Apartment living for the first time?
October 3, 2011 9:23 PM   Subscribe

Help me not be that noisy neighbor. First time apartment dweller advice appreciated.

I'm used to renting houses where noise isn't an issue.

1. I come home at 3am with a couple of friends or a lady friend. Can we talk in normal voices? Watch television? Do we have to whisper and sneak around?

2. If I have people over, when is an appropriate time to leave? 11PM or so? We're talking on a normal weekend.

3. What other things can I do to be a good neighbor?

4. Are certain buildings louder than others? For example, I had a few friends over for a late dinner party, all were apartment dwellers. I received some complaints about our noise and all of them swore up and down we were being well within what they consider normal. I do not think we were loud at all.

Some other details: I have no one above or below me, only neighbors on either side.

A tip a friend gave me was to always be aware of how loud you're being. Whether you're doing dishes at night, watching television or having a telephone conversation. Do I have to really be so acutely aware? It seems so restraining. Does it get better with time?

It just seems that one of the things I really enjoy, dinner parties and talking with friend has been severely limited. Perhaps so, but I can't imagine people in apartments do not do this.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (25 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Think of it as halfway between having sleeping housemates and being completely alone.

1. Talking in a normal voice at 3am is fine. Watching television at a reasonable volume with little bass is fine.
2. I'd say 1am, but the noise should start going down sometime around 10pm depending on where you live. A building full of elderly people will expect earlier times from you than a building full of young people like yourself.
3. Say hello to people, keep your things clean, bring cookies.
4. Yes, certain buildings echo differently and have thinner or thicker walls. The construction material also makes a difference. If your more experienced friends think you were fine and live in similar buildings, then you might have a cranky neighbor.

Yes, you need to be more aware and it becomes better with time for everyone. If you are perennially a problem your neighbors will get used to it, too, but that's not the best plan.

Dinner parties have been limited a bit. Talking with friends has not been limited unless you're doing it in the hall.
posted by michaelh at 9:34 PM on October 3, 2011

It really really depends on the building. I've been in dorm rooms/apartments where you could hear hushed conversations next door. I've been in apartments where the only thing I can ever hear is when they're pounding on something next door. God knows what they're pounding on...

If you're trying to be friendly with your neighbors, ask them about the noise issues - especially if you see someone around your age/social style. People who've lived in buildings for a while will know all the tips and tricks about keeping the noise down.
posted by SNWidget at 9:34 PM on October 3, 2011 [4 favorites]

Some buildings are a lot more noisy than others because they are variations in insulation. So I do not imagine any of the things you describe would be an issue normally however:

- you can hear groups of people messing around in next door flats - you will not think you are being noisy or rowdy but if I am tired and my bedroom wall is next to your living room I will hear you guys laughing, will hear your music etc. Perhaps give neighbours a head-up if you are having a proper party and an estimated end time for the party and then they will expect to hear you that evening or may decide to go out themselves. If they are nice you could invite them to join in, if the occasion lends itself to it.

- ask people to leave quietly, do not engage in conversation on your doorstep as people are leaving etc...I have a door that does not shut easily and I make sure I shut it because most guests would end up slamming it shut.

- as the world quietens down (at least in most residential areas) later at night you probably do not need your tv/music at the level you do earlier in the evening...make an experiment and see how low you can turn the volume at different times of the day and still hear adequately and be amazed at the range of volume

- if yours is a noisy, poorly insulated building be sure to invest in carpet, curtains and perhaps a couple of nice wall hangings as all of these will reduce noise transmission.

- some people are more sensitive to noise than others and if your neighbours turn out to fall in that category there is not a lot you can do, as long as you are sure that you are not creating excessive noise because you are mindful of the above points.
posted by koahiatamadl at 9:37 PM on October 3, 2011

I've recently transferred from one situation to another in exactly the same way as you - I was renting a house, and now I'm renting an apartment, sharing walls with neighbours on either side. Like you, I was concerned about being "that noisy neighbour".

My approach was to err on the side of caution for the first week or two, gauging the general ambience created by my neighbours' lifestyles, with the aim of matching it in an effort to fit in with the already-established tenor of the environment. When I discovered that I could hear them enjoying life at a regular volumes - not too noisy, but not as quiet as a mouse, either - I realised, Hey, that's life sharing walls. And I became completely relaxed about it.

So now I just potter around my place as if I wasn't sharing walls. If I want to chat and laugh with friends or watch TV or play music at a reasonable volume late at night (for example), I just remember that (for instance) my neighbours' kids are often up earlier than me laughing and making noise and being kids. That's just apartment life. If you live in an apartment, you have to come to terms with a bit of noise both ways.

Also, I've found it's useful to at least establish a 'smile and hello in passing' relationship with the neighbours, so that we all know that if something needs addressing, we've already established that communal bond.
posted by paleyellowwithorange at 9:40 PM on October 3, 2011

My experience is that annoying sounds travel much more easily up and down, rather than side-to-side, but it definitely does depend on the building. Sound will carry more easily through the walls of an old converted house than through a concrete-block apartment building, say.

I'd try to be quiet after 11-12 on a weekend, but that doesn't mean you can't stay up talking. Just try to keep it down, if it's been a problem. Maybe be aware of which walls you share with sensitive neighbors' bedrooms, if you can.

Also, IMHO, if you can get your neighbor to complain to you while you're being noisy rather than stewing all night and complaining later, everyone ends up happier.

OTOH I've been pretty lucky with neighbor noise in most of my apartment/duplex rentals, maybe I have a rosy view of things.

[On preview] Yeah, avoiding conversation on the doorstep at 3am is a good tip— you tend to talk louder, it's outside so it carries more, etc.
posted by hattifattener at 9:41 PM on October 3, 2011

I have always lived in apartments. This is my list:

1. Do not slam kitchen cabinets. Ever.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 9:42 PM on October 3, 2011 [3 favorites]

My experience of living in flats is that cigarette smoke is much, much worse than noise. In my old place the vents were shared, so when I'd come home from work it would be as if the smoking fairy had visited. Open a window, or smoke outside.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 9:43 PM on October 3, 2011 [4 favorites]

Definitely make sure that people are quiet when they leave. It doesn't do much good if they're respectful inside your house if the second they go outside they're shouting and slamming the door. My next door neighbors are like that- I don't hear anything until their guests start to leave and then I swear they start screaming the second they hit her doormat.
posted by winna at 9:47 PM on October 3, 2011 [3 favorites]

You are so great! Please come live next door to me!

Actually, a lot of this depends on the construction of your particular building, so for the first few weeks, try to listen to what you can and can not hear from your neighbors. Let this be your guide.

- carpets or area rugs + furniture + wall art + curtains all muffle sound vibrations. As your place gets decorated, it will cut down on the bleed of sound a lot.

- if neighbors are normal, feel free to check in with them. We just had a baby a few months back, and I do this. So far so good because....

- I put up a few decorative wall hangings that are actually sound deadening board glued to thin ply wood and upholstered with pretty fabric. You can also google for acoustic panels (like the type used in sound studios) and upholster them, but that is expensive! My version costs like $15 each, total, and look great. But I am super handy and like constructing things. Only engage in this time/money investment if you find your walls are super thin.

Nthing not slamming drawers, closet doors, and keeping a check on the TV noise.

You'll be sweet!
posted by jbenben at 9:51 PM on October 3, 2011

All specifics depend on the building, but the best thing you can do: go to all your neighbours that you share a wall with and introduce yourself. Tell them that any time you're being loud they shouldn't hesitate to let you know and you'll be happy to tone it down.
posted by auto-correct at 10:09 PM on October 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

On weekends, I would put the 'too late to be standing outside having a conversation' time at midnight. On weekdays, I would probably put it at 11.
Is it really 3am? You and your pals should do their best to be quiet (even though I'm guessing they're a little tipsy).
Yes, smoke outside, but don't turn it into a pow-wow. People can hear you. Also, try not to step outside your apartment when you're talking on the phone: no one is interested in your next doctor's appointment, and yes, your neighbors can hear that.
Don't boom tunes past about 10 or so on weekdays. People gotta go to work.
If you're really concerned, visit your neighbors and give them your name and number. Tell them they can call you any time, day or night. I had a downstairs neighbor do that, and though I've never actually called him, I really appreciated the effort.
posted by Gilbert at 10:24 PM on October 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

As mentioned, it depends on the building. In the building I'm in now, our next-door neighbor put in a new sound system and asked us to help him test out the volume. He came over, we determined which walls we shared, and then he went back to his place and turned the volume up as loud as he would ever listen to it, then came over to our place to listen to what we'd hear. Fortunately, it was barely noticeable, and we've been on friendly terms ever since. He knows our number so he can call us if we are ever too loud, too.

Conversely, the neighbor on the other side would routinely have loud parties during which their music would be so loud and cause such intense vibrations that it would shake the art on my walls. We'd go over and ask them to please turn it down, and they'd say no. Sometimes they'd turn it up. I suspect they had their speakers right up against the wall, causing the vibrations, but we could also hear the loud talking/shouting of their guests as they tried to hear themselves talk over the loud music. We had to complain to the property managers multiple times, and the management company ultimately decided not to renew their lease due to our complaints and the complains of other neighbors.

tl;dr: Be the first guy.
posted by bedhead at 10:29 PM on October 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

How long have you been in the apartment in question. Is the place in #4 a previous place or the current one?

If it was the previous, then a great idea would be to ask your neighbors directly if they've found the walls to be thin, what kind of hours they're usually asleep, etc. Even if they never like to be bothered, they'll probably like that their new neighbor intends to be considerate about noise.

If you've been there a while now, have your neighbors been audible through the walls at various times of the day? If you never hear a peep, and you think you've been fairly low-noise, then you're likely okay. Of course, it could be that they're just crazy quiet. And once the primetime hours are over, using a library voice can't hurt.

If it's really late, even moderate noise can be more easily picked up since there's not much else to drown it out. I've had neighbors in another building a few yards away have group dinners at 2 am, indoors, and they were loud and clear.

And along with doors and cabinets, don't slam your microwave! And for your neighbors' sake, I hope you don't have an annoying laugh.
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 10:31 PM on October 3, 2011

Also be careful of anyone who is below you if you bring someone home. Just saying.

Few things are more irritating than the thumpy-squeak of humpy-time to the person downstairs, especially if they're not getting any.
posted by mephron at 10:36 PM on October 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Tell them that any time you're being loud they shouldn't hesitate to let you know and you'll be happy to tone it down.

By all means establish with your neighbours that you're open to discuss neighbour-related matters, but don't make a promise you can't keep! You might find that your neighbours have unreasonable expectations, and if you've promised that you'll always turn it down when they ask, you might find yourself in the unhappy scenario you're trying to avoid. Sometimes people are just too touchy when it comes to noise, and you might not want to enable their unreasonable expectations.
posted by paleyellowwithorange at 10:59 PM on October 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Sound travels differently in different buildings, absolutely.

3 am? Err on the side of shhhhhh. But there's no need to kick people out of your house at 11.
posted by desuetude at 11:15 PM on October 3, 2011

My unofficial rules for inter-neighbor happiness:
  • Elephantitis. Do not wear leather/hard-soled shoes indoors. Tennis shoes are fine. Sandals are fine. Socks are obviously fine. Women's shoes in particular are notorious for this shit. Sorry if you enjoy wearing heels, but you sound like a fucking two-legged horse.
  • Entertainment. No loud speakers after 11pm. Doesn't matter the audio source: a subwoofer boom from an explosion in your favorite action movie is just as annoying as your favorite rap album.
  • Fucking. Fuck as loud as you like, but in general, the louder you fuck, the shorter your fuck duration. General rule of thumb: quiet fucking: all night, medium fucking: 30 min., wild banshee-fucking: 10 minutes.
  • Anger Management. If I hear you yelling at someone for more than 20 minutes, I am calling the cops on your loud fucking inconsiderate ass. There's no need for that kind of behavior. And no slamming of hinged items (doors, cabinets, etc.) unless you're walking out the door for the final time, never to return.
Sub-rules for musicians *:
  • Singing:
    • Sunday – Thursday, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
    • Friday & Saturday, 10 a.m. – 9:30 p.m.
  • Brass:
    • Sunday – Thursday, 9 a.m. – 7 p.m. if you're good, 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. if you suck.
    • Friday & Saturday, 10 a.m. – 9 p.m. if you're good, 10 a.m. – 8 p.m. if you suck.
  • Woodwinds: See Brass.
  • Piano:
    • Sunday – Thursday, 9 a.m. – 9 p.m. if you're good, 9 a.m. – 7 p.m. if you suck
    • Friday & Saturday, 10 a.m. – 9:30 p.m. if you're good, 10 a.m. – 8 p.m. if you suck.
  • Strings:
    • Sunday – Thursday, 9 a.m. – 9 p.m.; EXCEPTION: Electric guitar: 10:30 a.m. – 5 p.m.
    • Friday & Saturday, 10 a.m. – 9:30 p.m.; EXCEPTION: Electric guitar: 10 a.m. – 7 p.m.
  • Drums: NEVER. Either get practice pads or rent space far away from where human beings live.
* The basic rule of thumb is, traditional work-nights you stop playing when people are coming home from work, with slight allowances given for softer instruments as well as technical ability. Nobody wants to hear you practice Mary Had a Little Lamb on the fucking trumpet at 10 p.m. on a Monday night. And heaven fucking help you if you DARE attempt to play Stairway on your awesome kick-ass vintage Fender Twin.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 11:16 PM on October 3, 2011 [39 favorites]

It depends on the building, as well as the neighbors. My own building has pretty good solid walls, but anything in the hallway is easily heard. xample: I've got one neighbor who literally HOLDS RACES with his kids up & down the halls when the weather's bad --- the yelling and pounding is ridiculous. Please don't be that guy.

There's also the SHAPE of the building to consider: my building is T-shaped, and the angles funnel noise right inside --- when my windows are open, I can clearly hear every single conversation 16 floor below, even if the people are talking in normal conversational tones.

Bonus feature of a T-shaped building: I'm right at the angle, and the folks on the opposite wing NEVER --- literally, never! --- turn off their lights OR close the curtains.... I can easily describe every single item in their dining and living rooms, including their cheesy picture of Niagara Falls.... I've had to get extra-thick curtains in my bedroom, just to cut the light polution. Anyhoo: if you're facing someone else, consider that, too please!

As others have said, try to be considerate, keep the volume down, and keep your floors carpeted.
posted by easily confused at 3:17 AM on October 4, 2011

Nthing the "it depends on the construction" and a lot of other elements. My old building had ultra-thin walls because someone did a super-cheap job of dividing a brownstone (one apartment unit per floor) into multiple spaces (four units per floor), and all the apartments were laid out the same (sleeping lofts in each bedroom, and all the bedrooms were next to each other -- basically, I could have punched a hole in my wall and shaken hands with my neighbor while we were each in our own beds). In that apartment, I heard conversations next door (including, memorably, a conversation the aforementioned neighbor had with a prostitute). My current building is a lot better-constructed, and I rarely hear noise from the other residents at all; however, I have noticed some noise right by the bathroom air vent, and realized it was travelling up that vent. I've never heard that noise carrying elsewhere in the building, though.

In general: slightly-lower-than-normal conversation levels at 3 am should be fine. If your walls are especially thin, don't get too loud with the sex. For music: in general, bass carries farther than you think, so if you get a request to turn it down try turning the bass on your speakers down a little bit too.

And finally: If you are teaching yourself guitar, do not under any circumstances play "Girl from Ipanema" on a continuous five-hour loop no matter what time of day it is and no matter how good you are, or my roommate from 1995 and I will come through time and strangle you the way we wanted to strangle the guy that did this to us then. Thank you.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:09 AM on October 4, 2011

1. At 3am, come home quietly. Noise from doors slamming, "Hey man, come on in," etc. can be louder than you think. Noise from the outdoors will filter into your neighbors' houses probably more than noise from inside your house. Go ahead and talk in normal voices, watch television, etc. It's night-time, and most of your neighbors are asleep. Think: "What would wake my neighbors up? I shouldn't do that."

2. You're an adult, so people can leave whenever they like, as long as you're considerate of them leaving quietly. Lots of bars in my neighborhood have signs that say, "Please respect our neighbors by leaving quietly." Just remind them that shouting about where they left their car, loitering outside on your porch at midnight, etc., isn't neighborly. Leave quietly, no time limit required.

3. You can avoid slamming kitchen cabinets and doors (nthing above). For neighbors on the sides but not above or below, don't put your furniture, TV, or speakers right up against a wall - leave an inch or two of space to disperse vibration. This is especially true for your bed, should it be, um, shaking.

4. Some buildings absolutely transmit sound more than others.

I've had some experience with noise in multi-unit dwellings, so you may find some advice in that thread. Mostly, just live your life considerately. No one can ask you for more than that.
posted by juniperesque at 7:34 AM on October 4, 2011

nthing - talk to the neighbors. When I lived in apartments years ago, I would have flipped out with gratitude if anyone had ever asked me to let them know if they were being too loud. This also makes it 100X likely that if something ever does get out of hand they will talk to you rather than the cops or the manager.

You will also learn by this what their personality is. You're typically going to have to be more careful if they're older and/or more quiet. Also, if you note they're a little hard of hearing in conversation, don't assume this means they won't hear the stereo well enough to be annoyed by it. My FIL can't understand what you're saying half the time and listens to his own TV super loud, but gets just as annoyed as ever by anyone else making loud noises.

You will learn quickly how loud the walls are by noting how much you can hear of your neighbors during daylight hours.

Unfortunately, if it's like a lot of apartments, noise, even normal noise can become an issue during sleeping hours. If I were upstairs, I would just forego the subwoofer. Those things are designed to transmit sound via the floor, and it's super annoying.

People tend to talk loudly on the phone, so be really careful when talking on the phone. One of the banes of my existence is when I check into a motel and get one of my fellow roadies come in at midnight and start checking in with his wife, girfriend, or both via telephone.
posted by randomkeystrike at 8:39 AM on October 4, 2011

Eh, I live in a building where drunk people pounding on drums at 4 am didn't even get an unofficial noise complaint.

Honestly, I say just live how you want to until you hear that it's a problem. There's not much point in tip toeing around if it's not necessary.
posted by utsutsu at 9:11 AM on October 4, 2011

It depends a lot on the building - more specifically, on the neighbors.

If you only have neighbors on each side, one good strategy is to figure out which walls you share with their bedrooms. Then make an effort to be more quiet in those areas after say 11PM.

You can also arrange your living space with an eye for sound dampening.

Let's say you know that a particular wall is shared with your neighbor's bedroom. If possible, do not put a couch, television, or stereo against that wall, since all those things will communicate noise straight into their headboard. Put book cases or storage units against that wall instead, because they will act as sound dampeners.

Noise carries farther at night, and is more vexing. If you're watching television at 3AM, turn it to about half the volume you would usually use. If it's something with a lot of explosions or loud sound effects, turn it down even farther and use the subtitles.

You don't have to stop having dinner parties. But it would probably behoove you to start those dinner parties earlier, say 5-7PM.

Remember that people are a terrible judge of their own volume levels, particularly if they're tipsy and having fun. If you got a complaint about that party, then you have a data point for sound levels and time restrictions. It's a good starting point!
posted by ErikaB at 11:11 AM on October 4, 2011

If you only have neighbors on either side, that's a lot better than upstairs-downstairs. No need to really worry about your foot traffic so much, and probably not so much the bed action unless you put it up against the wall/squeak a lot. Mostly you can just keep to the "stop being noisy after 11" rule and be fine.

Really, what's bothered me the most in my downstairs apartment (besides idiots upstairs flooding it) are:

(a) people having sex at 2 a.m. on a weeknight. Basically, please keep the loud sex down when the person below you probably has to get up early tomorrow. I understand if you're having 2 a.m. drunk sex Saturday night, but don't WAKE ME UP in the middle of Tuesday with your nookie. Or personal toy usage. And while I did appreciate the discretion that one fellow had by suddenly blasting loud music for 10 minutes to cover up whatever he was doing, that was still at 11 p.m.

(b) Supremely squeaky beds. I had one upstairs neighbor whose bed was so loud that me and the next door neighbor would wake up when s/he rolled over.

(b) really really loud sounds right through the connecting walls. For example, the bedrooms are next to each other, along with the bathrooms. The neighbor next to me has periodically been turning on his shower AS HARD AS HE POSSIBLY CAN, to the point where it's not only loud and waking me up at 5 a.m., the water pressure is somehow shaking the walls and I still hear it when I am wearing earplugs and have moved to the far side of the apartment. And he takes a long shower too.

Basically, if you can keep "quiet hours" from 11 p.m.-7 a.m., you're golden, though.
posted by jenfullmoon at 3:03 PM on October 4, 2011

Don't rely on your neighbors to let you know when you're too loud. If talking in a normal (or even quiet) voice directly outside the building at 3 am prompts a cranky "hey, keep it down" from a neighbor, it's safe to assume that it's just not okay to stand there to chat at 3 am in general. Sound can travel in non-intuitive ways sometimes.

My neighbors having a full-on party is less disruptive than the extended goodnight chatting on the stoop, which sounds as clear as if they were perched a foot from my head.
posted by desuetude at 7:33 PM on October 4, 2011

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