Noise complaints in condos

Canada's building code fails to protect residents from sound transmission issues
Thursday, September 20, 2012
By Amie Silverwood

The National Building Code of Canada fails to protect condominium buyers from noise issues. It doesn’t specify a limit to impact isolation class (IIC) – a rating of how well a building floor attenuates impact sounds such as a heel hitting the hardwood floor in the unit above.

While it does specify that condos must meet a sound transmission class (STC) of 50, which applies to airborne noise, this test is out of date and inadequate, says Bill Wilkinson Jr., co-owner of sound and vibration control company, Wilrep Ltd.

Invented as a measurement in 1961, STC “only takes into account frequencies between 125 hertz (Hz) to 4000 Hz,” says Wilkinson Jr. “All the sound we care about today – the ‘thump, thump’ – is below 125 Hz.”

Canada’s building code should be updated to provide condo dwellers with the same peace and quiet that exists in developments in the U.S. and Europe where IIC is regulated.

“In both of these geographic areas, you will be sued if you do not meet proper IIC values,” says Wilkinson Jr. “Our building code is third world.”

Developers often install cheap underlayments to help silence echoing footsteps. However, once owners move in, the foam is compacted by the weight of their furnishings, which eliminates any sound control properties.

Once developers move on to another project, any sound issues become the management’s problem to resolve.

The solution is to replace existing underlayments with higher quality rubber ones. Unit owners who are irritated by their neighbours’ movements can also opt for drop ceilings and sound masking technologies that will provide them with the privacy and isolation they seek.

While a board can recommend these alterations, it cannot require a resident to tear up its flooring to replace a failing underlayment. A board can, however, specify that unit owners use high-quality underlayments when installing new flooring.

Wilkinson recommends specific wording be written into bylaws to ensure the new underlayment is indeed high-quality.

“(The underlayment) shouldn’t be able to crush out (like foam), harden with age (like cork) and wick water (like felt) because all these things will fail,” he says.

Amie Silverwood is editor-in-chief of Canadian Apartment Magazine and CondoBusiness magazine.

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