A funny little notice appeared in our lifts this week, headlined “Hard Floors and High Heels”.
Apart from sounding like a Pedro Almodovar movie, it was a simple request for people with timber or tile flooring not to performing their own flamenco dance every time they walked across the room.
As the notice pointed out quite succinctly, noise travels much further in modern concrete and steel buildings that it does in old brick and timber ones.
And so, if you give a damn about your neighbours, you might want to stow the stilletos and kick off the Cuban heels when you come home at night.
The science is quite simple. There is no better sound insulation than thick carpet on a quality underlay. It’s inexpensive and it works.
But if you want the convenience as well as the style of timber or tiles, you have to try a little harder. The man in Fearless Frank’s Fantastik Flooring will tell you that his sheets of 2mm thick plastic are all you need and, in any case, the “dickheads” on your strata committee “can’t do nuffink about it, mate.”
Seriously, a flooring salesmen used those very words when we were looking to put down timber floors in our flat.
Needless to say, we moved on to someone more reliable (if a lot more expensive), not least because we knew the strata committee could actually do quite a lot, should they be of a mind to. And that could include getting the strata Tribunal to force us to recarpet or lift the timber and install proper insulation.
Our building stipulates a 10mm Regupol underlay, which seems to do the trick. And, while there may be better, thinner stuff these days, 2mm of plastic is unlikely to cut the noise or the mustard.
Yes, it’s less than half the price of a quality acoustic underlay but then you have to factor in the cost of ripping up your floorboards after you’ve been dragged to NCAT.
If you are looking at installing a hard floor you will probably be swamped with facts and figures that you don’t really understand. But there is only one question that matters – will the insulation prevent me from driving my neighbours nuts?
At the end of the day, acoustic ratings and Australian Building Code compliance count for little when stacked against the principals of noise nuisance and residents’ rights to the peaceful enjoyment of their homes.
If, like many Asian people (and farmers … and people with white rugs), you kick your shoes off at the door, you probably aren’t going to bother anyone.
However, if you prefer to tap-dance your way from one room to the other, you may well be getting a note from the committee regardless of how much you spent on underlay.
The issue of running children, their cross-apartment sprints sounding like the thundering hooves of the wildebeests of the Serengeti in full migration mode, is occasionally raised in these columns. But that just goes to show that noise is as much behavioural as it is structural.
FYI: Your kids will not be scarred for life if you tell them not to run in the apartment. Your neighbours may be if you don’t.
How much less will the chap in my building enjoy his music if he turns the bass on his music system down from a denture rattling 11. How much more will I enjoy my TV viewing if it’s not to a backdrop of “thump, thump, thump-thump-thump”.
I could have a quiet word myself (if he hadn’t clearly destroyed his eardrums from years of iPodding) but I’m not sure where he is. See, it’s not just the people below you who suffer from your excessive noise. Modern apartments tend to share single concrete slabs and modular walls, meaning noise vibration will travel sideways as well as up and down.
Case in point, I said to our building manager the other day, “I hear the people upstairs are having a timber floor installed.”
“Nope,” he replied. “It’s the unit two along from you, on your floor, in the other tower.”
We can only hope the resident doesn’t take up flamenco dancing to music with the bass turned up to the max.
A version of this post appeared in the Australian Financial Review.