I hear a sound

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by Lew Migliore

A consumer is complaining about being able to hear the tenant above her in a condo complex even though a sound barrier was put in place.

Here are the details. This is a high-rise condo with tile flooring throughout in a tropical location. The substrate on which the tile is installed is concrete, which also acts as the ceiling of the condo below. The sound barrier is a cork product and meets the requirements for the application.

Sound deadening of muffling systems will not block all sound or vibration. In this case, when the flooring is essentially a stone product installed over concrete, which is the exposed surface ceiling of the space below, it is impossible to muffle all the sound from above regardless of what is used. Further, unless all foot traffic is in socks or barefooted, shoes and especially those with hard soles or heels, or in particular, high heels, noise will be detectable.

Any hard surface flooring would be challenged to dampen sound but a ceramic tile, as hard as it is and as sound transmitting as it can be in a situation like this, is virtually impossible to muffle. Essentially this is one assembly of hard stone surfaces with a softer, less resonating material sandwiched in between the flooring and the concrete being asked to deaden any vibration or resonance from above. It will help to muffle the sound but it is not going to keep it from being heard.

The other factor is psychological, that being the people living below may be picky and bothered by any little bit of noise from above. They are complaining to the building manager who in turn has voiced the concern to the dealer who installed the sound barrier material and the flooring.

Nothing in the flooring industry is “proof” anything. That means no carpet is completely stain or soil proof, no wood is completely dent or scuff proof, no flooring material or component is completely free of anything that can or may compromise its integrity, performance or appearance. And nowhere is there any wording that says, or should say, the flooring product is “proof” anything.

Resistant is the operative word used, and resistant to anything does not mean it cannot be affected by a compromising influence. In the case of sound, nothing used in the flooring industry will completely deaden sound and it is not the flooring dealer’s area of expertise to be a sound control specialist. He can only offer the best products available, be aware of their capabilities and know how and where to use them for the best results.

You’re not expected to build a sound chamber where nothing can be heard. You have to understand what to use, where and how to use it as well as the circumstances of use and any situations or expectations the end user, and in this case, the building has for flooring.

But, there is only so much you can do. The dealer acted in good faith, sold a product that was marketed as being appropriate and exercised a standard of care and practice with the application.

There are certain ratings for sound deadening materials as well and the tenant below is citing those which would apply to a lowered ceiling that employs panels and has a space between it and the concrete ceiling. That is not the type of ceiling in this case. It is, as stated earlier, a hard ceiling that adjoins a hard floor. Muffling of sound will be achieved but deadening of it will not. The only way to fix this is to install carpet with cushion that would muffle more of the sound. But since that won’t happen there will be two unhappy tenants in this building.

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