What noises are my downstairs neighbor hearing?
April 8, 2014 8:25 AM   Subscribe

I live in the top floor of a newly-constructed (less than a year old) wood-framed apartment complex. I try to be a good neighbor and keep any noises to a minimum. However, yesterday, my neighbor that lived right below my unit came to talk to me about thumping noises that he hears coming directly above him. He says it sounds like somebody was dropping heavy objects or moving furniture. The thing is, he claims he mostly hears this after 11PM. However, I'm usually in bed and sound asleep by 11. So what could it be that he's hearing?

1) Could it be my snoring? But my neighbor claims the noise doesn't sound like that. And he claims to hear it above both his bedroom and his living room.

2) Could my tossing and turning on my bed be causing the noise? I have an IKEA MALM bed and I don't think it creaks or makes any noise at all when I'm tossing or turning.

3) Maybe I'm sleep-moving my furniture?

Does anyone have any other ideas?
posted by gyc to Home & Garden (38 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Do you have a cat? I live in a 2 story house and the racket it makes when they jump off the bed upstairs is shocking, given that they are small animals.
posted by something something at 8:27 AM on April 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

I once had a neighbor make this complaint against me (although I was in an older building). Like you, I was always fast asleep when the noises happened. I ultimately deduced that my tossing and turning was making the noises. It's not a creaky noise so much as a slight bumping noise (amplified for the downstairs neighbor) caused by the feet of the bed against the floor. I'd get a rug if you don't already have one.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 8:28 AM on April 8, 2014 [5 favorites]

People drastically overrate their ability to tell where noises come from, especially low-frequency ones.
posted by thelonius at 8:29 AM on April 8, 2014 [7 favorites]

That is bizzare.

If you have wooden floors, get a rug to muffle any noise that might be made by shifting furniture or kitties.

Perhaps you can get a third party to mediate. Perhaps you can toss and turn in your bed, and the third party can be downstairs to see if that's the noise.

Now, if you're playing Superbase at 1:30 AM at top volume, and it can make its way through the earplugs your neighbor is wearing...no, wait, that's the idiot who lives above ME!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:31 AM on April 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

Could it be pipes?

I have noticed that there is a pipe in our house that is not well-lashed. Sometimes, particularly when we run the hot water, for a few minutes afterward I can hear that pipe vibrating under the floor of another room on the other side of the house.
posted by vignettist at 8:32 AM on April 8, 2014 [7 favorites]

Pipes for heating? I work in an old building and the pipes sound like someone intermittently doing construction when the heat is on. I don't know how warm it is in your area right now, but I'd guess its an option.
posted by lownote at 8:33 AM on April 8, 2014 [3 favorites]

You don't use a CPAP or anything, do you? I have been kept very awake by an upstairs CPAP.
posted by mskyle at 8:33 AM on April 8, 2014

Well, unless the springs or other frame-related parts of your bed make thump and crank noises (as a bed I occupied for a while did), or the bed frame stands unstable, so that one foot periodically bumps on the floor, I suppose that it's pipes or other structural things related to the building.
A little weird that you yourself wouldn't hear the same noises, though.
posted by Namlit at 8:37 AM on April 8, 2014

Does your downstairs neighbour only have neighbours above and below them, or do they have some to the side as well? Low frequency thumping noises like that tend to travel well through ceilings and walls and it can be really hard to tell what direction they're actually coming from. It's possible the noises are coming from elsewhere in the building.

Some questions to ask the neighbour:
- Are the noises regular, like every 20 minutes, or always at 11:35pm?
- Do the noises stop if you're away for a night (i.e. not in the apartment)?
- Does he only hear them after 11 because he's out all evening and gets home at 10:59pm, or is he there all evening and there's no noises until 11?

And for you:
- Are there any appliances in the house that are on timers (heaters or something) that activate overnight?
- Have you tried staying up late to see if you can hear anything? Maybe some appliance or some pipes are doing something that you never hear because you're asleep? Or maybe you'll hear it too but be able to tell it's coming from a different apartment?
posted by EndsOfInvention at 8:42 AM on April 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

Where are the stairwells in your unit? We live in a building with units that go front to back, one on each side of a central enclosed stairwell. It's sometimes very hard to hear where noises are coming from if someone leaves their front door open or is moving stuff in the stairwell itself, because it echoes and kind of diffuses, even in a small building.

The MALM does seem like a very sturdy bed since it doesn't really have feet (unless you have containers under it that are getting bumped if you toss around a bit? You could still try a rug or another buffer just in case. Or sleep on an air mattress in a different part of the apartment for a night and see if the noise still continues.
posted by jetlagaddict at 8:42 AM on April 8, 2014

Make sure that your bed is on a rug. I have gone upstairs SO MAD at my upstairs neighbors only to realize that they are quietly sound asleep and it is actually my neighbors to my left making noise that travels through the ceiling. So that could well be it. Also, pipes, yes, could also cause this.
posted by pazazygeek at 8:45 AM on April 8, 2014

Could it just be coming from a different apartment? My neighbor once accused me of vacuuming at 4 AM. Which is so completely impossible I burst out laughing. It was the other neighbors.
posted by interplanetjanet at 8:46 AM on April 8, 2014

I once could have sworn my upstairs neighbors were dancing through their apartment in wooden clogs at 2 a.m. Had a conversation and like you they were fast asleep by then. As it happened it was the next door neighbors - the apartments were situated so that their entryway shared a wall with my bedroom.

It's not your problem to solve, though. You can just tell them that you are asleep at that time and it's not you.
posted by bunderful at 8:52 AM on April 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for the suggestions. To answer some of the questions:

1) No cats or any other furry animals.

2) No CPAP Machine.

3) Regarding pipes. Like I mentioned, this is a new construction building. I don't hear any pipes myself, but as I'm in Minnesota the central heating does kick on fairly regularly in the past few months. Although the blowing of heat itself can be noisy sometimes, I never hear any banging or knocking related to the heater.

4) My neighbors are an older couple, so I believe they're usually home well before 11PM.

5) I don't believe I have any appliances besides the central heating that might turn on periodically.

I'll try putting a rug underneath my bed to see if that helps.
posted by gyc at 8:55 AM on April 8, 2014

It could be the neighbor has a brain tumor or form of dementia. Elderly downstairs neighbor would every few years come upstairs to complain about the noise, and welcome me to the building (as she had forgotten the other times she welcomed me to the building). Once she was standing in my doorway and said "hear that? There it goes again" and I was not hearing anything.
Recording devices are cheap, or an iphone has a decent mic. If both you and your neighbor record at the same time you can compare the two to either prove it's not you, or confirm the sleep furniture moving theory.
posted by Sophont at 8:57 AM on April 8, 2014 [4 favorites]

Also, you're at the top of the building, so there could be Unknown Utilities up there, like air pumps for the whole building, or a central elevator lift, or whatever. Much easier than average to have Noise Generating Things around you that aren't due to any residents... Maybe ask the bothered neighbor to pad upstairs the next time he hears the noises, since he's already awake...
posted by acm at 8:59 AM on April 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: It is possible that you're sleepwalking. Maybe set up a motion activated webcam one night to see if you can catch yourself in the act?
posted by melissasaurus at 9:00 AM on April 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

How close are they to the stairs? Is your building a walk up? Could they be attributing sounds from people walking up and down the building stairs to your apartment?
posted by Suffocating Kitty at 9:05 AM on April 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Do they wear hearing aids? I do and when I take them off at night, I can still hear that there was a sound, but I couldn't tell you what it was or where it was coming from.
posted by desjardins at 9:08 AM on April 8, 2014

Noises travel weirdly. A friend was infuriated at his upstairs neighbors because they had apparently installed a new, very loud toilet and were flushing it repeatedly in the middle of the night. Talked with them and, no, they hadn't installed anything. Turned out to be a new sump pump ~in the basement~. The noise had just traveled in such a way that he thought it was from above.
posted by Meep! Eek! at 9:11 AM on April 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

...newly-constructed (less than a year old) wood-framed apartment complex.

Settling of the structure? Wood framed structures can undergo a ton of noisy settling early-on. It could simply be that whatever framing between your and the neighbor's apartments is settling-in.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:37 AM on April 8, 2014

Give your neighbor your phone number and ask them to call you the next time it happens. I know this could be invasive and a bad idea in general...but it also might be the only way to narrow it down. It also is a great way to reassure the neighbor that you really are trying to find/fix the problem and not just ignoring them..

I'm guessing it's pipes and/or heating ducts moving - this happens even in new construction.

Not going to go here but...a rodent in the walls can sound very, very loud but this would usually be accompanied by a scurrying noise as well, so probably would be apparent to the listener...
posted by NoDef at 9:40 AM on April 8, 2014

Ask him to record it. Even offer to set his recording device up for him, so that all he has to do is to press play. It does seem like the house is just settling but it could be something more serious that the owner of the building will need to investigate.
posted by myselfasme at 9:42 AM on April 8, 2014

Closing a tap can make a thumping noise throughout the pipe.
posted by Tobu at 9:47 AM on April 8, 2014

I think this is a common problem of apartment living. The upstairs neighbors seem to the downstairs neighbors to be making a ridiculous racket. Meanwhile, in reality, they are doing nothing out of the ordinary. I seem to remember an AskMe from a woman who was tiptoeing around in socks all day but was still making her downstairs neighbor crazy.

I also think people have different tolerances for this sort of thing. I used to live with an ex who would get infuriated by the noises the upstairs neighbors made whilst I found them totally ignorable. It was almost like he went out of his way to pay attention to it.
posted by Jess the Mess at 10:16 AM on April 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Do not rely on your older neighbor's timing and memory. 11 pm could actually be 1030 pm'ish - which is when you're awake and getting ready for bed.

People's bedtime wind down routine = short period of noisy hustle and bustle.
posted by Kruger5 at 10:21 AM on April 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yes, ask him to contact you when he hears it.

Also, I'd try to work out the exact sound. If your neighbour has a spouse, I'd have one of them come to your place and do normal things like walking around and flushing the toilet to see if it makes sound.
posted by jeather at 10:27 AM on April 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Is there an icemaker in the refrigerator? Does the fridge otherwise make any sort of clicking or tapping noise during the course of its defrost cycle? Mine does.
posted by fancyoats at 10:46 AM on April 8, 2014

Nthing that noises travel weirdly. I live on the top floor of a two-family in a woodframe house, and yet when the kids downstairs are running around, both in their unit and on the porch, it sounds like it's coming from our roof.
posted by Pandora Kouti at 11:00 AM on April 8, 2014

Some apartments I have seen constructed use a double internal wall. There is a wall for the unit, an air gap (hopefully insulated), and then another wall for the other unit. Perhaps sound is traveling within the gap from another location?
posted by Leenie at 11:33 AM on April 8, 2014

"he claims to hear it above both his bedroom and his living room"
Does your apartment have the same layout? Which of your room are above his bedroom/living room?

"dropping heavy objects or moving furniture"
A cushy sofa might have a solid wood frame, as has the bed. Sex and leaning against furniture while working out can sound loud like that to a downstairs neighbor.

I recommend a rubber mat instead of a rug. This one is designed to absorb vibrations from the washing machine. You can also cut it in smaller pieces, stack it on top of each other and put that under the head/footboards for extra protection.
posted by travelwithcats at 12:10 PM on April 8, 2014

This sounds eerily similar to a complaint I had from a downstairs neighbor years ago, right down to the description of "moving furniture."

I did everything to try to fix the problem -- put a rug under the bed, set out a tape recorder at night, moved my bed to the other side of the room. Couldn't find any noise, other than my extremely loud snoring. Neighbor swore up and down that the noise did not sound like snoring.

I always assumed that my neighbor was delusional; he was a bit of a lunatic to begin with. But reading your question, which reads exactly like my situation with this neighbor, and noticing that you bring up snoring, maybe your snoring is transmitting downstairs in a way that sounds like "moving furniture?"
posted by hamsterdam at 12:51 PM on April 8, 2014

I don't think that you should assume that your neighbors have faulty memories or dementia just because they are old, unless there is some other reason to think that (not that you were, gyc, just saying that because it was mentioned a couple times).

This exact thing happened to me, except I was the downstairs neighbor. It sounded/felt like someone was dropping heavy weights or objects directly above me. It would happen around 11 pm or midnight and then usually it would wake me up around 6 am, almost every night/morning. I'm not sure if it was mostly only those times or off and on throughout the night but I was just in a deeper state of sleep so it didn't wake me up. It happened once in a while during the day too but not nearly as much.

It was more the vibration/motion part of it than the sound that was a problem, I sleep with earplugs anyway but they didn't help much at all with the thumping.
It wouldn't have been heating I don't think (this was in southern California during the late spring/summer). We never figured out what the cause was. The person upstairs had no idea. At the time I actually kind of felt like he was just lying, because it seemed so much like someone actively jumping rope or dropping things on the floor that it seemed unlikely that he wasn't doing something. After reading this question though, I'm more inclined to think that it was building noises traveling from some other source. This was also a pretty new building.

In any case, I think it's very nice of you to be so actively trying to figure this out, even if does turn out to just be the building noises and not anything you can do anything about. And I definitely would have appreciated it in my case if the upstairs neighbor had given me his phone number (or rather passed it along through the leasing office) and said I could contact him a few times when it was happening so we could try to figure it out.
posted by treese at 12:53 PM on April 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oh, also, in my case, I don't think it was pipes or hot water coming on either, because I could hear those noises too (or ones sounded a lot like pipe noise) sometimes from various neighbors/directions. The thumping noises were very different.
posted by treese at 1:01 PM on April 8, 2014

Hmmmm, I'm the downstairs neighbor, and my upstairs neighbors have explicitly said they work 9-5's and asked that we be sure not to make too much noise at night (we're night owls and they know this). I have recently been bemused by the fact that whoever is directly above my bedroom seems to be stomping around at 3 AM. I don't actually care-- the noise doesn't bother me a bit. But now I wonder whether it's even them, or something else entirely. (The building consists of only these two apartments, so it's nobody's kids.) Point being, the same may be happening here, if their comments about their schedules were accurate, and this may not be all that abnormal.

If it's not every night, could it just be an occasional visit to the washroom amplified by whatever amplifies these things?
posted by Because at 4:26 PM on April 8, 2014

My vote is the bed. When I'm downstairs, my boyfriend rolling over in bed makes a moderately loud thumping sound whereas in the bedroom all you'd hear is a slight mattress creak.
posted by missmagenta at 4:43 PM on April 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

My vote is that there are no sounds. There is only one crazy old man.
posted by QueerAngel28 at 5:50 PM on April 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

I came in here to suggest what Leenie said, maybe the sound is coming from somewhere else. Sound does weird things: we live on the top floor but sometimes the noise from the unit next to us really sounds like it's coming from above, even though we know it can't be. Might be worth looking into.
posted by AV at 8:45 PM on April 8, 2014

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