Unwanted sound is the bane of many a New York co-op or condo dweller's existence. Few things are as annoying as being awakened in the middle of the night by a car alarm, being forced to listen to a neighbor's stereo against your will, or having to tread lightly in order to avoid disturbing the people who live below you. Noise-driven complaints can also generate serious friction between residents, leading both to festering resentment and, in some cases, to lawsuits. Fortunately, there's an entire industry dedicated to providing soundproofing solutions for almost any scenario, from the light sleeper who needs to seal noise out to the music lover who wants to seal it in. Unfortunately, the word "soundproofing" itself is a bit optimistic.
Myth vs. Reality
"We don't soundproof anything-nobody does," says Jody Cook, owner of Sound Isolation Co., a Charlotte, North Carolina firm that nonetheless sells soundproofing materials via its website (www.soundisolationcompany.com). B.J. Nash, owner of Super Soundproofing (www.soundproofing.org) in San Marcos, California, agrees. "We talk about soundproofing," says Nash, who got his start selling soundproofing materials to the aviation industry, "but we're really talking about levels of sound control that yield a level of annoyance that's tolerable."
When people like Cook and Nash refer to soundproofing, they really mean sound control or sound reduction - the art and science of reducing unwanted sound-noise, in other words-by placing something between its source (e.g., a noisy neighbor, a car alarm) and its target (i.e., your ears). Rarely can the sound be eliminated entirely.
In a multi-unit residential building, the potential sources of annoyance are nearly infinite. But according to Alan Fierstein, president of Acoustilog, an acoustical consulting firm in Manhattan, "The most common complaint for condo and co-op owners is other owners: people walking heavily, or playing the stereo too loud." Next come mechanical sources of sound such as air conditioners, elevators and exhaust fans; then nearby businesses like bars, clubs, and retail outlets that play loud music.