Simple ways to reduce noise pollution in your apartment

How to reduce some of the annoying noises that come with apartment living. 

Chronic exposure to noise pollution – the ambient sounds that come from inside and outside your apartment ­– doesn’t have to be the bane of the apartment living experience.

The constant whirring of appliances and air conditioners, conversations and music through walls, tooting of car horns, nearby construction and a constant flow of rubbish trucks are just some of the contributors to domestic noise pollution that can make you want to move to the quieter, more peaceful suburbs.

Yet urban living in a big city like Sydney or Melbourne comes with lots of noise pollution. We offer up the quiet as a sacrifice for living in an exciting, bustling hub with a short commute to work and our friends and lifestyle at our doorstep.

Apartment living in a strata or body-corporate managed property doesn’t mean you have to put up with grating noise 24/7, however. Yes, shared living environments do involve a degree of noise that’s out of your control. That’s the nature of sharing, after all. Strata and bodies corporate exist in part to minimise this where possible (e.g. with by-laws around noise control), but there are also several things you can do to take matters into your own hands at home in your individual apartment.

Reduce others’ noise from the outside

As an apartment-dweller in a strata property, you have a right to peace and tranquillity in your own home.  This means if a neighbour has frequent parties, plays loud music at inappropriate times of the day (e.g. after 10pm), your strata manager can likely interject with relative ease.

Other, more “acceptable” forms of man-made noise in shared living environments are often overlooked in the noise pollution discussion.

A neighbour with their TV turned up too loud, or somebody walking around wooden floors in heels is something that can grate you. Rather than go the official complaint route of going to your strata or body corporate manager and making it their problem, your best first move is just to knock on your neighbour’s door and have a friendly chat with them.

It’s highly likely they have no clue that their noise is bothering you, so just speaking up diplomatically may quickly solve the problem without overt neighbourly negativity.

Reduce others’ noise from the inside

More general “acceptable” noise can be managed from within your apartment. Street noise, conversations from others, and other situational noises are to be expected in almost every apartment – they’re part of urban city life.

Hard-surfaced, non-carpeted floors are common in Australian apartments because of the heat we experience, but this increases the reverberation of sound inside your apartment. Rugs, therefore, are a great way to absorb some of that noise. Similarly, large and heavy furniture placed against walls will also dampen noise. Think solid wooden bookshelves and couches.

Dense building materials like brick and stone are the best for reducing sound from the inside out. If your building doesn’t have them and you’re willing to make renovations to your apartment, there is one good option. Placing layers of plasterboard that are lined on the interior with a sound-absorbing material (like foam) in the cavity is extremely effective. Do note that you’ll need approval from your strata or body corporate for this under your by-laws.

Lastly, your windows are likely where most of your noise comes from. Double glazing is wonderful, but expensive, to retrofit. Heavy drapes (rather than blinds) are the only easy way around this. Any kind of thick window dressing made of wool will absorb much more sound than wooden or metal blinds. Acoustic curtains – those designed from flexible fabric systems that absorb sound effectively­ – also provide maximum soundproofing in the absence of double glazing. Certain specialist suppliers throughout Australia can tailor these to your apartment’s exact needs.

Can technology help make things quieter at home?

Need an even cheaper option, e.g. if you’re renting? White noise is your best friend. Get a smart speaker like Google Home or Amazon Alexa and ask it to play white noise ­– defined as a type of sound produced by combining sounds of all different frequencies together. White noise masks other sounds and is very effective at drowning out noise pollution because it hits all frequencies at once. If white noise doesn’t do it for you, smart speakers have lots of other ambient sounds (ocean, rain, etc) that also work.

Why reduce noise pollution?

Why is all this important? According to a New York Times blog post, a lot of the hearing loss we humans experience is owing to acclimating yourself to noise pollution, rather than doing anything about it. In effect, making ourselves deaf to the constant loud noises we experience each day actually contributes to gradual deafness. When you’re on the street, there’s little you can do, so make sure your home is as quiet as you can.