With the rising cost of housing in Canada, many first-time homebuyers may be opting to buy a condo or townhouse or semi rather than a pricier detached home. This means they will be sharing walls with neighbours, which can result in noise complaints even if they are built to code.
It is a valid fear for any new homeowner, but it may become a concern of the past thanks to recent changes to the National Building Code (NBC) -- Canada's model building code that sets out technical provisions for the design and construction of buildings. These changes will modify the way builders and architects design for acoustics all of which will make for quieter and better neighbours.
To understand noise, you need to understand the concept of sound transmission. It is more than just a heavy-footed neighbour. The numerical value that represents the overall amount of sound a wall will reduce noise by is called Sound Transmission Class (STC). Generally, the higher the STC number, the less sound transmitted.
Unfortunately, the new rules do not guarantee quiet neighbours.
But high STC ratings alone do not always guarantee a problem free situation. That's because sound does not only travel through the air from one room to another. It also travels through the walls, floor and ceiling. This is known as "flanking" noise and the STC tests done in a laboratory do not take this into account.
Changes to the NBC now reflect a new rating which includes Apparent Sound Transmission Class (ASTC), which is a more realistic measure of the actual sound level transmitted between occupants since it includes noise transmitted through wall, ceiling and floor junctions. Now, in addition to an STC rating of 50, adjacent units in a building must be separated by a wall, floor or ceiling partition with an ASTC rating of at least 47.
Unfortunately, the new rules do not guarantee quiet neighbours. Though these are welcome changes to anyone who has endured noisy neighbours, the changes will not result in an immediate noise reduction for all as they are only applicable to new buildings. If you are facing noisy neighbours, there is some relief for existing multi-unit home owners. The following tips can help minimize sound transmission and help keep the peace amongst neighbours:
- Consider the 80 per cent rule: Installing carpet on 80 per cent of the unit will minimize sounds reverberating throughout the space. This will not only dampen the sounds that come into the space, but would also reduce the amount of sound that would transfer from your unit into your neighbour's.
- Use vibration isolators: Place the washing machine and dryer on vibration isolators, which absorbs and reduces noise and vibration. If mounting speakers on the wall, consider mounts that can be vibration isolated from the wall. Be considerate of the neighbours below and avoid placing noisy equipment like a treadmill above the bedroom of the unit below. Exercise equipment is not only noisy, it can create vibrations which travels through columns into the units above and below.
- Seal it up: Ensure any holes or gaps between units are sealed up. This will reduce sound traveling from one residence to another. For example, electrical outlets have gaps around the edge that can transmit sound, particularly high frequencies. Use Putty Pads or a noise proofing sealant to fill in the gap around where the drywall meets the outlet box. When caulking joints, look for non-hardening caulk.
For property owners who have the budget and the ability to renovate, consider installing resilient channels in drywall partitions. These fastening mechanisms are often called sound bars and when installed, they help increase sound isolation by acting as a divider to ensure vibrations don't travel from the drywall through the stud. It reduces the amount of sound travelling through the wood frame structure.
The changes to the NBC mean that builders and developers may opt to build higher STC walls in order to comply with the code. For homeowners, this will result in better quality homes with less chance of complaining about noisy neighbours. Like water, sound can travel in various channels and holes so increasing awareness of how it can be transmitted to a neighbour should be a relief for all homeowners.
Now that the national rules have been updated to reflect a move towards ASTC as the required acoustic code, it is expected provincial Building Codes will soon follow suit. Many architects have already started incorporating the new guidelines in the design of new condos. Prospective homeowners should check the design and build dates of condos to verify if the new standards have been incorporated into the design and construction of a prospective home.
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