Can My Neighbors Hear Me?

Rob Whiting
Boom Team

Unless you’re living in a spacious penthouse, chances are that you have neighbors. This close proximity means that you all live with this unwritten rule: don’t be *THAT* neighbor.

You know the one: noisy, intrusive, and seemingly content to move furniture in the middle of the night. In fact, there’s a pretty good chance that you’re living next to one right now. Worse, YOU could be that noisy neighbor, even if you don’t mean to be.

Have you ever wondered, "can my neighbors hear me?"

So, let’s look into the dynamics of what makes a noisy neighbor, and how to lessen the sound problem.

Upstairs versus Downstairs Apartments

Generally, upstairs units are less likely to hear the noise coming from units that are lower, but sound can still travel upwards. What’s more, loud noises can easily travel to units that are on the same floor. This is the reason why sound always seems to be louder coming from the ceiling or from the apartment next door.

Usually, you'll get more complaints from downstairs neighbors than upstairs neighbors.

Aside from sound coming from television, radio, and voices, if you live in lower apartments, you have to contend with the sound coming from footsteps and moving furniture. This is especially true if you live in older apartments where wood was used as the main building material. Wood conducts sound better compared to cement or metal, so noise is typically amplified in older apartments.

Acoustics, Acoustics, Acoustics

Speaking of amplifying sound, you could also consider the material of the apartment that you are renting. When apartments are built, the sound transmission class (STC) rating of the materials is taken into account. The higher the STC, the better the sound control. A well-built apartment has a high STC because these materials act as the first line of sound insulation.

In big cities like New York and Boston, there are minimum STC requirements for apartment structures. In NYC, interior walls must have a rating of at least 50 STC while exterior ones should rate at least 60 STC. In Boston, apartments that have shared walls such as duplexes should have an STC score of at least 60.

If you are unsure of the soundproofing quality for a particular apartment, don’t be afraid to ask the landlord if they meet the code requirements. A well-maintained apartment should have a certificate of occupancy issued by local building inspection bodies. This certificate ensures that the apartment meets the code requirements for soundproofing. If you are unable to take an apartment tour to see the unit in person.

Aside from the material, even the size and type of apartment can even play a role in how it amplifies sound. A loft apartment, for example, might have great acoustics when it comes to playing music, but your neighbors will also hear it!

How to Lessen the Noise

Even for apartments that meet soundproofing requirements, there is still a chance that loud noises can inconvenience your next-door neighbor. If this is the case, here are some measures that you can use to help minimize these sounds.

Adding Rugs

Rugs are a quick and inexpensive way to lessen the sound coming from your apartment, whether it’s footsteps, music, or ambient sounds. You could place rugs in high-traffic areas such as the living room and kitchen. Even a thin rug can go a long way in helping muffle noise because the material acts as padding, lessening the sound when you walk around. If you're the upstairs neighbor, putting down rugs lessens the noises that people living a level down could hear.

Of course, rugs are also a great way to decorate your home, so using rugs is a win-win.

Checking for Cracks or Holes

Small openings leave a way for sound to escape your apartment. Check for cracks in the walls and ceilings, holes in the windows, or even a gap in a poorly fitted door; all of these can allow sound out.

If you do find any cracks or holes in your apartment that were there before you moved in, you can contact your landlord to have them fix these problems. Keep in mind that these should not be fixed at your expense, since these are part of a landlord’s responsibility when it comes to apartment living.

Adding Noise Buffers

Sometimes, the noise just seems to come directly from the walls. This is true in apartments that are adjacent to one another, such as for junior-1 and 1-bedroom apartments located in the same building. This is due to the fact that these apartments often share walls.

If this is the case, place buffers such as bookshelves and cabinets. These buffers will help absorb sound and lessen the volume coming through the thin walls.

Be Conscious about Gadget Placement

There’s something to be said for using wall mounts to save space, but if you’re living in an apartment, you might need to forego using them. Using wall mounts means that gadgets are basically lying next to the wall, so you are inconveniencing your neighbors every time you watch television!

As a rule of thumb, always assume that whenever you watch TV or play music, your neighbors can hear.

If possible, get dual-purpose furniture that can replace a wall mount. Get a television rack that can double as a cabinet or shelves. However, this might be possible if you’re living in a small apartment like a studio. In this case, you can at least consider getting a mount that extends outwards so that the TV isn’t right up against thin walls. The distance makes it less likely that your immediate neighbor will hear your noise.

Look for Unexpected Sources of Noise

There are times when the sources of noise might be something you don’t expect or something you’re used to, which is why you don’t really hear it for yourself. If you have pets in your apartment, their movements around the apartment might be unnoticeable to you, but not to your neighbors! The sound of pattering feet running around is annoying, loud, and yes, your neighbors can hear it.

Putting down rugs can also help here, but you might want to take your pet out to a nearby dog park to exercise more regularly. This way, they’ll just be relaxed and less likely to run around when they come home.

Tread Lightly

It might sound obvious, but sometimes the source of noise is something as simple as you walking around with heavy feet! Try to be more conscious when you’re moving around in your apartment especially if you have wooden floors.

In line with this, don’t clomp around your home wearing heavy shoes. Just leave them by the door when you get home.

Remember, no one likes to hear a neighbor constantly walking around with heavy footsteps, because it's really an annoying sound especially early in the morning or late at night.


How do I Know if I’m the Noisy Neighbor?

Noise is one of those things that you easily pick up when it's coming from other people, but just as easy to miss when you’re the one making it. If your neighbors come to you and complain, then that’s the surest sign that you’re the noisy neighbor. It's especially hard to detect noise if you're the upstairs neighbors.

Other times, it’s not as easy to detect especially if your neighbors aren’t keen on talking with you about such a potentially awkward situation. If you’re unsure, it’s best to just ask your neighbors if they are bothered by the noise coming from your unit. There’s nothing wrong with being direct with this issue, as long as you are polite about it. Your neighbors will most likely appreciate the fact that you are being considerate!

"Can the neighbors hear?" should always be something that you consider.

How can I ask my Neighbors to Keep It Down?

The million-dollar question! If you’re in this position, there is also nothing wrong with going to your neighbors and asking them to lessen the noise. Just make sure to do it in a polite way. In most cases, they might not even be aware of how much noise they are making when they're talking or playing music. No matter how awkward the situation, there is always a way to say your problem in a civil manner.

However, there are those rare instances where they do know that they are being a bother, and they just don’t care. If you’ve asked nicely and they still don’t keep it down, you may need to bring in the superintendent to help you.

Final Thoughts

Apartment living is great when you have neighbors who are considerate of each other. It can also quickly turn stressful and annoying when you have neighbors who aren’t. Since you all share a living space within a building, everyone should adhere to guidelines when it comes to noise control.

It's not possible to remove all noise completely, whether it's music, sounds from the TV, or voices. However, there is always a way to lessen the noise to an acceptable level. Generally, if you think you're being too loud, you probably are.

If you have a noisy neighbor, coming in guns blazing is a bad answer to the problem. Yes, it's tempting to take a broom and knock on the ceiling to quiet down noisy upstairs neighbors, but this is only funny if your name is Ted Mosby and you’re living in “THE” apartment! Most of the time, a polite conversation will be enough to fix the issue. Bringing in the superintendent or property manager should always be left as a last resort.

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