Noise mitigation in an apartment with only partial bedroom walls?
June 8, 2012 12:05 PM   Subscribe

Experiences and techniques for dealing with noise mitigation in an apartment with only partial bedroom walls?

I found an apartment that I love. The one catch? I am sensitive to noise; my boyfriend and I keep different hours; and the bedroom walls don't go all the way up to the ceiling.

The apartment (well condo) is basically a "soft loft"--the bedroom has full walls on two sides, but the side that faces the entry hall (which directly leads to the living room with no door) is only about nine feet high so there's about a three foot open gap between it and the ceiling. The part of the wall that faces the living room goes to the ceiling part of the way (because of the bathroom, and also I think to accommodate some of the pipes that run into the kitchen) but about half of it is also open.

I don't need sound insulation that will stand up to having a party in the next room, but I want to be able to sneak in late and play console games quietly at night without waking my boyfriend up, and he wants to be able to have 45 minute phone calls at home that I don't necessary have to hear every word of whether I want to or not. Basically I'd like to try to get sound insulation between the living room and bedroom equivalent to what you'd have in a typical one bedroom apartment.

Has anyone lived in a situation like this? Is it possible to noise-proof, or at least noise-mitigate? (Bearing in mind that we don't own the place and wouldn't be able to do irreversible construction.) If so, how do you do it? Do they make screens with acoustic foam on them or anything? Or should we just pass on this place? And yes, we already own and use several white noise machines.
posted by phoenixy to Home & Garden (9 answers total)
You're going to get a good bit of noise through there. Our second bedroom was set up like that, and even after putting a plywood "false wall" in, you can still hear everything that's going on in the main room. Replacing the painted plywood with glass brick is definitely on our to-do list.

We use a different sort of mitigation strategy though: headphones. I got a pair of relatively decent sennheiser wireless headphones, plugged them into my receiver, and can play well into the night. Talking on the headset can be kind of a pain though.
posted by Oktober at 12:10 PM on June 8, 2012

Ear plugs for the sleeper?
posted by onhazier at 12:11 PM on June 8, 2012

This is not an apartment that you love, because this is a big catch. No matter how many acoustic panels you toss up, a 3 foot gap is unmitigatible.

Let's say you combine a number of techniques to reduce sound penetration by 40%. Is this apartment so much better than other options that it's worth adding stress to you/partner whenever you're doing a loud activity, constantly worrying if the sleeping partner is ok? Is it worth the potential, naggingly small resentment aimed at your partner/apartment that's caused by trying to sleep through the remaining 60%?

My advice is go for a less-ideal apartment where you don't have to worry over what you or your partner do in your own home.
posted by MangyCarface at 12:16 PM on June 8, 2012 [4 favorites]

Unfortunately, acoustics is a bitch, and you don't have many options. Any of the cheap acoustic treatments are designed more for reducing echo than reducing noise transmission. Things such as hanging heavy drapes aren't going to do much at all, so I wouldn't put any money towards something like that. If you think about it, imagine being in a room where someone was talking, and then pulling a curtain in front of you. You'd still be able to hear pretty much everything you were hearing beforehand.

To reduce noise transmission to any significant degree you need density and you need to prevent any way for air to travel through. This is why walls work so well, because you've got a dense material (drywall), and no way for air to travel from one side to the other.

So, if you want to reduce noise transmission from one side to the other, you need to find some way of preventing air from traveling across (so that the sound waves are stopped and have to convert their energy into something else), and you need something dense (something thin will just resonate from the sound waves and transfer the noise across).

If you don't live there already, than either find another place, or be prepared to sleep with earplugs (which will work better than any treatment you can put in that doesn't cost thousands of dollars). If you do live there, than either use earplugs, or be prepared to spend tons of money to try to fix it.

The cheapest solution that will be effective would be to finish the wall. Since you're renting that's likely not an option, but anything short of this will likely do very little.
posted by markblasco at 12:31 PM on June 8, 2012

Ugh. I lived in an apartment kind of like this, and noise was ALWAYS a problem. I never found a way around it. Luckily a fire started in the apartment next door and burned that place down (only partially sarcastic). Truly, the only solution I found was to move.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 1:10 PM on June 8, 2012

As I get older, acoustics is becoming the MOST important thing to me. Pass on this, you'll be miserable within the first week.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:54 PM on June 8, 2012

I've lived in such a place with my SO. While we loved the aesthetics of the apartment, it was hard. It really strains the relationship if one or both of you are sensitive. Two friends of mine just moved out of a similar place due to equally insurmountable noise-irritation and privacy issues. While it was an experience, I wouldn't do it again and would caution others against it. Privacy, even in a strong relationship, is worth a lot.
posted by shrimpsmalls at 6:54 PM on June 8, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks bummed. I was hoping that because there are really two partial walls between the living room and the bedroom (because the bathroom hall runs in between) areas, and because I am so very quiet, maybe we could install something and make it work with a quiet noise machine. But it seems as if it is not to be and all of you who have been in such a setup hated it. Sad tear! I hate that half the buildings in this neighborhood seem to be warehouse conversions or loft inspired...
posted by phoenixy at 8:49 PM on June 8, 2012

Move. The games you could play with headphones, but the phone conversations don't have an easy fix.

Bite the bullet on the cost of breaking the lease and find someplace that won't ruin your relationship.

Personally, I firmly believe no relationship works unless there's at least two separate floors. You've got to be able to get out of earshot from your SO. For one, to avoid having to hear the phone conversations (it's just annoying to hear only the one side). The other to be far enough away to be able to plausibly deny hearing when your SO calls, or it bitching about something. Sometimes we all say things out loud that don't really benefit from someone else hearing. A bit of separation keeps those outbursts from being anything more than localized means to vent your trivial frustrations.
posted by wkearney99 at 12:28 PM on June 9, 2012

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