Re: NY Times Article "Soundproofing for New York Noise"
DEC. 11, 2015

My name is Al Fierstein from Acoustilog, and I was mentioned in this article. I took the time to read 171 interesting comments from the many thoughtful readers, and would like to offer my thoughts on some of the points raised.

It is true that the article focused on expensive places, perhaps to show that even in an expensive place, the soundproofing is often an afterthought. And to show that people are willing to spend a lot of money to reduce noise. There was at least one person mentioned, however, who may have spent far more than she could easily afford to get some quiet. Remember, the Times has a feature section called "Big Ticket" about the costliest sale of the week. Like people reading about celebrities, it makes interesting reading.

But I have gotten many calls from people who could not afford expensive consultants and are not well described by some of the assumptions in this comments section. In my experience, most of the calls we get involve a significant noise disturbance. Consultants have often tried to offer free and helpful advice.

I have also seen people relieved to find out that the noise they thought was coming from a neighbor was actually Tinnitus (a sound perceived when no acoustical sound is actually present). Everyone, in my opinion, has some degree of this, and Tinnitus "sufferers" are estimated at 50 million. When I have had to tell people that the noise did not actually exist, they were satisfied (sometimes).

I offer a service where I record the sound 24/7 for a week to see if anything unusual occurs, but the ideas below are free.

Before moving in, audition the place (even a private house). Ring bells and meet the neighbors. Talk to them about noise. Stay inside quietly for a while, and ask the broker to stop talking. Open the windows, and close them. Check out different rooms. Close your eyes and listen. Ask yourself, "Will I need to sleep with earplugs?"

Run the elevator. Dump garbage down the chute from an upper floor. Ask if there's a parrot in the building. Look outside at other neighboring structures. Ask about the equipment on the roof, in the basement, even the in-between floors. What is the music practice policy? How loudly do stair and apartment doors slam? Or do they have slow closers? What else is in the building? A retail store or restaurant? A fitness room? A laundry room?

Have a friend walk around in the hallway, and see if you can hear each other. Have them walk in the apartment upstairs.

Ask about noise problems, in writing. Get the answer in writing. In many places, if you don't ask about a problem and they don't disclose it, it is not fraud. Buyer beware, it is up to you. If you are moving into a coop or condo, check the building "minutes" for evidence of noise complaints. A good lawyer will do this.

If you are a renter, and windows are an issue, you cannot change the windows without the owner's permission, but many owners will allow temporary interior windows that make a big improvement. They can help with traffic, airplanes, voices outside and nearby machinery or construction.

There are other suggestions and FAQ's on the Acoustilog website. I also have a section "Info for Renters".

If you have noise problems caused by machines, there are codes in most places about how loud the machines can be. Codes also address how soundproof walls floors and ceilings should be, and how they should be measured to see if they meet the requirements. There is information on my website about this under "Residential".

My eventual book will be both funny and sad. Imagine only being able to see an apartment on the weekend, when a particular subway line is not running, and then buying it. Or how about the parking garage elevator in the building being shut down during the open house? You can guess the rest.

Acoustilog acts as an independent consultant, selling no products or services.
Find out why this is important

There are many myths about soundproofing solutions that work in some situations, but not in others. Many do not work at all. They involve "glue", "special" sheetrock, pre-war buildings, concrete floors, plaster walls, and of course, carpets. In some cases, the ones you think are good are very bad. There may be a conflict of interest if the "consultant" sells or installs the materials they recommend. That distinction was not made in the case of one of the consultants in the article.

As several readers pointed out, the quoted decibel numbers are wildly wrong: 5 decibels (on any scale) is below the capability of measurement even with a precision meter. And 30 decibels is pretty quiet to begin with, when measured using any scale including the common A scale (as in "30 dBA"). Perhaps this occurred because one of the popular "apps" was used to measure the sound.

Another quote from the article that no one realized might be misleading is that a "weakness" (implying a hole in a wall) which is only 1% of the entire area can cause a doubling of the noise transmission. Initially you might think it counterintuitive that such a large amount of sound would come through a tiny insignificant 1% crack. But a typical wall that is 8 feet high and 12 feet long is 96 square feet. 1% of this is a hole almost a foot square! Of course a lot of sound would go though a hole that big from your neighbor's apartment. What I have found is that tiny gaps and cracks are usually not as much of a problem as the entire wall, floor or ceiling.

The NYC Noise Code unfortunately did not address neighbor-to-neighbor noise when I was advising the City Council about it in 2005. At that time, I testified that it should, as such noise accounts for the most complaints to the City's 311 hotline. I felt, and still do, that there are many shortcomings in the Code and I have written to the Council several times with many practical suggestions.

For example, I wrote to the DEP years ago about an idea to put a crimp in the booming bass from super car stereos. You all know what I'm talking about. I told them that one inconsiderate person, riding for an hour through any borough, can disturb thousands of people!

I'm sure all of you know what it's like to not get enough sleep due to noise. Recent research has shown that sound can interrupt sleep without even waking you up. You may be unknowingly not getting the sleep you need.

Basic consideration is a very important point - as I said in the article, sometimes all it takes is for the noisy neighbors to have the noise demonstrated to them. But there are unfortunately many people who feel entitled to do whatever they want.

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