Dealing with condo noise

I’ve got a humming noise in my condominium and its driving me crazy. What can I do about it?

This is a more common complaint than what you might think. The following provides some of the steps and possible resolutions that we generally see. This is usually conducted by an acoustical engineer retained by the condominium corporation.

1. Is it really a problem?

In a multi-suite condominium building there should be an expectation that each suite will experience noises consistent with having several adjacent neighbours. Each resident, however, has the right to his/her enjoyment of their home without excessive noise. Usually, the opinion of an acoustical expert is provided to determine if the noise intrusion is or isn’t a problem. If you can honestly answer the question, “Would a reasonable person of average sensitivity find the noise objectionable?”, you can get an idea if the noise is likely excessive.

2. What could be the source of the noise?

From our experience, a humming type noise is usually from base building mechanical or electrical equipment. This could be pumps of the water or heating/air conditioning system or a transformer, or another piece of equipment that serves the building. It could also be a piece of equipment in a neighbouring suite. Frequently, the source of the noise isn’t close to the residential suite where the humming problem is found. We’ve found water pumps in the basement causing a humming noise problem in a penthouse suite located 20 floors away. In this case, the pump pulsations were transported by the water in the pipe to the penthouse suite.

3. How is the source of the noise determined?

The best way to determine the source is the most obvious one; turning off equipment one at a time until the noise stops. It is preferred that the resident is involved in the process to confirm that the noise disappears when the piece of equipment is turned off. For equipment that can’t be turned off, the acoustic expert can measure the noise signature in the suite and conduct measurements of the mechanical/electrical equipment that generates this noise signature.

Acoustic consultants conducting measurements of condo mechanical/electrical equipment.
Acoustic consultants conducting measurements of condo mechanical/electrical equipment.

4. What can be done about it?

The good news is that, most of the time, this type of problem can be solved with an engineered solution in a practical, cost effective manner. Frequently the noise path is structure-borne. This is when the noise or vibration produced by a source is transmitted to some part of the building floors or walls at a point where the equipment or its components comes into direct contact with the building’s concrete structure. This then re-radiates as noise in the residential suite causing the noise problem. In this case, the solution involves removing this direct contact condition, either by moving the equipment component to avoid the direct contact or introducing vibration isolation to remove the transmission of vibration.

How can I get somebody to look at it?

The usual process is to provide your complaint to your building manager. The building manager generally passes the information on to the condominium board of directors. There is an obligation of the condominium board to look into the situation. Usually, an acoustical engineer is retained to provide an opinion if the noise is excessive, and if it is, determine the source and provide recommendations to solve the problem.

What can I do to help?

A good description of the noise is helpful. The What, When & Where’s – What is the character of the noise? – is it a hum, a rumble, a ticking noise, etc.? When does the noise happen? Was it always there or did it only recently start? Is it continuous, intermittent, worse at night, etc.? Where do you hear the noise? – is the worst in the bedroom, kitchen, bathroom, etc.?

If you are a condo owner or building manager who feels he/she has a problem, feel free to contact me directly at [email protected].