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Will you hear your neighbours? – 7 things to look for when buying a house

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This noise article outlines common features we regularly see when conducting noise surveys that are found in semi-detached and terrace houses that suffer from noise from neighbours.

 

When buying a house and viewing a property look for these features to identify how bad the noise could be when you move in your semi-detached or terraced property.

open plan kitchen with down lighters

Your dream kitchen on the viewing….when you move in could be your worst nightmare….

Dream kitchens with open plan modern kitchen diner, an island breakfast bar, maybe room for a sofa too are often top of the want list when buying a house. Nice solid wood floor, beautifully positioned down lighters and great use of LEDs….but what does this mean for noise from my neighbours.

With a semi detached property it means your neighbours will hear you and could complain about the noise you make.  You will hear your neighbours, TV, conversation, music, and a great deal of impact noises such as doors slamming, furniture moving and impact noises from the neighbours upstairs bedrooms.

Here are our top 7 things to look out for when buying a house that are tell tale signs that noise will be heard from the neighbours.

1. RSJs running into the party wall

First and most important is the uninsulated RSJ supporting the open plan look which sits on the separating party wall between you and your neighbours, (regularly seen on our noise survey visits).

These Rolled Steel Joists are the fastest way for sound to travel to and from the neighbours, both across your house and up to the bedrooms above.

If the property your viewing has an uninsulated RSJ sitting on the party wall then you will not only hear your neighbour in the kitchen extension but in the bedrooms above too. The RSJ is most likely supporting the bedroom floor joists and the noise from you and the neighbours will therefore transmit through all joists connected to the RSJ.

If you have a RSJ sitting on the separating party wall and it is uninsulated you will hear TV, conversation, music, and a great deal of impact noises such as doors slamming, furniture moving and impact noises from neighbour bedrooms such as sliding wardrobes doors and draws closing.

2. Is the whole room or whole house plasterboarded?

One of the things to look for when buying a house is whether the separating party wall has been dot and dab plasterboarded.  If so then it is highly likely that this alone has increased the noise from your neighbours and can be up to 10dB as proven by the NHBC (see other our other blogs on ‘dot and dab’).

10dB is a doubling of the noise from your neighbours or to put it another way now that the room has been plasterboarded using this technique the noise from your neighbours is twice as loud.

Key signs to look for:

Modern and common looking skirting

When viewing the property, look for new modern and common skirting styles that do not fit with the age of the property.  This will suggest the room has been renovated.

Tap on all the walls

Listen and feel for that hollow ‘dot and dab’ plasterboard. If the wall sounds hollow then solid….then hollow…then solid and the house or extension is attached, you will definitely hear the neighbours and they will definitely hear you. You will also hear your neighbours and your own noise across the whole house.

3. Solid wooden floors

A solid wooden floor and bedroom floors above with the installation of laminate or sanded floors will reduce the sound insulation by at least 10dB.

The change of flooring from carpet to hardwood flooring of some kind is one of the most common noise complaints to local authorities.

Although clean and practical and great for people with asthma, pets and dust allergies, it means you will have to choose your footwear appropriately or your neighbour will hear you walking around in your own home.

4. Down lighters in the ceilings

Another thing to look for when buying a house in regards to noise is down lighters.  These holes in the ceiling created by the down lighter (round spot lights in the ceiling) allow noise to transmit into the ceiling void (which is always uninsulated) and through to next door. The holes where the lights sit allow noise from any downstairs room to transmit upstairs too.

5. Suspended wooden floors

Look for air vents out the front of the property, this would suggest the floors have a void beneath them, the air vents allow the wooden floor joists to breathe which prevents dry rot and other issues related to damp and condensation.

With regards to noise, this large uninsulated hollow void is a massive amplifier for your noise and noise from your neighbours adjoining property too. You can expect to hear kids running around furniture moving, bass noise from TV and stereo equipment as well as conversation.

3 out of 4 suspended floor voids which we soundproof as part of any soundproofing investment have bricks missing on the separating party wall beneath the floor boards. In these particular cases you can follow conversation through the party wall. Sometimes we come across properties where we can fit our whole arm through to next doors beneath the suspended floor due to bricks missing.

When viewing a property, if you cannot see air bricks, simply stamp lightly on the downstairs floors to identify whether it is concrete or a suspended wooden floor. If it’s a suspended wooden floor beneath the floor covering, it will sound like a big drum. The louder the drum affect the worst the noise from you neighbours will be.

6. Coving

Standard common coving in an adjoining property will channel the noise from you and your neighbours all the way around the room. Modern off the shelf coving very common in the 1990s, is fixed to the wall using plaster adhesive creating a hollow void behind the plaster concave-shaped moulding finish you see joining the wall to the ceiling.

This hollow void allows vibrations to transmit from the walls to the ceilings. Also the hollow void in the coving transmits noise from one end of the room to the other and just like any wind instrument the noise is louder at the other end.

7. Chimney stacks

Finally when viewing a property make sure you tap on the chimney stack.

Chimney stacks are one of the first areas that need renovating in older semi-detached houses, the heat from the old fires has made the render and plaster weak and blown over the years therefore a common area to renovate first.

Is it hollow?

Check the reveals of the chimney stack (sides) and the chimney face. Knock with your knuckles and see if it is plasterboard. If it sounds hollow, then there may well be other areas of the property that have plasterboard too. A plasterboarded chimney stack could be covering up many issues, from damp to condensation but with regards to noise, it will channel any noise from the downstairs room to the upstairs bedroom.

For example if your neighbours have a loud TV or worst a TV on the wall, the noise will be channelled straight up to the bedrooms above. This will be the same for your noise in your living room channelling straight up through to next door and into the neighbours bedrooms. For many families that we speak with, this means you will not be going to sleep until your neighbours do.

Fake Chimney stacks

Is it a big stud frame fake chimney stack?

If it is hollow it will really sound like a drum and this is a big amplifier for noise from your neighbours and it will channel any noise you and your neighbours make upstairs and downstairs. For example a fake chimney stack on the party wall in your living room channels the noise from your neighbours TV to your bedroom.

transmission path of sound through walls, ceilings and floors

Illustration shows noise in an upstairs bedroom of a semi-detached property.

 

Sometimes the indirect flanking transmission noise (green arrows) is louder than the direct transmission paths.

Summary

When buying a house if you are looking for those old semi-detached or terraced properties that have been renovated and ready to move in with the new dream kitchen, loft conversion and bathroom already installed, make sure you tap the walls or even better call us for a noise survey.

Our services

As well as installing soundproofing systems we offer noise surveys conducted in your potential new home, starting at £399.00+VAT.  We would visit the property with you before you purchase it and give you our opinion as domestic noise experts on the expected noise to be heard from the neighbours.

This is a discrete service where the neighbours will be unaware of the type of survey. No noise instruments are required, only access to your new home and maybe some tapping on the separating ceiling, walls and floor surfaces.

Survey options

A. 45mins – 1hr Noise Survey – inspections (house visit checking all the ceilings, walls, floors, lofts and basements). Verbal report, up to you to take notes during the inspection. £399.00+VAT

B. 45mins Noise Survey – inspections with written report of findings and expected noise transmission between properties. £585.00+VAT

C. 2-3hrs Noise Survey –  inspections, written report, soundproofing consultation and estimate £799+VAT

Please call to see if you are within our catchment area: 01926 658 638

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