What to do about Neighbors loud air conditioning?
July 17, 2008 8:42 AM   Subscribe

Neighbor Question: it seems my next door neighbor bought a new air conditioning unit. Its loud. really loud. Outside my house it sounds like a jet engine and i can hear it thoughout my whole house especially in my bedroom which is facing the unit. I am not sure what do do about this...

I dont want to call the police about a noise complaint, its not like they are throwing a party all night, but it is loud enough to keep my wife awake. I should also note they dont seem to like me and my wife, not sure why its not like we are home much so talking to them doesn't seem like much of an option and even if i did, what could they do, replace the unit? they would never do that for us (or anyone i would guess). What other options do i have? Thanks everyone for your input!
posted by pheurton to Home & Garden (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Pheurton, you are correct in surmising that it may be too late to nicely ask them to choose some more quiet unit, which means you may be reduced to calling upon your legal remedies. This means you either need to consult with a lawyer local to your jurisdiction or, if you wish us to comment intelligently about your rights, let us know where you live and whether you own or rent.
posted by BigLankyBastard at 8:54 AM on July 17, 2008

its not like they are throwing a party all night,

No, it's worse. This is what noise laws are made for.

You've already ruled out the only two options: talk to them or talk to someone else who can do something.

Start by talking to them. Maybe it's certain to not be helpful, but you it's good etiquette to try rather than assuming they won't be helpful. And it makes you look much better if/when others have to come in to help resolve the issue. Maybe there's some setting they can change to make it run more quietly -- they might not like you but that doesn't necessarily mean they want to keep you up at night.

But if there's nothing they can change about the machine to make it more quiet, then the only options are: it stays or it goes (though "goes" could mean moving to another location on the property).

Check your local noise regulations. It probably says something like the noise they generate may not measure more than X decibels inside your house. So the first step after talking to them might be to do the measurement yourself before calling the authorities.

I'm afraid it doesn't look like there's the easy solution you're hoping for. Either the neighbours have to make a significant change or you have to put up with the noise.
posted by winston at 9:03 AM on July 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

call the person/agency you'd call to complain for advice first?
posted by yort at 9:11 AM on July 17, 2008

I'm not sure the blame rests with them. They purchased an air conditioner; the things are rarely marked well enough with sound estimates and what have you. If the next door neighbor's AC is that loud inside your house, then it's a case of poor insulation, or extremely close properties. I'm extremely familiar with loud ACs (living in a few houses with zero insulation will do that), so I can sympathize.

They didn't make a mistake, or do anything wrong. They're cooling their house via perfectly normal methods. If the situation is such that an air conditioner creates a disturbance, this is the fault of the situation. There's no easy solution.
posted by Phyltre at 9:20 AM on July 17, 2008

Firsts things first: now while it's fresh document when they installed it, where they installed it and if possible take pictures of it with your house for context. Going forward, document every action you take, when you go to talk to them, roughly what they said, how long you talked, etc. See if you can wrangle a sound level meter and take measurements outside, inside, in your bedroom, etc. If at all possible do this before you bring it up with them.

Human memory sucks, you want to be absolutely sure when something comes up that you can say "Yes, $foo installed $bar brand $baz on $quuz date." not "my neighbor did something about three weeks ago..."

Actual, specific advice wise, I think you have to talk to them. The Law doesn't like being the first recourse. Don't worry so much about finding a resolution in the first discussion, just make your position known (that this is bothering you and affecting your quality of life). Don't make any specific demands or requests, just let them know that this is a problem that needs to be resolved. Give 'em some time, maybe a week maybe a few days to think it over. Then go back and politely inquire if they've come to a decision.

The absolute most important thing (after documenting it all in nauseating detail) is to stick to the facts and be absolutely, insanely polite. You want to phrase things indirectly, "the airconditioner, the noise" or at most directly from your POV "My wife, My bedroom" never directly at them "your airconditioner." The primary goal is to not turn them defensive and hopefully get something accomplished. The secondary goal is to be obviously the reasonable party to an impartial observer. Imagine you're playing to an audience of someone who just walked into the room with no context. Who seems more reasonable? Who sounds crazy?
posted by Skorgu at 9:22 AM on July 17, 2008 [4 favorites]

Read up on your local noise ordinance to find out what is considered unacceptable then get a sound pressure level meter (you can use it to tune your stereo too). If they are in violation of the ordinance you can use this in your negotiations with them. Perhaps they can put a wall between their unit and your house to deaden the noise.

Do you sleep with your windows open? If so there is not likely much that can be done. If you sleep with them closed and have your own air conditioner then make sure that the outside storm window is actually sealed. Sometimes there are gaps at the edges. Caulk these
posted by caddis at 9:35 AM on July 17, 2008

Are you living in a place where it's so hot at night that they have to run an air conditioner? If you go and make contact with them like a normal human being, they may agree not to run it at night and just deal with open windows or fans.

Are you a renter or an owner? If you're an owner there's just no excuse for not trying to make nice with the neighbors. Maybe they're not overly outgoing but have no opinion on you and your wife. It sounds like you don't know much about them. Don't make a mountain out of a molehill -- go talk with them. Start by saying: "Hey, sorry we haven't come around to introduce ourselves before now, this makes this kind of awkward but I have a favor to ask...." Be friendly, be contrite, recognize the difficulty of the situation and go talk with them.

Maybe y'all could consider getting your own AC!
posted by amanda at 9:51 AM on July 17, 2008

Skorgu gives some good advice. I'd suggest that when you first approach your neighbours about addressing the problem, you go prepared with some plans for how they can do that. Maybe there's a relatively inexpensive and easy way to lessen the noise. Perhaps the machine can be modified in some way to lessen the noise. If you do your homework and have some ideas about what can be done (and estimates for how much it'll cost, names of companies who will do that), you'll make it easy for them to do the helpful thing and will be less likely to hear, "Well, we'd have to replace the machine completely to reduce the noise, and there's no way we're going to do that."
posted by orange swan at 9:51 AM on July 17, 2008

If the neighbor won't put a wall around the AC unit like Caddis recommends, ask the neighbor to plant some bushes around the air conditioner to help absorb the noise. Some bushes planted alongside your house will probably help as well.

Heavy curtains will help some. Also, look at the overhang of your roof. The sound might be bouncing around and going up into your attic space making it more noticeable. You might be able to install some Having a contractor put in more insulation in the corner of the attic near that AC unit could help.

Also look at the eaves of your roof. Are there vents there? The sound will go straight through the vents into the attic. Talk to a contractor about blocking those vents off and putting vents a bit further away from the AC unit.
posted by lockle at 9:53 AM on July 17, 2008

Is this a central installation or a window type? Obvious if it is a window type is to ask them to move it to another location. If a central than a barrier will help if properly constructed.

The barrier will need to be solid to be effective and should be as heavy as possible. Concrete block or brick is ideal but expensive, a plywood barrier is fairly cheap. Soft landscaping like hedges and bushes will screen the unit from sight but make little difference in noise transmission though you can use the hedge to hide the ugly plywood wall. The design of the barrier is pretty site dependent. If negotiations with your neighbour fail to resolve the issue you could put up a barrier on your property though be aware of any fencing regulation you may be bound by.

Their isn't anything a consumer can do to reduce the noise produced by a central A/C unit besides not running it. Noise is function of the motor type, fan design, and coil size (and therefor required air movement).
posted by Mitheral at 10:47 AM on July 17, 2008

What other options do i have?

Obviously the ideal solution would be to negotiate with the neighbours to turn the air conditioner down or off at night.

If that fails, you could consider getting double- or triple-glazed windows installed, to provide improved soundproofing.
posted by Mike1024 at 3:17 PM on July 17, 2008

Just an idea, but at our last place (reverse cycle a/c) I was gardening and I noticed ours was really loud. It was brand new so it wasn't an old compressor or anything like that.(Unlike our neighbor's! Sweet jeebus that thing was so fricken loud!!)

Anyway we couldn't hear it at all inside but sound echoed really strangely on that street so I assumed that it was more than likely someone could! It was caused by vibration in the metal casing. (Indicated by it being at least 3 times quieter when I placed my hand on different sections of it.)

I just wedged in fairly well twisted strips of duct tape snugly into a few gaps :) well on the second (final and sucessful) attempt, anyway. :)
- Where the case normally opens to get into it. Not anything permanant or restrictive to it's function!! But if you're putting it somewhere just cram it in there or it falls out.

So just explain the predicament and ask if you can see what's coming loose? Might just need a few screws tightened?
Just quietly who knows - but what normal person would say no to a simple reasonable request and once you have one yes there's a better chance of more if you need them, anyway :) Hopefully 3c worth of tape does the trick though!
posted by mu~ha~ha~ha~har at 3:43 PM on July 17, 2008

Also consider what it's worth to you. Legal costs would likely far exceed the cost of replacing their air conditioner with a quieter one. The hassle of bringing-in the noise bylaw person, may also be not worth your time, or his (especially if the air conditioner is off at the time, or while it may be annoying, it may not exceed the db bylaw). Admittedly it's a questionable comment, and they would likely refuse the offer anyway, but offering to replace the unit with a quieter one IS an option. How much do you value your quality of sleep. I'm also well aware this shouldn't be your issue. It's definitely a tricky situation. Also consider, if it disturbs your sleep, they're much closer to it, so they may be just as annoyed. While trying to sort it out, I'd suggest earplugs. Hate them myself, but sometimes they're necessary to get some sleep.
posted by hungrysquirrels at 9:46 AM on July 18, 2008

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