Duplex Sound Abatement

by Cindy
(Lincoln Park)

Hi Joe,

I see you have a duplex.
Mine has thin walls which is causing stress for my tenants because
they hear the normal "living noises" from the other family.

Do you have any recommendations for methods or types of insulation to install?
Is there anything that is cost-effective and actually works?
I have plaster walls and don't want to rip them out.

Thank you,

Answer by Joe Trometer:

Hi Cindy, thanks for the question.

Duplex noise is not that big of a problem in my opinion, it is to be expected.
Tenant noise and sound travel in duplexes and multi-family housing may be a lesser problem for the tenants and more of a concern for the landlords, let me explain...

The Renter's Point of View:

People who are willing to rent a duplex, do so for specific reasons:

1) Less rent cost compared to a single family house or a commercial apartment complex.

2) There may be less noise and traffic in a duplex versus large scale apartments.

3) Many duplexes may be in a desirable residential location instead of the apartment community style living.

4) The renter may not be approved by a large company landlord whereas small business landlords may accept a tenant with minor credit problems.

5) Some renters will not consider a single family house for rent because of the added responsibly of higher utilities, higher rent costs, plus the added costs and work of maintaining the yard.

6) Unless they are first time renters, from what my residence have told me, they expect to hear reasonable noises from their neighbors in a multi-unit rental.

Sound Proofing Products for the Duplex and Multi-Family Rentals:

The best product I have seen is called, "Roxul Safe'n'Sound Unfaced 47 inch x 15¼ inch Batt insulation".
It's non-combustible, vapor retardant, and advertized for sound proofing.

I've seen the product demonstration with a high pitched siren inserted into a box insulated with "Roxul" and the noised was 100% silenced. I was impressed.

Alternative methods without tearing out the plaster walls could be spray foam insulation or blown insulation.
Look up spray foam contractors or insulation installation contractors on-line for your area.

Here Is The Problem:

Sound proofing the wall that separates a duplex isn't enough!

Sound travels in other ways:

1) Through the attic, basement, duct-work, and open windows.

2) Vibration noise on the floors from heavy foot steps, dragging furniture, jumping and playing, pounding of sorts, are not silenced from sound proof insulation.

3) Slamming of doors, especially exterior doors can vibrate the building structure.

Removing Plaster Walls To Install Sound Proofing Material:

Cindy, you are right!

I wouldn't want to remove plaster walls especially to attempt only soundproofing.

The major problem with removing plaster walls would be to follow the EPA's Lead Based Paint Laws, see my article on this ask-the-rehabber site at lead based paint.

Add a Noise Policy In Your Lease:

Duplex Sound Abatement, in my experience is easier accomplished by adding a noise policy or a noise curfew clause in your lease as, quiet time rules in our multi-family home.

Something to the effect that states, "please respect our quit time hours between 11:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m.", or whatever you think is best for you and your renters.

You could be bold to include that, "violation of our noise policy may lead to eviction".

Also, if the noise becomes excessive and unreasonable, it becomes the responsibility of the offended tenant to call the Police and file a Disturbing the Peace complaint.

You mention:

Because they hear the "normal living noises" from the other family.”

The key word here is "Normal"


My Personal Experiences:

Long ago I lived in one of my duplexes and rented out the other unit.

I expected "normal living noises" and so did my renters.

If the music was too loud, we respectfully pounded on the wall and yelled, "Turn Down The Music", and we did. We were both guilty of playing our music too loud on occasion yet we got along fine for years.

Likewise, I lived in a single family house where the neighboring house was separated by a 10 foot driveway and 5 feet of grass. The houses were only 15 feet apart.

With open windows, I could hear the neighbors TV, stereo, normal conversation and, they could hear us.

Again, that would be "normal living noises" outside the multi-family housing living condition in a residential neighborhood.

As a Landlord, Here is a Valuable Lesson I’ve Learned:

It is up to the person who rents or owns their own home to improve their own style of living!

I feel it's a wasted effort as a Landlord to even attempt to provide what I may think a renter would appreciate, let alone paying a higher rent for.

From my experience, providing over and above improvements for tenants will not increase the rents and may be unlikely appreciated by the residents.

Soundproofing walls will not curb noisy tenants with open windows or outside in the yard of the apartment.

One Last Tip

Since you have plaster walls in your duplex, the age of the duplex more than likely 50 to 100 years old.

People have lived there for decades before you bought it, got along, and paid their rent without soundproofing.

There's no reason this renting condition can continue for you as is does for me and other landlords with older style duplexes.

Cindy, Please let us know how this turns out. If you would like to add to this use the links below.


What do you think? Any helpful comments for Cindy would be appreciated.

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