Why is my New York City apartment building vibrating?
September 5, 2011 3:13 PM   Subscribe

Why is my New York City apartment building vibrating?

I've seen this thread, http://ask.metafilter.com/76193/Why-is-my-apartment-rattling, but I wanted to ask myself and see if anyone had any further perspectives.

I'm in a three-story building (second floor) and I first noticed it shaking a bit in the middle of the night maybe a year ago. Lately it seems to have become worse, though -- I'm feeling it right now, for example, as I sit and type. It's a bit disconcerting! (Yes, we had an earthquake a couple of weeks ago. That may have made me more acutely aware of vibrations, but this certainly didn't start then.)

It's happening in the summer, so I don't think it's the central heat. We are within a few blocks of a subway line and the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, so maybe that's it. And there's construction nearby. But it really seems to happen at intervals on its own -- various times during the day, middle of the night, etc. The building's old-ish and already has a slant of a degree or two that I had assumed from was from the foundation settling back after it was first built.

Anyway: It's beginning to drive me nuts. When it happens (as it is now), I kind of get put into a mild state of alarm and get completely distracted from whatever I'm doing (a problem, since I work from home).

Any thoughts about what's going on? Is the building going to come crashing down? Can I get on the landlord's case?

posted by chasing to Home & Garden (12 answers total)
Are you sure the subway doesn't go under your building?
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 3:14 PM on September 5, 2011

Best answer: I used to live in a building that shook whenever anyone had sex or did a load of laundry. It was likewise a very disconcerting feeling, like the floor was going to fall out from under me. The laundry was easy enough to figure out (because it was followed by a DING! not too long after), but I didn't connect it with the sexing until my roommate got a boyfriend. You wouldn't think that would be enough motion to get the whole building going, but average sex-having speed must have matched up with the building's natural frequency or something. Very bizarre.
posted by phunniemee at 3:26 PM on September 5, 2011

Response by poster: @roomthreeseventeen Yeah, there's a subway line probably a block or two away. Not a station, but a tunnel. Maybe that's it? But it's the G, which I never think of as running very often. And I've felt this at night. But this may be the best guess.

@phunniemee There are only five units in the building. And while I like to think we're a sexy bunch, I have a hard time believing that people are doin' it at all hours of the day, every day. Maybe, though!

I'm guessing it's kind of a combination of things: Subway, construction, etc. -- but it's horribly distracting. And, like I said, I've only really started noticing it within the past year or so (and I've been here four years).

Any other thoughts?
posted by chasing at 3:31 PM on September 5, 2011

Best answer: Is the building going to come crashing down?

If this is any comfort:
My building is four storeys high, and contains four units (three apartments and a shop). It's an old (18th century, perhaps) timber-framed brick building. It shakes when someone closes a door, or runs a washing machine, or walks particularly heavily; or when a lorry goes past outside; or when there's road-mending or pile-driving going on nearby; or when there's an open-air concert on over the road. And it hasn't fallen down yet; and my thousands of books haven't brought the floor down either.

As to what's causing your vibrations: if they persist for a few minutes each time, I would be inclined to guess that it's a washing machine in someone's apartment. Did someone new move in just before you started noticing the vibrations, or might someone have bought a new appliance around then? A European-style washing machine (which I gather can be found in the US) will have several fast spin cycles, will be pretty quiet while it's running, and can definitely make the building shake - but in a very subtle way, so that you probably wouldn't notice it unless you were sitting or lying down at the time.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 4:00 PM on September 5, 2011

Best answer: Another data point: I used to live on the 7th floor of a 20-something storey building in Manhattan that was fairly close to a few subway lines. I regularly noticed subway vibrations in that apartment.

Also: it looks as though the G does in fact run all night.
posted by sueinnyc at 4:13 PM on September 5, 2011

Response by poster: I'm certain it's not a washing machine: Our building's just not that big. And we're in NYC -- I'm sure we all just use the laundromat or have a laundry service. And I think everyone's been here for the pat few years -- no new folks that I'm aware of.

But thanks for the comforting words! Some uncomforting words, now! We have a couple of friends in Brooklyn who actually had their apartment building collapse a couple of years ago. Guess what was the first thing on my mind during the earthquake...
posted by chasing at 4:15 PM on September 5, 2011

Response by poster: @sueinnyc Right now I think I'm settling on it being a combination of the subway and the BQE. It's still gets me on edge, though. (Although a glass of wine has helped in the short term...)
posted by chasing at 4:21 PM on September 5, 2011

Best answer: If you're somewhere that is within both a few blocks of the G tunnel and the BQE, you are somewhere that has shoddily made buildings. There's plenty of reasons why resonances from the BQE—which is quite heavy and shakes like a monster—or the subway (and the G does run frequently—G train commuters represent!) would take place with your building.

I would say getting on your "landlord's case" is... not a real thing that one would do. Moving is though! You can also look up your building's complaint and code history at the New York City website quite handily—I've found lots of fascinating things on there about buildings I've lived in!

But for the most part, buildings are really quite slow to fall down.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 6:12 PM on September 5, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks, RJ Reynolds.

The only stuff in the building code history is some violations from a couple of years back about the boiler. No "imminent collapse" warning. So that's good. :-)
posted by chasing at 7:20 PM on September 5, 2011

Response by poster: Oh, and RJ Reynolds -- I'm searching off of this page, btw: http://www.nyc.gov/html/dob/html/enforcement_and_violations/violations.shtml

Is that what you're talking about?
posted by chasing at 7:21 PM on September 5, 2011

Sometimes trucks idling outside can do a remarkable job of getting buildings to vibrate. That would be something I would check for.
posted by that girl at 1:53 AM on September 6, 2011

I wrote that question you linked to, and you may be reassured to hear that my (now former) apartment building is still standing, four years later. :)
posted by min at 12:35 PM on September 11, 2011

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