Picture this. You’re in your apartment having a relaxing weekend, when all of a sudden your neighbors start playing music. It’s not that loud, but every time they have a party you feel like you might as well be in their apartment.
This is a scenario well known by many of us and the problem is that when we realize how clearly we can hear our neighbors, we start to wonder: Can they hear us?
In this article, we’ll be discussing whether your neighbors really can hear everything you’re doing in your apartment and what you can do to make your apartment more soundproof.
Can my neighbors hear me?
If your neighbor wants to hear you, then the chances are that they will. This does depend on whether your apartment has been soundproofed or not. A soundproofed wall only blocks 70% of the sound that travels through, so it’s likely that some part of your conversation would be heard by the surrounding neighbors.
Either way, there is a good chance that your neighbors can hear you if you're speaking loudly.
Can my upstairs neighbors hear me?
Now that we know that our surrounding neighbors probably can hear our conversations and whatever else we may be doing in our apartment, we need to answer another question. Can my upstairs neighbors hear me?
The higher a unit is above a source of noise, the less you’ll be able to hear. With that being said, it is still possible for noise to travel upwards.
Neighbors who live upstairs often have to deal with the vibrations of footsteps and other noises that come from downstairs. However, they are generally not able to hear as much as they would if they were living below you.
Can my downstairs neighbors hear me?
Will my downstairs neighbors be more likely to hear me than my upstairs neighbors?
Neighbors that live downstairs seem to be more likely to complain about noise than neighbors that live upstairs. Why?
The simple explanation is that sound will not travel as easily to an upstairs unit because of where it’s situated. Also, the sound of walking or appliances on the ground will be more likely to be heard below than above.
Unfortunately, it’s those that live underneath you that bear the brunt of the situation. Things like flushing your toilet are more likely to be heard by your downstairs neighbors than those above you. (Using a quiet flush toilet makes a huge difference).
So, in a nutshell, your downstairs/upstairs neighbors are able to hear you when you go about daily activities in your apartment. But there is a limit to how much they can hear.
This will depend on how loud you talk, how much noise the appliances in your home make and whether you’ve soundproofed your apartment as well as whether your neighbors are below or above you.
There are some other factors that determine whether your neighbors can hear you or not, such as what building materials were used to make the apartment.
Older apartments will no doubt have been built with wood, which is a material that amplifies sound on a greater scale than materials like cement or metal.
If this is a good description of your apartment, then you can be guaranteed that your neighbors will be able to hear you in your apartment.
If I can hear my neighbors, does that mean they can hear me?
The short answer to this question is yes. Since you share the same wall, it makes sense that if you can hear your neighbors, they can hear you too.
Of course, this does depend on how much noise they tend to make, in comparison to the amount of noise you make on a day to day basis.
For example, if you hear your neighbors yelling but you can’t really hear them talking normally, then the chances are that the same applies to you.
Our ears have been wonderfully made, so they can pick up very soft sounds as well as sounds of great magnitude. We can pick up a frequency from 20 Hertz - 20 kHz. Low-frequency noise can be measured at 250 Hz, so it’s pretty easy for us to hear things that are not even considered noisy.
This helps us to see why it’s understandable that you would hear your neighbors talking and they would be able to hear you. This is especially the case if your apartment is not soundproofed.
If you hear everyday sounds it's part of apartment life. If it becomes excessive then do some research on apartment noise before getting into a confrontation. If you do eventually decide to file a noise complaint make sure you go about it the right way.
Where’s the noise coming from? Floor, ceiling, windows, air vents…
If you’re hearing your neighbors a little bit too much than you should, then it might be time to do some investigating and find out if and where the noise is coming from a particular area inside your home.
Vents are a particularly great source of traveling sound. A ventilation system is installed throughout an apartment building and each of your neighbors will have a vent, so it’s reasonable to believe that a vent is one source of unwanted noise.
Sound can even travel through holes in the wall. We may not notice that there is one until we actually look for it. Some have found that they have a hole in their wall so big that they can see right into their neighbor's unit once they pull the wallpaper away. Fixing the hole and using some soundproof wallpaper can help.
But what about areas in your apartment like the ceiling and floors?
Cracks in the floor and ceiling can contribute to you being able to hear your neighbors more clearly than you should. The chances of your floors, walls and ceiling letting all the noise in is great, because not all apartments are built with strong sound control or a high STC rating.
We don’t want to forget about windows, because they may be one of the biggest culprits when it comes to letting noise in. They’re naturally pretty weak when it comes to sound insulation.
But the real source of noise comes from hidden gaps around the window. These gaps will let quite a lot of noise into the room. Besides this, single paned glass windows will not be able to keep out a lot of noise. There are ways to soundproof a window to block outside noise though.
Noise can also enter through the crack between your door and the floor. There are a few easy ways to soundproof a door to stop that happening.
So as we’ve seen, the noise could be coming from your windows, the floor, ceiling, vent or your walls. You can do a little investigating to find out what exactly is causing the problem and then take steps to soundproof the apartment.
Not sure how? We’ve given you a list of things you can try.
What can I do to make sure my neighbors can’t hear me?
The solutions vary depending on whether you want to soundproof an existing room or build a new one. Most of us will be looking for ways to soundproof a unit that’s already been built, so we’ll tackle the issue of making an existing unit soundproof.
How to soundproof an existing unit:
- Buy a Rug
When sound travels, it tends to bounce rather than walk so to speak. It will bounce off flat objects like tiles, floors and glass. What we need to do is not only minimize the bouncing but also cut its traveling time short. Adding rugs to your home is a good way to do that.
Rugs are sound-absorbers by nature, although some will work better than others. They can reduce the noise made in your own home, but it will not necessarily stop noise from coming into your home.
Thick rugs are the best kind of rugs to use, as well as high pile rugs and carpets. The only issue with high pile rugs though, is that they’re not susceptible to high foot traffic. It’s a great quality rug but if you walk over it often, it will lose its quality quickly.
One thing you can do to ensure that the rug or carpet works effectively, is to buy a soundproofing pad and place it underneath the carpet/rug of your choice.
If you’d like your neighbors to be a bit quieter you can also ask them to place a rug down in their home if they don’t have one already. Just remember to soften your approach, so that they don’t get offended.
- Cover walls and ceilings
Okay, so we know that sound needs to be absorbed. How do we get our walls and ceilings to absorb sound?
The solution is pretty simple. While it would make sense to fill your wall with a soundproofing material or sheet, you probably would not be able to do that in an apartment where your landlord has lots of control over any changes made to the apartment.
If you’d prefer to stick with style, then you can consider adding some art to your wall, frames, pictures, fabric and even plants.
- Invest in door seals and draft guards
Draft guards are great for blocking out noise. They have a snakelike shape and are filled with materials like rice, batting and beans.
When it's laid across a crack under the door or around a window, the draft guard will stop air from entering or coming in. While its main purpose is to stop a draft, it does have soundproofing properties as well and can help to prevent noise from entering and leaving your home.
Door seals do the exact same thing, they’re just different in design. A door seal blocks the gap under your door. What’s nice about door seals, is that they’re cheap and easy to replace.
If you still have some gaps then consider using a good acoustical sealant.
- Get some soundproof curtains
This is one of the things you’ll definitely want to have in your home and it doesn’t cost much. Soundproofing curtains block out noise and to an extent, they prevent sound from traveling outside your home.
What’s cool about some soundproofing curtains is that they serve a dual purpose. For example, if your unit faces the sun and tends to get too much sunlight, you can use a soundproof blackout curtain.
- Add noise buffers
If you make a diligent search to find the source of noise in your unit, you may find that the origin of the noise comes from directly inside your walls. This is really common for apartments that are adjacent to one another, because they share the same walls.
In any other situation, it would be a simple process to open up the wall and place some soundproofing materials in the wall to prevent sound from being able to travel through so easily. But unfortunately, you’re not likely to get that kind of permission when you’re living in an apartment.
So, in this case, the solution would be to place cabinets and bookshelves against the walls that are shared. Furniture like this will act as a buffer and lessen the amount of volume that comes through the walls.
- Think about where you place your gadgets
Do some constructive thinking about where you’ve put certain gadgets and electronic devices that you use on a daily basis and emit sound. Why should it matter?
Let’s say you’ve got a wall mount for your television that you’ve decided to put on a wall that’s shared with your fellow neighbors. Because your TV is directly next to your wall, your neighbors can clearly hear what you’re watching even when it’s not loud. So, you see the problem.
When your television, radio or any other loud electronic device is close to your wall, it can be a disturbance to your neighbors. But of course, you need a place to put these devices so what can you do?
If you’re really concerned about how much your neighbors can hear you, then it would be a good idea to buy dual-purpose furniture. For example, you can get a tv cabinet that has shelving inside and a place for other things.
The fact of the matter is, that it’s likely that everytime you play music or watch tv, your neighbors will be able to hear it. But, if you take the necessary steps and make some changes, they won’t be able to hear it as much and they’ll be grateful too.
If you buy quiet appliances that will help too. Can my neighbors hear me vacuum? Yes they can. A quiet robot vacuum cleaner will make a lot less noise than a regular vacuum. Other appliances make a lot of noise too. Buying a quiet washing machine will make a big difference too.
- Try to tread lightly
Can my neighbors hear me walking? Your downstairs neighbors probably can. Having to watch every step you take can be frustrating, but it’s a good thing to try if you don’t want your neighbors to hear you. If you’re naturally a quiet person and you’ve received complaints from your neighbors about noise, then it might be that your footsteps are just a little too heavy.
Remember that people are more likely to hear you if you have wooden floors. There are ways to make heels quieter too.
Also, be careful about what kind of shoes you wear around the house. Some shoes make more of a racket than some appliances, so make sure to wear shoes that are more quiet.
Can my neighbors hear me playing instruments, like the drums, electric guitar, etc.?
It goes without saying that if you live in an apartment and hear your neighbors on a daily basis, that they can hear you too. This includes when you play instruments, particularly because it generates a lot of noise.
Some instruments make more noise than others though. But if you need or want to practice playing an instrument, you don’t have to give up because your neighbors can hear you.
One of the things you can try is using the built-in headphone jack that your instrument may have. Unfortunately, not all instruments have this jack but many do.
If you’re fortunate to have an instrument that has the headphone jack, you can plug your headphones in and nobody will be able to hear you play. You could even play a quiet drum set then without them hearing you.
Can my neighbors hear me working out?
Does my exercise bike or other equipment make a noise?
Whether your neighbors hear you exercising or not really depends on how noisy your equipment is.
Some exercising equipment is so loud that family members find it difficult to sleep when someone in the household is exercising. And of course, vibrations are easily heard by your neighbors, so any physical exercise you do that includes jumping will be easily heard.
One way to solve this issue is to buy exercise equipment that’s designed to be quiet. Quiet bike trainers are a good example of exercise equipment that can operate quietly and give you the exercise you need. There are also some very quiet elliptical trainers and the quietest treadmill is unlikely to be heard by your neighbors.
If you’re not in a position to buy new exercise equipment, you can also get a training mat and place it under your exercise equipment.
Something to keep in mind when you’re looking at renting an apartment
If you’re looking to rent an apartment and you don’t want to be easily heard, then there’s a few things you’ll want to keep in mind. The owner of the building might tell you the apartment is soundproof but you might want to do some digging of your own. So, when you’re checking out the apartment, look for these 4 things:
- Look to see if the door jamb is sealed.
- Check if there are drywalls in the walls and ceilings by tapping on it. You will hear a hollow sound which is an indication that there is drywall installed inside the walls and ceilings.
- See if there are soundproof window plugs installed in the windows
- If there are soundproof curtains over the windows, this contributes to how quiet it will be inside the apartment.
Apartment life is definitely not easy. Noisy neighbors can be annoying and sometimes you’re that noisy neighbor unintentionally.
If you can hear your neighbors, then they definitely can hear you. Instruments, exercise equipment, music and television are all contributors to noise but there are ways of making the noise almost unnoticeable.
Don’t give up if one solution doesn’t work. If you apply a few of the tips above then the combined effect will be that your neighbors will be less likely to hear you.