Would've preferred a broom
June 10, 2008 7:22 PM   Subscribe

How can I cope with a vibrating apartment?

A week ago, I moved into a decent 1BR apartment. Overall, it's nicer than I expected for a cheap place in a poor neighborhood. But I learned the first night that my bedroom shakes whenever one of the neighboring apartments uses their air conditioner. Since it's summer in Austin TX, that's nearly all the time.

The vibrating is like a deep reverb -- it's not really audible. The pressure physically pains my ears and jawbone, and feels like a weight on my chest. It'll wake me up, I can't breathe normally, and I can't relax until it's over. The bed shakes so I feel it through my whole body.

I haven't approached the management yet, because they are notoriously unhelpful. Before I do I would like some extra ammo. What sort of work would be necessary to fix this? Is it feasible, or would it require tearing apart the building? How much work could I reasonably expect them to do?

Assuming they won't fix it, any ideas for how I can cope? White noise hasn't helped with the pressure and vibration.

As a last resort, what are my options for legitimately breaking my lease? Is "My apartment causes me pain" reason enough? The lease was transferred to me (not a sublet), but shouldn't this have been mentioned beforehand?

I'm at a loss for now. Thanks for any answers.
posted by mad bomber what bombs at midnight to Home & Garden (16 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
What kind of air conditioner? Central air? Through-the-wall units? Window units? If central air, where are the compressor units -- rooftop or on a pad outside? It's difficult to gauge what kind of maintenance job we're talking about without knowing details. I would wager though that unless there is a structural fix here you may be looking at cajoling them into letting you move or get off the lease... or transfer it to someone else (I suspect a pattern here).
posted by crapmatic at 7:44 PM on June 10, 2008

Response by poster: Whoops, I left that out. It's central air. My AC is above the bedroom, and I assume the others are too (this is also stupid -- it's very loud and rattles so I keep it off while sleeping). The compressors are on the ground right outside my porch. I live on the second floor, so I think the units below me are the main cause.
posted by mad bomber what bombs at midnight at 7:55 PM on June 10, 2008

It's been almost 20 minutes without any answers, so I'll have a go at it - hopefully something here will be helpful.

You say your bedroom shakes. What about the other rooms? Until you get your lease questions sorted out, could you sleep in a non-vibrating area?

Could you somehow isolate the bed from the vibration? (I ask this while thinking about the vibration isolation mounts we have on some lab instruments - I'm not sure exactly how they work but I imagine a sort of spring thingy inside that dissipates the vibration energy without passing it along to the instrument sitting on top.) Dunno how you'd engineer a simpler solution for your bed, but ... *puts on crazy outside-the-box-thinking-hat* ... could you stand each leg of the bed in one of those spring-loaded running shoes or something? Get 4 spring-type bathroom scales? (Look, I'm a biochemist, not an engineer.)

Get a different sort of bed that won't transmit the vibrations from the floor up to your body? Probably a waterbed is out of the question, but maybe an air mattress? (I don't actually know whether these would dampen the vibrations, but an air mattress might be easy to test.) Maybe put the air mattress on top of your regular mattress?

OK, on preview there's some answer action here but it addresses something else, so I'm going to post my goofy "This bed, it vibrates?" suggestions anyway. Good luck!
posted by Quietgal at 7:59 PM on June 10, 2008

My SO, who is a HiFi nut (and therefore into stopping vibration wherever it occurs) recommended putting Sorbothane pads under the bed. This is intended as a long-shot, off-the-wall suggestion - he said it works for speaker stands but that it would probably be expensive. You could always contact these guys (Sorbothane) to ask if they would recommend it -- they may even give you some to try out, as it is such a crazy application that they could get some PR mileage if it worked ... :-)
posted by Susurration at 8:15 PM on June 10, 2008

Your description of the problem reminds me of the time I went into a fast food restaurant that was having a similar problem. It was like I was on the inside of a giant, nearly subaudible tuba.

When you say above the bedroom, is the inside unit sort of in a cubby hanging from the ceiling, so that your downstairs neighbor's unit would be hanging from their ceiling directly below your bed?

My first guess is that their unit is somehow faulty- a blower that's gone out of balance. Or an isolator that wasn't installed or has gone bad.

I like the idea of isolating the bed, but it sounds like the entire floor is oscillating and creating a giant pressure box out of your room. You could make the bed stop vibrating, but not the air. I think you just have to get the landlord to fix it.

Does anything change if you open the window(s)?
posted by gjc at 8:21 PM on June 10, 2008

When I was renting apartments in Austin, the Austin Tenant's Council was enormously helpful to me. If it comes down to trying to leave your lease, give them a ring and see what they say. Hopefully there's a nice solution to your problem without having to go that far, though.
posted by Addlepated at 8:27 PM on June 10, 2008

Response by poster: gjc -- it's exactly like you said, the whole room is pressurized. I work overnights and sleep during the day, so my window is covered up. I'll try opening it to see if there's a difference. Hopefully it's just one AC that's bad and not the whole infrastructure. I'm doubtful though, it seems to happen when any AC is on, and worse when more than one is on.

The ideas for dampening the bed are cool. I read somewhere about putting down heavy bags of beans and rice, which would be relatively cheap.
posted by mad bomber what bombs at midnight at 9:00 PM on June 10, 2008

While there are some good suggestions here, could you wait a month and see how you feel? There is significant risk in approaching management this soon: you may be painted as high maintenance, difficult, etc., which could make it that much more harder to try to break your lease in the future if the situation is truly intolerable.

Also, moving in general is stressful and you've only been there a week. I lived in a similar apartment in Austin (loud A/C window unit) and thought I would lose my mind for a while until I didn't notice it anymore. YMMV.
posted by sfkiddo at 10:22 PM on June 10, 2008

This apartment... it vibrates?

I was about to recommend the same sorbathane feet that the sexily-named Susurration suggested. You might even be able to put the entire bed on a "pad" of something like that hexagonal black rubber anti-fatigue matting so that at least the bed doesn't shake.

That same material would sure be handy underneath everyone's AC unit, too. Maybe you could donate some and offer to pad each unit.... for your own sanity.
posted by rokusan at 3:12 AM on June 11, 2008

Depressurizing the room is a good suggestion, also raising the bed on something dampening. Those low vibrations travel through dense material like wood quite easily, and figuring out where they come from and avoiding the problem is really difficult. I was having this same issue with a compressor vibration turning on and off every couple of minutes and keeping me awake; I thought one of our upstairs neighbors had a severely malfunctioning fridge, but it turned out to be the compressor in the building adjacent (which has a liquor store). Oddly enough, moving from the apartment on the opposite side of the building to one right next to the store solved the low-end vibration problem; now I just hear the thing, which is far less annoying.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:04 AM on June 11, 2008

This sounds just like the phenomenon is called infrasound - I'm not sure the bed is the solution because it's the air itself that's vibrating, and I can't imagine something as soft as a bed would play much role in transmitting the vibrations from the AC unit to the air, although dampening the room. The idea of using beanbags or something as bass traps sounds sensible, but to fully muffle the sound you need to use really thick stuff (i.e: curtains won't help, it needs to be blocks of padding that are over an inch thick, I think.) Also, I don't think your room is "pressurised", more that the vibrations create the sensation of pressure caused by the air in your lungs vibrating.

So basically it seems like the battle is between padding the hell out of your room in an attempt to muffle the noise, or wrapping the A/C unit in a much more modest amount of the stuff. Good luck!
posted by so_necessary at 7:40 PM on June 11, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for all the ideas folks.

I'm trying to approach this more rationally (my first reaction was KILL!) so I paid extra-close attention today. The floor and bed shake due to the downstairs AC, the wall thrums due to the other AC's, and all hell breaks loose when both they combine.

so_necessary, I think you have it. Stabilizing the bed would help if it was just one AC, but not with the infrasound.

I can't imagine how the complex could fix the walls vibrating, but I'm now confidant enough to drop this on them tomorrow morning. If they can fix the downstairs AC and keep the floor from shaking and causing critical meltdown, it may be bearable for a few months.
posted by mad bomber what bombs at midnight at 9:43 PM on June 11, 2008

Response by poster: OH! I meant to add, thank you so_necessary for the word "infrasound" and for the link. It specifically mentions pain in the ear drums, which is my main complaint. That'll help, if they try to say I'm being nutso.
posted by mad bomber what bombs at midnight at 9:46 PM on June 11, 2008

The floor and bed shake due to the downstairs AC, the wall thrums due to the other AC's, and all hell breaks loose when both they combine.

Could some Tacoma Narrows-esque harmonics be happening here? Have you tried moving furniture around to alter the way that sound waves/vibrations propagate through the room? Just a thought....
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 12:29 AM on June 12, 2008

If you haven't already approached management, I'd suggest you pad out your credibility by rushing the leasing office staff in your bed clothes, looking rough and wearing an eye speculum. Don't wait for them to greet you, just run to the nearest desk, pound your hands on the top of it and painfully cry:

"The vibrations... I can't sleep... Infrasound!"
posted by bumbleintuit at 6:02 AM on June 28, 2008

P.S. -- Found you, mofo!
posted by bumbleintuit at 6:42 AM on June 28, 2008

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