Ethelind Coblin is founding principal at Ethelind Coblin Architect.
Perhaps the No. 1 complaint in co-op and condo living is noise. Complaints between neighbors are often difficult to resolve – a problem you recently dealt with at a pre-war co-op on Park Avenue.
We were called in after a renovation had been done on the floor above my client's apartment. In 2018, two apartments were combined, so it was basically a gut rehab and all the walls were pulled out. In these pre-wars and actually in post-war buildings as well, the walls stack up one over the other so that there is a rigidity that's built up in the floor. When these walls are removed, the floor becomes more flexible. And when it flexes, it transmits sound.
What kind of noise was your client hearing?
My client basically couldn't sleep at night because the owner above was getting out of bed and going to his studio or work office and she would hear foot falls. But when floors flex, it can be transferred from the slab to the wall below. If that wall is not isolated from the slab, it can make a really loud creaking sound, and she was hearing that as well.
Was management brought in to help deal with the problem?
Yes. These noise issues are always difficult to solve, and when people can't sleep, it just steamrolls. My client complained to management, and consultants and lawyers were brought in. Finally, management said the shareholder above had done everything he could to attenuate any noise transfer. That’s when my client brought me in.
What did you find?
I teamed up my client’s contractor and an acoustical consulting firm, Cerami. We found that the ceiling track that connects down to the wall in my client's apartment had not been isolated from the slab. That usually wasn't done six or eight years ago. The track was usually fashioned right to the underside of the slab and then right to your floor slab, and then the studs are put up. But in current practice, isolation is recommended. That way, when the slab vibrates, there's an isolation pad that then reduces any vibration down through the wall. It's really important to install that when you're renovating an apartment because you have no control over what somebody above may do.
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So how did you tackle the problem?
We obviously couldn’t change the fact that the walls were no longer stacked. So we opened up about a two-foot-wide strip of the ceiling all the way adjacent to the wall. We were able to get up to the ceiling track, push the studs to the side, remove the ceiling track. Then we put in an isolation pad, which is basically going to be right above where the track is re-installed, and fastened that with special isolation fasteners. Then the studs were put back up to the ceiling.
Did that remedy all the noise coming from above?
Our acoustical consultant, Cerami, tested from the apartment above, and there was a reduction in the creaking. In fact, it was almost totally gone. You really can't hear that anymore. But we knew we would not be able to improve the foot falls. The shareholder above had put in a 10-millimeter-thick rubber GenieMat and wall-to-wall carpeting on top of it. You can't install a better acoustic treatment, but the slab is still flexing and causing vibrations, which means foot falls are always going to be a problem. Unfortunately, it’s just a fact of life in New York City.
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