Many of us who have done some city living have been there: You’ve moved into a new apartment only to find that your upstairs stiletto-wearing neighbor (and her terrier, with the claws) like to stomp around after your bedtime or the hot dog man on the corner outside your window sings falsetto.
Trulia compiled the data to get a handle on where apartment dwellers suffer the most from noisy neighbors and examined the frequency of noise complaints. Spots such as the Tenderloin in San Francisco, Seattle’s University and Mission Hill areas, and pretty much all of New York have a lot of noise (or at the very least, a lot of complainers).
But before you start looking at new apartments for rent in Boston, MA, or the middle of nowhere, try these tips to combat how much your neighbors can hear and make your space as quiet as can be. We talked to interior designers, contractors, and real estate brokers for the best advice on how to soundproof a room and turn down the volume for your neighbors.
With that in mind, here’s some of the best advice we got.
1. An empty apartment is a noisy apartment
This one’s a no-brainer: Filling up your space will help absorb sound. Placement can be strategic, so if the noise is coming from the folks next door who share a wall, Brianna Weymouth, interior designer and principal of Weymouth I+D suggests placing large items such as armoires, bookshelves, or dressers against said wall or hanging sound-absorbing wall hangings such as macramé, if that can fit into your style.
2. It’s all about the acoustics
The thought of lining a ceiling with acoustic tiles doesn’t scream style, but color architect Richard Prime tipped us off to the superhandsome Baux line. The Sweden-based brand makes panels and tiles, each in a variety of shapes, constructed from wood wool, cement, and water. Simple materials with a practical, pared-down design make for a beautiful way to line your walls in sound-canceling harmony.
Kyndra Georgeson, principal designer for Platinum Design Studio, recommends a similar product from Mio, which blends recycled paper and cardboard in acoustic tiles that look sleek and are also environmentally sound. “They’re great because you can paint them,” she says, “and take them with you when you go!”
3. Try out a magic carpet
Though it’s not a rule of law, some residential lease terms in noisy New York will add a clause requiring a certain percentage of carpeting in a unit to keep traveling sound (read: footsteps, pets, and completely bizarre and inexplicable nighttime activities) to a minimum. Whether or not you’re obligated by your lease, it’s a good rule of thumb to cushion those floors to soften the pitter-patter of paws and feet.
4. Add a window dressing
Windows are a big culprit when it comes to letting sound come and go. Georgeson and Weymouth both sing the praises of heavy drapes — especially, says Weymouth, in older homes that haven’t been properly made airtight or have lost their caulking. Georgeson recommends fabrics such as elegant heavy velvet or a more utilitarian duck cloth to maximize the insulation no matter what decor vibe you’re going for.
5. Ask your landlord for an upgrade
Getting to the root of the issue starts with the window itself. New windows can help keep energy costs low while also offering soundproofing and curb-appeal benefits.
Denver-based home repair company 5280 Exteriors specializes in home installations that will withstand the Colorado climate — and what blocks cold and snow can often translate to blocking outside noise. If your landlord is replacing your windows, co-founder and owner Mick Lindquist recommends laminated glass with a wider distance between panes (standard is ⅝ inch and superdeluxe options come in at 1 inch thick). But, he adds, windows have to be pretty crummy to be replaced, so if you’re getting new ones of any kind, you’ll probably notice a difference.
But all of these benefits might not matter to your budget-conscious landlord. So even if you’re not in a position to get new windows, there are still things you can do. “Noise can also get through around the outside of the window if the window is not properly sealed,” says Lindquist. “It’s best to use spray-foam insulation around windows to prevent sound (and air and water) from getting in. Caulking around the outside of the window can also help.” Just be sure to check your lease before tackling any repairs.
6. Don’t discount nighttime sleep aids
With the advent of smartphones comes an abundance plethora of ambient noise samples to choose from, whether you prefer a croaking frog in the rainforest or the din of white-noise static. Sound-canceling headphones work well on an airplane and in your living room during a neighbor’s monster-truck-rally binge-watch.
The cheapest solution? Earplugs. They’re right around the corner at the drugstore and can make all the difference when you need a good night’s sleep and you live near the railroad tracks.
How have you dealt with noisy neighbors? Share your tips and experiences in the comments below!