footfall noise

JMH59December 13, 2004

I have the same problem that seems to afflict many apartment/condo owners with hardwood floors--footfall noise. I have owned my condo for more than 13 years and, for the past 10 years, I have experienced these intrusive sounds from the neighbors above me. Although I hear footfall throughout my condo, it is particularly egregious in the bedroom. There, not only do I hear the impact of the feet hitting the hardwood floors, I also hear a kind of rattling or vibration sound--perhaps caused by a malfunctioning joist system separating my ceiling from my upstairs neighbor's floor. That it is in the bedroom, affecting my sleep, makes the problem worse.

I have tried various approaches to this problem including talking to my neighbors, earplugs, whitenoise machines, pillows over my head, meditation, etc A combination of earplugs and a pillow over my exposed ear (I sleep on my side) at least greatly reduces the rattling noise, but only slightly eliminates the thumping. The whitenoise machine is largely ineffective.

Talking to my neighbors has yielded mixed results over the years, at a rather high emotional cost. I have a brand new neighbor who is at least sensitive enough to wear no shoes most of the time. In fairness to her, I have not met her yet as she only moved in about a month ago. As such, she may not be aware of the extent to which the noise is disturbing me.

In the past, one neighbor was willing to put in area carpets and it helped marginally. Another neighbor was not willing to put in carpets. She said she would walk quietly. For what it is worth, I have wall to wall in my bedroom.

I would hate to move strictly on the basis of the noise. But I am tired of sleeping with pillows over my ear, earplugs and having to "sensitize" a new neighbor, although I will still likely have a conversation with my new neighbor regarding this issue. I also don't want to engage in childish retaliation such as banging the ceiling, playing my radio loudly, etcÂ.

That said, I have done a fair amount of research regarding the "floated" second or false ceiling that is installed below the original ceiling. The state of the art approach apparently is to use sound isolation clips, such as the RSIC-1, replacing the old resilient channel method.

My questions are these:

Has anyone reading this ever installed a second or floated ceiling using sound clips or resilient channel or know of someone who has? If so, how successful were you or they in reducing footfall noise? How much did it cost? (I would only be interested in installing the second ceiling in my bedroom.) Did you go to a specialist or an ordinary drywall contractor? Does anyone have any other advice or real-life experience regarding the footfall problem?

Any and all feedback would be greatly appreciated!

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This is exactly why I'm not buying a condo, but saving up for a house. In some ways, condos have all the problems of apartments, but if you own the condo, it is much harder to move away.

As someone who has wood floors in her second floor apartment, please don't consider retaliation. The poor woman has to be able to walk in her bedroom. If you haven't spoken to her, she has absolutely no idea that you can hear her steps. You say she "may not;" I would venture that she does not--because unless you tell her, she has no way of knowing.

It's hard that with every new neighbor, you have to go through the same process of informing and educating all over again. But unless you do, you will have to listen to the footsteps. In fact, that's why I now live where I'm on the top floor--so I won't have that problem.

If the problem has existed with every upstairs neighbor, the problem really isn't with the people--they need to move around their living space. The problem is with the building and its construction. I think it might help if you took this approach--"By the way, I don't know if you realize that the walls, floors and ceilings in this building aren't very soundproof. Everyone has this problem, and I was wondering if you'd be able to put something down on the bedroom floor to help muffle your footsteps." This might work better than going directly to the noise she makes, which might put her on the defensive. You could also check to make sure that your stereo or TV alarm clock doesn't bother her with its noise, just to show that you are aware that the noise problem works both ways.

I have softwood floors in a 40' by 20' loft. I have area rugs down over 85% of the floor, in all the main living areas and traffic patterns. I'm barefoot or in sock feet most of the time, because I don't like shoes. I walk as softly as I can, but I can do nothing about the fact that the 175 year old floorboards creak and crack whenever I step in certain places. Just as your neighbor can't do anything about the apparently inadequate construction in your building.

I don't know anything about the ceilings you mention. However, talking to your neighbor might help. Mention area rugs. Rug pads under the area rugs may also help, if she gets the thick cushioning kind, rather than the thin no-slip kind. Mention no shoes in the bedroom.

Frankly, if I had to use earplugs, white noise machines or pillows over my head through a series of neighbors, I'd move.

    Bookmark   December 14, 2004 at 10:30AM
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I have an architect friend who designed a ceiling like you described. The homeowner loves it! I would consult a small-time architect who specializes in sound proofing.

    Bookmark   December 29, 2004 at 6:20PM
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From my experience the rsic clips you talked about are your only realistic solution. they work great. nothing else can come close.

    Bookmark   January 14, 2005 at 3:51PM
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I have owned a condo for 10 years. Luckily, I am on the top floor so footfall noise is not a problem. Other noises, however, have been a problem.

Some neighbors will be accomodating, and some will not be so accomodating. I would say that the woman walking without shoes is pretty accomodating.

I have owned a condo once, but this is the first and last time. If you are considering buying a condo, buy on the top floor. Buying on a lower floor means that four adjoining condos--top, bottom, and two sides are potential sound problems. This scenario increases the odds that one of your neighbors will be emitting sound that may not be too welcoming to your ears.

Top floor condos sell for higher prices, and footfall noise is a major reason. It's worth the price-- $100,000 more--- probably not, but $10,000 more---Yes!!!!!!

    Bookmark   April 8, 2005 at 6:33PM
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The apartment I'm currently living in has something I've not seen before: there is a layer of "air-entrained" concrete on top of the finished floor. This gives a very stable, quiet, vibration-dampening floor system.

But I feel your pain, JMH59. In my last apartment, I could tell exactly where my upstairs neighbor was at any moment by just following the trail of squeaky floor boards. I could hear him getting out of bed every morning right above my head (squeak, squeak); walk to the bathroom (squeak, squeak); walk into the kitchen (squeak, squeak); etc. (squeak, squeak). Made me feel like I had an invisible roommate!

If you plan to stay where you're at, I would say that your only practical option is some kind of suspended acoustic ceiling. Best of luck to you.


    Bookmark   April 8, 2005 at 7:12PM
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This is the best solution for footfall
--Wood, tile, ceramic or carpet floor
--Foam underlayment
--Structural subfloor (Existing Floor)

    Bookmark   May 25, 2010 at 2:11AM
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Substitute the commercial wood product you mentioned for standard OSB and field damp with a quality damping compound. This will save you a great deal of money, and provide a much more thoroughly damped layer. Factory damped plywood is very expenside relative to the performance. And why fill a dumpster with super-expensive scraps of $100 a piece plywood?

    Bookmark   May 27, 2010 at 9:18AM
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