How to stop a pulsing fan hum from somewhere outside.
August 31, 2017 4:17 AM   Subscribe

Outside my apartment window, there is a persistent, 24-hour, fan noise hum that pulses at a low vibration. It would be different if it were steady, but it pulses like an alarm, but low. It's driving me crazy. It even sneaks in through earplugs. I went looking to find it, but there are complications in terms of zeroing in on it. I need to find a way to stop it.

I live on the third floor of this building. I've been here a long time (15+ years). And it's only this past summer when this has started. What it sounds like is an air-conditioner unit or ventilation fan that is oscillating slightly off. My feeling is that they only need to screw the fan blade on tighter to stop this noise.

I look out onto the backyard of a bar, some commercial buildings, some triplexes. What I am saying is that it's difficult to zero in on the exact source of the noise. Also, because the hum is at such a low frequency, it's tough to tell if it's ten feet away, or very far away.

Right now I sleep with my AC on, but as the days get colder, it won't make much sense to do that, as it'll make my room too cold. So I've resorted to earplugs, but even with them, I can hear the hum minutely. And anyway, sleeping with earplugs kinda sucks.

I don't know if I should call the cops and file a noise complaint. I don't even know what they would be able to do if they're unable to isolate the source.

What do you think I should do? What are my options here? Has anyone dealt with anything like this before?

Thanks in advance!
posted by Sully to Home & Garden (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I had this issue. I was never sure where the noise was coming from. For me, it was an anxiety issue as much as anything. I started sleeping with a white noise machine (after a good chunk of time sleeping at friends' places, in the closet, etc, it was a problem) and I stopped hearing it quite so much. Giving your mind another sound to attach to can help. I know this isn't a direct answer to your question, but it might solve your problem. I used Audacity on my laptop to generate pink and brown noise and played it on a loop and it worked fine. Alternatively if it's someone else's AC it may stop once the hot weather stops. I wish you luck managing this.
posted by jessamyn at 5:38 AM on August 31, 2017

At my girlfriend's old place there was an HVAC unit on the top of a nearby building that, when active, produced this sort of hum, as well as a bunch of full spectrum noise, for about a 0.5-1 block radius (though it wasn't so bad indoors with windows closed, at least). I'm afraid there was nothing anyone could do about it, not even the moderately insane nimby neighbors who otherwise patrolled absolutely everything out of line that happened near there -- and from what I understand, they definitely tried.

The only solid advice I can really give to you from this experience is to make sure that nothing in your apartment is vibrating in response. For example, if you have window panes that are vibrating (and you might not notice this until you go looking), you can usually shim them with small pieces of folded paper. Obviously laws may vary but it seems really unlikely to me that a noise complaint will get much of a result. If you want to go some kind of legal or at least political route you might want to figure out if it's been affecting anyone else and band together, contact your neighborhood association if there is one, local politicians, stuff like that. (But be prepared for people's tolerances for such things to vary substantially, if you posted this on my (city) neighborhood fb group for example I can guarantee that results would be ...mixed..., but at least the local politicians' staff do keep an eye out there & you might find others.)
posted by advil at 6:02 AM on August 31, 2017 [1 favorite]

If keeping your AC on mitigates the issue -- and it sounds like it does? -- you might consider getting a discrete white noise machine for the winter months, or trying a white noise app on a phone, first, and then buying a discrete machine if the app doesn't work, if you want a smaller financial outlay to begin with. I've been happy with this one (but make sure it's not one that's been recalled; some alternatives from The Wirecutter). Giving your mind a separate noise to focus on can (but people are different, and this might not be true of you) be more helpful than trying to block out all noise.

Filing a noise complaint is unlikely to help if you can't identify the source of the noise to begin with; and if it's a mechanical source, it's (probably, laws and enforcement vary) going to be frustrating and inefficient to get someone to fix it even if you do (but not an impossibility). But if knowing the source of the noise would be reassuring by itself, you might start by asking neighbors if they're hearing the same noise. If it's bothering you, it might be bothering someone else, and they might have already tracked down the source.

Good luck with this.
posted by cjelli at 7:20 AM on August 31, 2017

Yeah, I'd go with white noise. If you have an android I recommend this app - Chroma Doze. What I like about it is it actually generates white noise (you can change the profile of how to make it more pleasing) instead of having just an MP3 on a loop (which I've found will often skip, thereby defeating the point).
posted by pyro979 at 9:11 AM on August 31, 2017

I'd contact the police even if you can't identify a source, may help build a case.

There are noise consultants.

This site recommends hiring an off-duty cop:
"""Another method is to request a police officer to investigate and personally observe the noise. You can then obtain an incident report with the officers' observations. You may be able to hire an off-duty officer or deputy to investigate the noise, prepare a written affidavit or serve as a witness in a court of law attesting to the noise problem."""

The Right to Quiet Society may have some help.
posted by at at 12:36 PM on August 31, 2017

Luckily I don't have this issue on a regular basis, but I have heard similar things before in my apartment from the outside and it's really annoying, so you have my sympathies. You might not need to your AC in the winter, but I'd still turn on a loud fan in your bedroom and just don't point it at you. A fan has been a sleeping requirement for me for years and, for whatever reason, I prefer it to artificial white noise machines. If the fan doesn't point at you, it won't make you cold. I have a fan I keep right next to my bed that I can turn up/down just by reaching my arm out, but in years past I've also used fans that had remote controls so I could turn them up/down or change directions from my bed.
posted by AppleTurnover at 12:37 PM on August 31, 2017

I absolutely swear by myNoise (App Store link; Google Play link) and a Bluetooth speaker. myNoise avoids the annoying mp3 loop described above and allows you to futz with different channels within a given soundscape for optimum aural satisfaction.
posted by DrAstroZoom at 2:04 PM on August 31, 2017

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