From the Forum – Seeking local acoustical engineer for noise control inside rowhouse

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Seeking local acoustical engineer for noise control inside rowhouse

“My DC rowhouse was built in the 1890s. Since then, the adjacent house has been converted to apartments, such that the living room of one neighbor’s apartment abuts my bedroom, which is located in the back of the house. Unfortunately, this neighbor holds late night parties, making it impossible for me to sleep on weekends. Also, in the many, many years since I moved into the house, the neighborhood has developed into a nightlife destination, making it unworkable to move my bedroom to the front of the house.

I’ve pretty much exhausted the tools at my disposal to address the late-night noise situation (talking it over with neighbor, waiting for neighbor to move out, calling the police, etc.), which have not been effective. I’d prefer not to litigate. I now seek to engineer around the problem. I have researched various options, including different kinds of insulation and soundproof windows. Sound mitigation, however, is tricky and can be expensive. I therefore seek an expert’s opinion before I start spending money and ripping out plaster.

I’ve already reached out to companies listed on the National Council of Acoustical Consultants Web site, but they generally are large companies that don’t do residential work, or their consultants are based in other cities and request travel reimbursement. My usual go-to for home improvement and maintenance issues, Angie’s List, is not much help in this area.

If anyone can recommend a local acoustical engineer who advises homeowners, and, preferably, has experience with historic properties, I’d be very grateful.”

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21 Comment

  • Are you sure it’s coming through the wall and not through the windows? You might be able to solve a lot of this problem just by installing better windows (and asking your neighbors to keep theirs closed). Bad windows let a lot of sound in!

    • With windows, there’s also the possibility that the windows themselves aren’t bad, but that the caulking around them is. Probably worth re-caulking the existing windows before spending $$ to replace them.

  • I don’t have an acoustics engineer recommendation for you, but you have my total empathy on this one. I’m very sensitive to noise, so I’ve had to come up with some techniques to mitigate it. These may or may not work for you, but perhaps they could serve as a stop-gap while you wait for something more substantial: using an air purifier, Marpac Dohm (white noise machine), or a dehumidifier (not all at the same time!). It really cuts back on my hearing annoying noises from my surrounding apartment neighbors. It’s a shame your neighbors are being this awful. Having to put up with a neighbor’s party every once in a while is something we all have to deal with (though, that party should end at a reasonable hour!), but consistently being a noise nuisance is just anti-social/inconsiderate behavior.

  • I used Max Grove who owns Max Insulation to sound proof my basement. He specializes in sound proofing and insulation. I was very happy with the results. He does a lot of work on old rowhouses in Capitol Hill.

    • good for you – you are a good neighbor.

      this is what the “nightclub” proprietor should do.

    • I used Max as well to sound proof my loft in Mt P. He’s super professional, on time, and fairly priced. DO IT

  • Have you tried talking to the management company that manages the apartments? Odds are that the noisy neighbor is bothering other residents in the converted rowhouse, not just you next door. Maybe the management company could get him to turn it down?

  • The noise maker should be paying for your adjustments if that is what you need to do. Small claims court will judge this in your favor. There are law in DC on this but they are civil violations vs. criminal which is why the police can’t enforce until after 10 pm or 11 pm.

    The nightclub thing also drives down property value – have you called his landlord?

  • The EPA wrote a good guide to soundproofing. It is here:

  • Maybe contact AIA DC. They have ads for acoustical engineers in their magazine but I don’t know if they do residential.

  • A great source for stuff is

    I agree the EPA book noted is great, but you still need to get products, etc., which you can at soundproofcow

  • I feel your pain and have a lot to say on this topic. I live in a new construction condo that was built without any sound mitigation — our bedroom shares a wall with our neighbor’s bedroom and you can hear full conversations from our neighbor below through the floor, music, etc. After many tears and a lot of rage towards the person who built this building, I spent a very long time researching this issue and became familiar with most of the options and materials on the market. You do not need an acoustical engineer, in my opinion. You need to find an excellent contractor that gets this issue and the materials in your building or at least that you trust and can communicate well with and figure out how your walls and ceilings and windows are structured. Sound transmission is basically airborne (music, voices) and structure-borne (high heels on the floor above you).

    We took down the drywall in our bedroom and our ceilings to essentially reconstruct the walls / ceilings in a way that they will absorb both airborne and structure-borne sound. The structure-borne part is harder and more expensive. In our case, our shared wall between the units was just 2×6 studs with regular drywall on either side and a fiberglass insulation that is used for light thermal insulation but has zero sound dampening properties and is not created / sold for that purpose. Same in the ceiling. In addition, our upstairs neighbor’s baseboards below their hardwood floor are attached directly to the ceiling joists so when someone walks in shoes or heels it is very loud in our unit. There should have been at padding or layer between but that’s something we can’t solve now so while the airborne noise from above is not as bad, we still hear the structure-borne vibration noise loud and clear.

    I have no idea how much money you are thinking about investing in this but your choices can range from putting up sound dampening foam on your walls to the approach we took which was more costly and involved. Products to check out include Roxul Safe N Sound or AFB, which is an incredibly easy to use insulation and is not too pricey. Check out Green Glue, resilient channels for the ceilings if you reconstruct those, and putty pads. Roxul’s website has great instructional videos. My husband, brother-in-law and I did the wall in our bedroom ourselves and I was pregnant at the time and the most handy of the three of us! Good luck. I really feel your pain.

    • Sorry, more to say! We also replaced the drywall we took down with sound dampening drywall which some people would debate is not worth the price. You may also consider building thicker wall in your bedroom.

  • I could have written this post! I feel your pain. If you are looking to improve your windows, storm windows have helped me a great deal – I had them installed by The Window Man, who was great to work with. However, if it is from your neighbor next door, I am not sure how much changing your windows will help. If it is vibration-type noise, your best bet will likely be to install additional insulation between the walls.

  • I did a lot of research into this and Bay Acoustics is worth talking to. One option they had was a noise generator rig and with your neighbor’s permission they’d put it in each of the rooms in his house and they collect the noise in your house. With that data in a computer model they’d zero in on frequencies to go after and what are your weakest spots for noise transmission. I think even if you don’t have neighbor’s permission for the test they’d probably come in and make some suggestions.

    I don’t know if they actually do the work, or just make the plans, and the actual construction solution is likely to be expensive. Good luck.

  • If your neighbor is holding late night parties and it is keeping you up. CALL THE POLICE. Why is this too hard to understand. Noise violations are taken very seriously by DCPD.

  • Also on a related note.
    A normal contractor can do the necessary work to insulate your house.

    1. Multi-ply glass storm windows. Old windows are terrible. Replace all of them.
    2. Spray-Foam insulation , especially in your walls. This is what soundproofing usually entails. It also conserves energy in the house.

    Believe it or not the last part does help…
    3. Carpeting in your bedrooms. This dampens sounds between levels. I would say this last step is up to you, but if you really want to sound proof your house, step 1 and step 2.

    The same things that generally help energy conservation help with sound insulation as well. In general older houses are really poorly insulated, and this is what causes the noise issues.

  • I cannot recommend Jim Meyer of JF Meyer Inc., enough. Last year he quite literally soundproofed my bedroom in my 1920’s building. I used to be able to hear every conversation in the room next door (their living room next to my bedroom). Jim gave me three sound-dampening options, and I went with the most inclusive one (about $2000). Jim put in new 2×4’s, alongside my existing wall, used special insulation, and also special sound-dampening drywall. His crew carefully removed my historic baseboards and crown mouldings. and once the new wall was finished, aside from my bedroom being 4″ narrower than it was before, I couldn’t see a difference in my trim. Jim and his crew were swift and clean and courteous, taking just 3 days. More importantly, I have heard NOTHING coming from next door in the past year. NOTHING. I went from hearing every phone call and every conversation to hearing NOTHING. Even when I *know* my neighbors are home with the tv and stereo blasting, which I can hear from the hallway as I walk by their condo. But once I enter my condo and enter my bedroom? NOTHING.

    Call Jim. The $2000 was worth every penny.

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