How can I tell which apartment buildings block neighbor noise best?
October 13, 2009 8:55 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking to buy a Manhattan apartment (most likely co-op, not condo). What should I be looking for (or avoiding) to minimize my chances of hearing a lot of noise from my neighbors?
posted by sunflower16 to Home & Garden (4 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
The answer depends largely upon what forms of noise you are most concerned with. I am about to make massive simplifications, so be warned....

Generally speaking, if you're worried about "vertical" noise (folks above you pissing you off, or you pissing off the people below you) then you're worried about impact noise (represented as an "IIC" number; higher is better). The cheapest solution to this is carpeting, or else a flexible underlay.

If you're worried about "horizontal" noise (the rooms to either side of you) then you're worried about sound transmission (represented as an "STC" number; higher is again better). The cheapest solution here is sound-absorbing materials.

Therefore, things to look for:

For IIC, be worried about the floor and ceiling materials. Soft flooring is good, hard flooring is bad. Drop-ceilings are generally good, but not necessarily (a lazy dropped ceiling won't get you anything). If you there's a dropped ceiling, check above the tiles to see if there's insulation (insulation is good).

For STC, be worried about the workmanship of all demising walls. Wonder about the insulation present in those walls, and pay special attention to how they handle air gaps (look for small gaps in the wall/floor interface; this is a big reason why molding exists, so it may be tricky to look at). One simple (relatively unreliable, but even so it's better than nothing) approach is to rap on the wall; a dead "thump" sound is better than a sharp "rap" sound. Ask someone if the building uses a staggered double-wall design or not.

If your building is of recent construction, it will have had to meet certain minimum UBC/IBC requirements for both IIC & STC; you may wish to ask what version of UBC/IBC was used in the design of the structure (more recent = better, in general). Also ask if they used the laboratory values or the in-field values (in-field is more accurate, and also more stringent).

If your building is of older (pre-UBC/IBC) construction, ask how the typical wall is constructed. You may wish to dig around sites like for more information.
posted by aramaic at 9:22 PM on October 13, 2009 [6 favorites]

Um, note that in the above statement I was perhaps a bit pessimistic about laboratory testing vs. in-field testing. I should have noted that this is a personal bias of mine; I tend strongly towards in-field testing, which may not be defensible.
posted by aramaic at 9:25 PM on October 13, 2009

I have no idea what Manhattan construction is like, but buildings made of reinforced concrete are more or less soundproof, if echo-y.
posted by squorch at 9:28 PM on October 13, 2009

Yeah, unfortunately the uglier and concrete-er the building, the better the sound insulating capabilities. The charm-ier Olde Brick style? Not-so-much. Usually you can tell by looking at the stairs in-between floors. If they're wood and creaky, beware.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 10:25 PM on October 13, 2009

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