I don't want to hear my neighbours... ever.
September 27, 2009 12:09 PM   Subscribe

I'm going to buy a home soon, probably a semi-detached bungalow. I want to have an educated guess at how soundproof a property is while I view it. Are there any tips/tricks to help me judge how soundproof a home will be while viewing it for (let's say) just 30 minutes at a time? When during those actual 30 minutes there are no neighbours making any noise, or maybe they're making a lot of noise but I just can't hear it.

I'm looking to move to the Sussex coast of the UK, if it makes a difference.

For instance:
Can tapping on the walls tell me how thick/soundproof they are?
Does what the walls are made of make a big difference?
Is the age of the property any indicator? (the UK has soundproofing regulations for properties constructed from 2003 onwards, but none of the places I've viewed are that new)

When I have viewed properties they mostly seem deathly quiet. But I'm looking at homes far away from where I live now, so it's really not easy to "just hang around and see what it's like at various times of the day/week".

The number ONE important thing for me is that I do NOT want to hear anything from my neighbours: shouting, TV, music, doors closing, walking etc.

When I have viewed properties they mostly seem deathly quiet. But I'm looking at properties far away from where I live now, so it's really not easy to "just hang around and see what it's like at various times of the day/week".

Also it may be quiet now 24hrs a day because the current neighbours ARE just very quiet, but what happens when they go and Mr or Ms Noisy move in?

The problem is I probably can't afford a detached house in the area I want to live. I have seen some semi-detached bungalows that I like though but I'm concerned about the adjoining walls.
posted by selton to Home & Garden (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
What the walls are made of does make a big difference - I live in an attached house, the wall between me and my eastward neighbours is brick, I can't hear a thing from them, and the other side is (I think) just gyprock and insulation, and I hear a lot of what is going on over there. (apparently sundays and holidays are great for screaming at your family. who knew?) The house I can hear looks just like my place, and clearly they were built as a duplex, whereas the other house was built at a different time, and the walls are much thicker. If you are looking at bungalows, it might be worth seeing if the shared wall can be soundproofed, and factor the cost of that into your budget.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 12:18 PM on September 27, 2009

If the number ONE important thing is to NOT hear anything from the neighbors, wait until you can afford a detached house. Better yet, move to the countryside, where you can't even see your neighbors. Even if the shared wall is perfectly soundproofed, what is to keep your neighbors from hanging out on the front porch, or in the back yard, and making noise.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 1:18 PM on September 27, 2009

Any sort of masonry wall (brick, concrete) between you and the neighbor would be a good thing to look for. Materials that don't transmit sound well are heavy and limp, like heavy textiles or the lead bib a dentist drapes over your chest while X-raying your teeth. Hollow, wood-framed walls are light and rigid -- the opposite of what you want. Fiberglass insulation in such walls helps just a little bit, but not much.

May I suggest you relax your standards just a bit? You should be able to find a house that's reasonably quiet almost all of the time, but if you let your blood pressure spike at the slightest clunk or creak, you are setting yourself up for misery.
posted by jon1270 at 1:23 PM on September 27, 2009

ActingTheGoat: I didn't mention in the original question, but the money I have to buy with (without going into boring details) is finite - I won't be able to add to it, or certainly not enough to make a difference. I'd love to do so, but it's not going to happen.

jon1270 I stressed the NO NOISE EVER, probably a bit too strongly - though I do take your comment on board about not being too sensitive.

But I don't want to be able to hear someone's TV/HIFI everytime they switch it on, them talking on the phone or kids being chastised.

I don't mind reasonable road traffic noise, people mowing their lawn or someone doing a bit of DIY etc.
posted by selton at 1:57 PM on September 27, 2009

The point about a brick wall as opposed to a hollow wall is correct.

Perhaps there are building inspectors or engineers in Sussex who can look at the bungalow in question and tell you what the joining wall is made of. (I am from the US and so don't know if this type of service exists in the UK, though I would be surprised if it did not.)
posted by dfriedman at 2:00 PM on September 27, 2009

This is purely anecdotal, of course, but I lived in a semi-detached brick house and never, ever heard the people on the other half of the semi-detached. An entire family lived there but it might as well have been empty, thanks to the brick walls. Sadly, the family two houses down -- ie, not attached to us in any way -- were extra-loud and they loved to stand in their backyard and bellow at each other.

So even if you have a nice solidly constructed house, you may still deal with neighbor noise, sadly.
posted by kate blank at 3:03 PM on September 27, 2009

Leave the radio on in the car at a standardized volume with a cd playing. Do this at home to establish a baseline for how well insulated a house is for noise. Bring a battery operated cd player with you. Leave it running, see how much you can hear from other rooms.

If you have a bit of chutzpah, introduce yourself to the neighbors and ask if you can see if you can hear the radio from their place.
posted by theora55 at 3:13 PM on September 27, 2009

Tricky - I'm in an apartment with concrete floors which I'd have thought were pretty good at soundproofing, even though you could probably punch through the walls without hurting yourself.
In reality however, during the quietness of the evening/night or a lazy Sunday, you can hear the downstairs neighbours pressing light switches or plugging things in.

Unless the property was built way-back when solid (2-3 foot thick) walls were popular, I'd expect it to be almost impossible to predict the soundproofing qualities even if you knew the construction materials.
posted by Chunder at 3:31 PM on September 27, 2009

I lived in a semidetached in Berkshire. The wall between our place and the neighbors was brick. I believe it was what is called a firewall. The building was probably built in the early 60's. That might help. We heard little of our neighbors, and they had a child and a teen living there. (and the nicest neighbors I've ever had, in spite of being self-identified Torries).
posted by Goofyy at 11:47 AM on September 29, 2009

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