Low Frequency Vibration driving me nuts. What can I do?
January 15, 2020 9:11 PM   Subscribe

For the last several days I've been tormented by a low frequency vibration in my rented apartment. I'm on the first floor (British English- 2nd floor in US English.) It sounds like an idling motor and I can feel the vibration through the floor, chair, bed etc. However once I exit the flat I cannot locate the source. There's a lot of traffic noise outside though, probably masks the sound. If there is a sound. What steps can I take to investigate/mitigate/develop a tolerance?

1. Not the famous "worldwide hum", I tried some soundfiles imitating that and I can't hear it. So it's low but not that low.

2. Have dropped letters in to my neighbours' apartments asking if they have any new appliances eg Air purifiers, air-con etc and suggesting we get together to discuss damping the vibrations. No response yet. They will probably think I am imagining things. I don't think I am though, because:

3. Just downloaded a Decibel meter ap and there's a constant 30 Db noise registering, which.. Is that normal? 30Db is not much right, why is it driving me crazy?

4. I do have mild tinnitis, don't think that is the problem although blocking my ears doesn't help. I think because the sound is being conducted through the building (and me.)

5. Have tried leaving the radio on! It has to be turned up quite high to be audible over the noise, and doesn't solve the buzzing bed problem.

6. I saw this thread about using white noise. Will try it tonight.

I feel like the whole building is buzzing around me. Hardly slept a wink last night. The sound/effect did seem to stop during the day at first but today it has not.

Have emailed my Real Estate Agent but I don't hold out much hope there, unless I can make a less vague plea for help than this...

posted by Coaticass to Home & Garden (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I would suggest an automotive stethoscope (long pointy end) and wander around listening for the location. It sounds like a pump motor used to move water
posted by ptm at 9:26 PM on January 15 [1 favorite]

For what it's worth 30db is pretty quiet. My office (fluorescent light, mild hum from aquarium in corner) registers 33-34 db on my apple watch noise meter, and I walked around the house to other rooms and couldn't find a reading lower than 31.

But low-frequency noises probably won't be picked up by your phone anyway, and they can certainly be annoying!

Have you made absolutely sure it isn't coming from within your apartment? Try turning off a circuit breaker to cut off all power, you might be surprised to find something causing it in there...
posted by mmoncur at 9:27 PM on January 15 [2 favorites]

A client of mine had a report of a noise like this coming from his factory - he tracked it down to a large extractor fan with a failing bearing. Distance to complaint was ~150 metres, but it could only be heard inside a house as the air-transferred noise was making the house wall vibrate and re-emit the noise.

Does your council have a problem noise page?

Is there any boring\tunneling going on?

Do you know any shift workers locally? - they may be more sensitive to odd noises.
posted by unearthed at 10:58 PM on January 15 [1 favorite]

Ask them if they got a fish tank. They can do this and people don't think of them as they are quiet to the person who owns it.
posted by kitten magic at 11:12 PM on January 15 [2 favorites]

when i had this, for YEARS, it was trucks idling on a corner about a block and a half away, it was fucking unbearable and i and a couple of neighbors spent an unimaginable number of sleepless nights calling the cops for enforcement on the NO IDLING sign directly outside the truck's front window. eventually i moved. there was absolutely no way to mitigate it from inside my home. nothing ever worked. nothing. it would rattle the dishes in my cupboards and the picture frames on the walls, but it was barely even a loud noise right in front of the actual trucks. the subway passing under my house less than 100 feet away made less noise.

sorry if i'm making it sound hopeless but in my case it absolutely was and just remembering it makes me want to Do Crimes.
posted by poffin boffin at 11:36 PM on January 15 [6 favorites]

I had a tiny air purifier- like the size of two loaves of bread- that drove my downstairs neighbour batshit. I thought he was just being a jerk (since he was a jerk in many other ways) but one day he invited me down and it was way louder in his apartment, directly below, than it was in mine.

It seemed to be vibrating a beam between storeys, and then the buzzing was acoustically amplified by his closet.

Putting it on a few inches of dense foam (We used a foam toddler floor play tile, cut in 4 and stacked) made a massive difference.

In case the sound is coming from outside, you could try going out to listen at around 4am when there’s very little traffic.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 11:40 PM on January 15

Someone has a fish tank.
posted by edbles at 12:16 AM on January 16

Could it be a data center? Neighbors of Cyrus One, a Chandler, Arizona, company that houses servers for over a thousand companies, banded together and compelled Cyrus One to swaddle its chillers -- which according to a company-hired acoustic consultant, emitted a noise that is loud enough and of a pure tone, "widely considered exceptionally irritating," to disrupt their sleep, drive them inside, give them headaches, and generally work its way into their brains.
posted by virago at 4:14 AM on January 16 [2 favorites]

I had a similar issue in my last apartment. I started noticing that in the summer months (and ONLY the summer months), I would hear/feel this sound like an idling motorcycle when I tried to lay down to sleep. When I sat up, the noise/vibration stopped, and when I moved to other rooms, it either stopped or wasn't nearly as loud. It was driving me NUTS.

I found out the source by accident--my upstairs neighbors/landlords asked me to watch their cats while they were away, and while I was up there, I noticed they had a large box fan going that was sat directly on a wooden table in a room that was right above my bedroom. I turned it off and went downstairs to test my theory and that turned out to be the culprit. I asked them if they could put a towel or something under the fan when it was on to help dampen the vibration and it worked great!

All this to say: I hope you can find the source and see to stopping it, but if you can't, it's possible that the source is a weather-dependent device and will go away on its own when the weather starts to change. (I say, hopefully and with the utmost sympathy for your current situation. Mystery hum is THE WORST.)
posted by helloimjennsco at 6:12 AM on January 16 [3 favorites]

Could be a humidifier.
posted by Riverine at 6:54 AM on January 16

Could it be a data center?

The monthly tests of the RV sized diesel backup generator that would surely be occurring would be much louder than whatever OP is hearing inside their apartment.
posted by sideshow at 10:07 AM on January 16

This sounds like (a more intense version of) what it's like in my (fairly old) house when I'm upstairs and a ceiling fan is running directly below me downstairs. Could you check with the occupant below you, and see if they have an extra-feisty fan on their ceiling / below your floor? Or a wall-mounted climate control unit like this one, which are typically installed pretty high up?
posted by D.Billy at 5:11 PM on January 17

Thanks for all your advice, I did try some of it but after I went and slept at a friend's Very Quiet place to escape the noise, I found I had apparently brought it with me! I'm guessing it's some sort of new and exciting tinnitus (not just the high pitched humming I am quite used to.)
Doesn't account for the sensation of vibration- maybe a sensory thing? Or there are some real sounds too.

In my defense I did have a massive amount of building and digging going on outside, up and down the street, leading up to the day I posted this. Also the height of the smoke/air quality crisis... someone offline suggested that may be affecting my hearing (via the sinuses? IDEK). And it does seem to have eased somewhat but also is easier to bear, knowing that I'm hearing things.

Anyway I hope this thread will be some help to others in the future.
posted by Coaticass at 10:14 PM on February 2 [1 favorite]

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