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May 2015

Question

I own an apartment in Belfast on the second floor of a three- storey building. The noise from the apartment above, especially from people walking around on a wooden floor, is considerable. Is it possible to soundproof the ceiling of our apartment? What are the most effective soundproofing options?

 

Answer

There are two common types of sound transfer that affect adjoining property owners. The first is airborne sound from such things as loud music or shouting and the second is impact sound from such things as high heels on a timber floor as you are describing.

The noise caused by impact is particularly difficult to stop from below. This is an acknowledged fact and in a large amount of apartment building management company leases it is stipulated that a suitable sound absorption layer (depending on the structural floor type) should be installed below, between any timber floor and the structural floor. This largely stops the sound transfer.

The reason why installing soundproofing below the structural floor does not work as comprehensively as soundproofing the floor from above is that the vibration can still transfer through the perimeter (flanking) walls were there is a connection. Undertaking works to your ceiling may bring some respite but prior to that I would recommend that you explore all options with your management company and the neighbour above.

Initially I would advise that you engage with the management company to establish if it is a requirement under the lease to have such a sound absorption layer in the apartment above. If this is confirmed either through your management company or directly with the apartment owner above, establish if the sound absorption layer is actually present. Some opening up may be required in the apartment above and if neighbourly relations are not good then you will need your management company to force this. If the sound absorption layer is present and the owner above is in compliance with the terms of the lease then you have no alternative but to attempt to soundproof from underneath. If no adequate sound absorption layer is found then you can request the owner above to install one or try and force the issue through the management company.

If all of the above fails then the only option will be to install either a sound insulation board such as a Mustwall 33B for ceilings or construct a new suspended ceiling to your existing ceiling.This would require you to attach wall plates to the walls to give the shortest room span and run new ceiling joists between them. Fix mineral wool between the new ceiling joists, or drape it over them. Install two plasterboard layers, making sure the joints between the sheets in the first and second layer do not coincide and finally seal the perimeter and all other sound paths with flexible sealant.

Although either adjustment should reduce some of the noise, it cannot be guaranteed to stop all of the noise due to the vibration through the flanking walls.

Please be aware that remedial work to improve the sound insulation can result in considerable weight being added to the structure of a property. It is essential to ensure that the ceiling or floor above can carry the increased loads satisfactorily.

Kevin Hollingsworth is a member of the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland (MediKids) Building Surveying Professional Group