Suggestions on reducing traffic noise in a high rise apartment?
September 11, 2014 10:01 PM   Subscribe

Anyone have any suggestions for sound dampening in a high rise apt near a freeway?

Hello, thanks in advance to any suggestions or advice! My parents live in a high rise condo in downtown chicago (600 n lake shore drive) on a low floor, right next to lake shore drive. There is constant traffic noise from cars going by on lake shore drive. The constant buzz of cars going by as well as motorcycles in the summertime make it hard for them to sleep and or relax. They bought the unit pre construction and when they went next door to the W hotel at around the same height they didn't hear much noise so they assumed it would be just as quiet. Obviously developers sometimes cut corners and with multiple windows I don't see much of solution other than installing aftermarket windows over the current ones which is not ideal in terms of looks (creates a window grid look as well as reducing the feeling of space). At higher floors of this high rise the noise is drowned out, but I'm trying to think of a creative solution to this problem. I've noticed that on the ground floor lobby which has a larger floor to ceiling window there is virtually no noise from the outside cars, which is due to obviously thicker, more expensive windows as well as more rubber wedged on the windows to absorb the sounds. I doubt I could have more of this rubber sealant added on as Im not sure who would even do this other than the original window manufacturer. I've tried to use the well reviewed marpac dohm sound soother machines (multiple ones all over the unit) but the noise actually bothers my parents more. Perhaps an actual air mover/filter type cannister that blows real air might be a better option?
I've noticed at loud restaurants there is usually no curtains to help absorb noise so that could be a little bit of help. But does anyone have any other concrete suggestions or is there no solution since most of the traffic noise is coming through where the windows are? Any advice would be greatly appreciated!
posted by HonestAsian to Home & Garden (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
The thing that stops noise is mass. Can you move bookshelves to the front of the house, or perhaps line the bedroom walls?
posted by pompomtom at 11:19 PM on September 11, 2014

My wife and I live in the same sort of situation. Custom ear plugs help us sleep. At an audiology clinic they cost us around $120 each, they're much, much more comfortable than store bought, and they don't impede alarm noises.

There's little they can do with the apartment besides closing the windows. Any additions or barriers may be against building rules, resulting in fines, so check with the building.
posted by fatbird at 11:50 PM on September 11, 2014

FWIW in a music department building I worked in, among the other techniques they used to soundproof rooms was top quality gaskets and seals around every window, door, and other opening.

The basic idea is that any open airspace, even just a crack or pinhole, allows sound waves to move through completely unimpeded. So for instance their doors had double gaskets ALL the way around (top, bottom, both sides) and when those doors closed tight there was a DRAMATIC reduction in sound transmission.

Some discussion of a similar door seal kit here.

I would bet that the doors and windows and the fittings etc for them have actual air gaps or cracks, and if those could be sealed it would make a really big difference.

If the lobby is quieter it is quite likely it is because the big windows there are one piece and well caulked in place. Thus, no air gaps. I'll bet your parents windows are the kind that can be opened & closed? Those will have air gaps . . .

Now there are lots of really expensive things you can do, putting in more soundproof doors & windows, double windows, filling the walls, ceiling, and floors with more insulation, heavy drapes, curtains, wall hangings, carpet, maybe double or triple pane windows, etc etc etc (many of these things perhaps impractical in a condo or just too expensive) but I'll bet you'd get the most bang for your buck with sound proof seals for doors and caulking or otherwise addressing airgaps and cracks in windows. If you could caulk or otherwise plug/fill any cracks or gaps in the outside wall (around the windows, for example), that would likely help a lot, too--but may not be practical given the condo situation.
posted by flug at 11:52 PM on September 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yeah, NO gaps around windows/doors would be my first suggestion. And make sure that the gaps are sealed with noise reduction in mind, not your average draft excluder. Masonry construction I assume? If not, there is probably not much point going beyond that. If masonry, then there is some benefit in getting the special laminated glass which is designed to cut down noise. You would need to see just what scope there is to replace the existing glass, some/all of the windows, and/or adding them to the inside of the existing windows. Must be some businesses that do this that would look at it and quote.

Or sell out?
posted by GeeEmm at 1:19 AM on September 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

These window inserts are removable, but seem very effective. I was looking into them when I was considering a particularly noisy apartment.
posted by three_red_balloons at 4:42 AM on September 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

Sorry that's happening to them. It can be absolutely maddening! Heavy curtains might curtail night noise to some degree. Earplugs work well for all but the lowest sounds. (Engine noise will be cut, road noise not as much). Maybe some combination of those.
posted by cnc at 10:12 AM on September 12, 2014

Presumably the noise is coming through the windows and doors. Hire a reputable window contractor to evaluate them, and determine if they can be retrofitted with seals, etc., to reduce the noise. If better doors and windows are required, then find out if the building will allow this sort of change to the exterior. Then have good quality doors and windows installed, along with a guaranty that they will in fact reduce the noise.

Good luck.
posted by Midnight Skulker at 10:39 AM on September 12, 2014

A cheap solution is to hang floor to ceiling curtains over the entire wall, windows included.

Depending on the length of the wall, you can probably do this using cheap copper piping, closet rod supports and maybe one or two extra rod supports in the middle of the wall, if it is on the long side (because otherwise the copper piping will sag/bend and fall off the closet rod supports). If the ceilings are not high, you can buy king-sized flat sheets from a clearance bin or other cheap source and have a tailor sew pockets for the rods if the fold at the top isn't already suited to that use. I did this in a small apartment for not terribly much money ($100-$150, I think, to cover three walls and a door opening).

It won't stop the noise but will reduce it. You could supplement with, as noted above, something like bookcases placed in front of the wall in some places, but, unless you are willing to place bookcases in front of the windows, bookcases won't do anything to damp the sound from the windows, which is probably a lot worse than what is coming through the walls.

If inexpensive sheets won't do the trick, for a bit more money, you can get fabric from some discount store and have custom curtains sewn that go floor to ceiling. Make sure you have something like 1.5 or 2 times as much curtain width as well width so it will form folds. It looks prettier and has more sound-dampening effect than just hanging flat fabric in front of the wall/windows.
posted by Michele in California at 1:53 PM on September 12, 2014

A short-term stopgap solution to help your parents sleep: silicone earplugs. My mother, who used to live in London, England, recommended them to me when I was living in a super noisy apartment with windows that open on to a subway garage. (Think screeching noises that sounded like tin cans of being tortured to death – at 5 am.)

You can buy them at Walgreens:

(Sorry, I'm on a mobile phone and can't seem to paste the link. If you Google Walgreens and silicone earplugs you will find it on their website.)
posted by Schadenfreudian at 7:11 PM on September 12, 2014

(Addendum: I should add that after having terrible trouble sleeping, with the silicone earplugs I slept like a baby. A very happy, comatose baby.)
posted by Schadenfreudian at 7:13 PM on September 12, 2014

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