night noise still keeps you awake, you can always try an app or gadget for ambient noises such as waves, rain, or whales singing, says Grange.
“I recommend creating a Zen sleeping space with a little fountain or ocean sounds and plants to bring more nature into your home,” says Grange. “One resident at Chapman Stables custom-built a green wall in his condo to create a peaceful interior.”
Just because you’re sharing walls doesn’t mean you can’t live in peace and quiet alongside your neighbors. Some key steps on the builder’s part, and some intentionality on yours, can lead to very comfortable living despite close quarters.
Michele Lerner is an award-winning freelance writer, editor and author who has been writing about real estate, personal finance and business topics for more than two decades.