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Soundproofing the noisy kids upstairs

Ashley Milne-Tyte Aug 20, 2008

Soundproofing the noisy kids upstairs

Ashley Milne-Tyte Aug 20, 2008


Kai Ryssdal: My wife and I used to have an upstairs neighbor we called Sasquatch … or big foot. As you might gather, we could hear every step she took up there. We got our revenge, though. We had a baby. A loud baby.

Fast forward 10 years and the noise that kid made has become big business for the people who know how to handle it — acoustic consultants and contractors who specialize in soundproofing. Most of what they do is help bars and nightclubs keep the noise down. But residential noise complaints are on the rise. And many of them involve the thud of tiny feet.

Ashley Milne-Tyte has more.

Ashley Milne-Tyte: Jasper Twitchell is 4-and-a-half. He lives with his parents in a 450-square-foot, one-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn. This evening, as a fan whirs on the windowsill, Jasper’s working off some energy by bouncing a big inflatable ball.

Jasper: And a one and a two and a threeeee! [slight bounce noise] Whoa, that was high!

Jasper’s mother, Adriana Velez, says the downstairs neighbors can probably hear the ball land. They’ve picked up plenty of Jasper’s other activities through their ceiling.

Adriana Velez: Sometimes he’ll jump off of the beds, and that’s …

Jasper: Yeah, and land on the pillows!

Velez: And land on the pillows, but you don’t always land on the pillows and that’s the problem.

Jasper: Yeah!

Velez: If you don’t land on the pillows it’s super-loud.

Velez says the couple downstairs has complained a lot about Jasper running and leaping about late in the evening. At least they haven’t sued. Some frazzled neighbors do. To build their case, they often hire acoustic consultants like Alan Fierstein of Acoustilog in Manhattan.

Alan Fierstein: Usually when people can’t get any sleep, they call me first thing in the morning. Nine o’clock in the morning I’ll come in, get messages, get phone calls from people saying, “Look I can’t take it any more. I just had another sleepless night, it was unbelievable. It’s like a herd of elephants up there. Tell me what I can do.”

Fierstein goes to the apartment and assesses the noise — its type, its level, and where it’s coming from. Sometimes he leaves his equipment with the client for days, the better to capture random squeals and stomps.

Fierstein: I take certain precautions to make sure that the person who is operating the equipment can’t fake it and attempt to make the sound appear louder or come from their own thumping around.

Fierstein says an investigation like that costs at least a few thousand dollars. Adriana Velez says to sort out their problem, she and her husband staged a kind of intervention. Their neighbor met Jasper and told him to his face that he was keeping him awake. Velez says it seemed to sink in. These days Jasper has an 8 p.m. noise curfew. But she said their neighbor also realized something.

Velez: Our neighbor just finally had the epiphany that you can’t wrap them in bubble wrap at the end of the day. And there is no off switch.

Complaints about kid noise are up in various cities around the U.S. But in New York, apartment residents seem particularly sensitive, which perhaps isn’t surprising. According to the census, between 2000 and 2006 the number of children under 5 living in Manhattan leapt by 31 percent. That’s a lot of little feet. And a lot of crying babies. Mason Wyatt of City Soundproofing says there’s a fix for that: the noise sufferer can soundproof their ceiling or ask the baby’s parents to soundproof their floor.

Mason Wyatt: Doing a carpet underlayment is probably the least expensive for the money. Oftentimes neighbors don’t always see eye to eye on spending money.

Wyatt says he’s been caught between the person who’s hired him and the allegedly noise-making neighbor.

Wyatt: I’ve had people say you can come in but he can’t. So they’re not getting along that well, but they still want to get something done.

You may be able to tackle the acoustics in your own apartment, but other parts of the building are another matter. Adriana Velez says lately, she’s heard some new concerns.

Velez: Noise in the hallway, my son talking to my neighbor’s daughter, yelling, running up and down the stairs, visitingeach otherr. So that’s the new frontier that we’re facing that we have to manage next.

She says she’s returning to full-time work soon so she and her husband can save for a bigger apartment — preferably on the ground floor.

In New York, I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte for Marketplace.

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