The Sound and the Fury Better Living Through Noiseproofing

New York City is famous the world over for being "The City That Never Sleeps", but perhaps, as one sardonic resident put it, "They should call it ‘The City That Never Lets You Sleep’!" Thanks to honking cabs, shrieking trains, hypersensitive car alarms, and the tromping of several million pairs of feet on several thousand miles of concrete sidewalk, the din of the City often takes on a malevolent, almost-sentient character.

"Unwanted sounds become insidious," says Michael Newman from the New Jersey offices of Dunn McNeil Ramsay (DMR), a Manhattan-based engineering consulting firm. "They develop their own life and become maddening."

Audiologists and other experts on the detrimental effects of non-stop noise would agree; they’ve been saying for years that the kind of high-intensity, never-ending cacophony that characterizes big cities like New York is not only irritating, but can have very real, abiding effects on a person’s hearing and overall health. Studies have shown that exposure to annoyingly loud or persistent noise for extended periods of time raises your stress level–and thereby your blood pressure–increasing your susceptibility to heart and vascular problems, as well as lowering your resistance to the everyday pathogens that cause colds and flu. According to the Noise Pollution Clearinghouse (NPC) in Montpellier, Vermont, "Noise…negatively affects human health and well-being. Problems related to noise include hearing loss, stress, high blood pressure, sleep loss, distraction and lost productivity, and a general reduction in the quality of life and opportunities for tranquility."

In deference to residents’ need for quiet, most (if not all) co-op and condo buildings have noise control measures written into their house rules, ranging from requirements specifying that at least 80 percent of a given apartment be carpeted to reduce noise to forbidding loud music after a certain hour. The idea behind these rules is not to treat shareholders and owners like unruly college dorm-dwellers, but to maintain a level of peaceful decorum in and around residents’ homes.

Taking decorum to a new level in recent years, Mayor Giuliani’s quality-of-life campaign has raised fines for noise ordinance violations and encouraged New Yorkers to report offenders, but even strict anti-noise policies and sky-high penalties for ignoring them doesn’t always keep street noise on the street. It follows us into our homes through doors and windows, and is sometimes exacerbated by our own neighbors. So what to do if your dream loft-condo is conveniently located right next to a working garment factory? What if you’re on the top floor, right underneath the A/C machinery on the roof–or on the ground floor, directly above the furnace and generator? Though noise may be inescapable out-of-doors, there are many ways to muffle the inner din and make your home the oasis of tranquility it was meant to be.

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3 Comments

  • Dear Ms. Fons, This is an excellent article, informative in every way. I have not been successful in resolving the noise issue with the upstairs neighbor for almost a year (!) We are talking about the impact noise from heavy stomping on uninsulated wooden floor in a loft building. Having any soundproofing done from above seems to be out of the question for the time being. ( lack of support and intervention from the co-op board etc.) We are looking for experienced contractors that can help us soundproof our bedrooms. Do you have any advice or recommandations on how to approach this kind of project? The materials mentioned in your article sound like something we might want to look into, do you know any contractors in the NYC area that have worked with them that we can talk to or maybe work with? Thanks in advance.
  • Do any know who to talk to about insulation our studio in downtown Denver? We heard noise all around us and we just sign a 12 month lease we don't want to break just yet before trying to do something else. Any information about contractors in the downtown are for insulation rooms would be GREATLY appreciate it.
  • I need good contractor nyc replacing window and keeping street noise out from my room? I have big double glazed windows and it is not doing a good job of keeping street noise out. I can't sleep Help