QUESTION — Can you give me any advice on how to sound-proof a shared wall in a condominium? Part of the wall is concrete and another part of the same wall is drywall. Thank you. Debbie Smith
ANSWER — Preventing noise from an adjacent suite in a condo can be difficult, but may also require authorization from the board of directors. There may be several types of products to use, but ensuring it meets the approval of your condo association may be the first step.
Anyone who has lived in a multi-family building, whether it is a house, apartment, or a condominium, knows about noise issues from others living in surrounding units. This may range from music played too loud or too late, to noisy conversations from neighbours. Often, the best approach is to politely raise the subject with neighbours, who may be unaware that their practices are bothersome. If they just carry on their noisy lifestyle later in the evening than preferred, they may be easily persuaded to turn down the volume at a certain time. Also, letting them know you can hear them talking, or having noisy discussions, may pique their desire for more privacy and confidentiality. Those concerns alone may be enough to quell the worst of the offences.
If passive efforts to reduce the noise coming through the common wall with the adjacent unit aren’t working, physical changes to the building may be possible. There may be multiple ways to cover the common wall with different materials that will have a sound-dampening effect, at least partially. The most common method may be to use inexpensive thermal insulation on your side of the wall. In many cases, the same properties that give insulation its heat-retention properties provide a barrier against sound transmission. Since your common wall is made of more than one material, you may first have to find out what type of insulation materials, if any, are currently installed. This may require some minor demolition, or at least partial removal of wall coverings, to look inside the wall cavity of the drywall section.
The concrete portion of the common wall may have no wall coverings or insulation installed, which may be a partial cause of the problem. While the concrete itself is often a good acoustic barrier, it may allow vibration and other sounds to resonate through the solid material, if not covered. In that section of the wall, installation of thermal insulation may be the most beneficial. This may be most easily accomplished with a layer of rigid foam insulation, glued or fastened directly to the concrete. The seams between the sheets should be caulked, and the top and bottom as well, for best results. This material should be covered with wall sheathing for aesthetic purposes, but also for fire protection. It may be necessary to cover the insulation with at least one layer of fireguard drywall, to protect you and all the other occupants of the building, in case of a fire.
While the rigid foam may be the most easily installed solution, it may not be the best acoustically. The solid foam sheets resist air penetration, and sound waves as well, but may not be the best choice, overall. While these panels may provide the best protection by thickness to the wall, there may be better options, acoustically. Batt insulation slows down the transmission of air and sound waves very well, which may make them an ideal material for your purpose, but covering it often reduces this effectiveness, somewhat. Anyone who has stood in a basement or building under construction, with uncovered batt insulation installed, knows how good this stuff is for deadening noise. Once covered with rigid wall sheathing this property is reduced, but there may be methods of installation to get the maximum effectiveness from the new wall assembly.
The other consideration for reducing sound penetration from next door is whether your modifications will be allowed according to the current rules of your condo association. I have heard multiple stories from condo owners about issues when renovations are planned. Many associations have limitations on the type of building materials that can or cannot be used by individual owners. Many of these restrictions relate to the exterior of the building, or common elements, but some may also apply to the interior of individual suites. This may be most dramatic with floor rather than wall coverings, but you never know what kind of rules have been cooked up by current or previous elected boards. Checking to ensure your proposed plans will be allowed may save much grief, should a problem arise.
In the case your condo association does not allow you to cover the common wall between your unit and your neighbour with an acoustically superior new one, there may be other alternatives. There are many types of materials that absorb sound waves and can help reduce the noise, without much construction required. Various types of ceiling tiles, cork boards, or other semi-rigid materials may be adhered directly to walls or ceilings to improve the current situation. Also, various types of fabrics are used for this purpose, as well. Even hanging some large, decorative rugs on your side of the offending wall may be enough to satisfy your desire for more peace and quiet.
Ari Marantz is the owner of Trained Eye Home Inspection Ltd. and the past president of the Canadian Association of Home & Property Inspectors — Manitoba (cahpi.mb.ca). Questions can be emailed to the address below. Ari can be reached at 204-291-5358 or check out his website at trainedeye.ca.