How the cost of hard floors can go through the ceiling

When you live in a concrete and glass tower, putting down a timber floor can have a softening, humanising effect. On the other hand, tiles are more durable and easier to clean than carpet, a consideration if you’re letting the unit out. 

And imagine the delight of owners in older apartments, when they discover wooden floorboards that have been protected for decades by layers of underlay and carpet. Strip ‘em out and you have a brand-new timber floor for the price of hiring a sander and the cost of a pot of varnish. 

But beware. In all these cases, you may well have just fired the first shot in an expensive war of words that could result in you having to recarpet the flooring you just installed at great expense.  

Some of the earliest stories we covered in Flat Chat from a dozen years ago featured people whose upstairs neighbours had removed carpet and expected them to put up with the sudden and considerable increase in noise from above. 

Back in the days of the old Consumer Trader and Tenancy Tribunal (CTTT), adjudicators would decree that foot traffic and furniture scraping was “part of apartment living”. And there was a remarkable upsurge in the number of people whose doctors diagnosed allergies related to dust mites in carpets.    

But these days, more of us realise that you don’t have to put up with whatever bad decisions your neighbours make. 

That said, strata laws vary greatly from state to state and by-laws (or rules) can be vastly different from building to building. Not only that, different kinds of floor covering have different sound insulation qualities and even flooring slabs on various levels of the same building can vary in thickness and density.  

So if you start from the accepted wisdom that nothing dampens noise like a quality carpet on top of high grade underlay, and that there’s no place for polished concrete floors in modern apartment blocks, how do you find a happy medium? 

The Building Code of Australia specifies that the noise transmission between floors should be less than 62 (Lnt,w <62).  To put that in context, according to a guide from the Australian Acoustical Association , an uncovered 17mm thick slab will transmit noise at 72 while a combination of quality carpet and underlay on a 200 mmm slab takes the noise down to 35. A cheap timber floor won’t get you below 65. 

The problem for strata schemes is trying to protect the amenity of owners while allowing others to modernise their homes.  And one of the worst ways they can do this is to specify that certain materials must be used. 

There are two reasons for that: they may not be sufficiently effective on the slab on which they’re laid and new products that are cheaper and better will inevitably come along. 

By far the best way is to pass by-laws that require the floor installers to prove that the noise levels are not excessive in the areas that they have re-floored. It’s up to them to then err on the side of caution and make damn sure they’re not going to disturb their neighbours. 

Why? If your timber or tile floor is a nuisance to the people below you, they can drag you to a tribunal where they will surely be able to match your newly acquired allergy to their doctor’s diagnosis of psychological harm. 

You’ll find an historical roundup of flooring issues in the Flat Chat website’s Strata Facts section. 

This article first appeared in the the Australian Financial Review. 

 

 

 

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