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Noise Testing


Mike Lamb
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During a recent condo inspection, there was a loud thumping of foot traffic from the unit above.

What are your opinions re: just reporting what was heard (which was excessive IMO) or recommending a field test of sound transmissions, and whether this floor-ceiling meets applicable building standards?

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I'd say don't go there.

You are there to help the client discover the things that the client is unable to discover about the house and it's systems. Was the client with you during the inspection? If so, unless the client was deaf, the client heard those noises and doesn't need you to point out obvious things that have nothing to do with the structure or it's systems. Heck, come to think about it, if the client was deaf, he or she probably wouldn't care about those noises anyway.

I'd been on an inspection in a wonderful neighborhood that was very quiet and serene until some kid backed his hemi out of the garage down the street and then went down the street burning rubber. Should I have reported that? Didn't have to, the client spun around with a, "What the f**k!" and went out on the porch to see what was going on. I finished up the inspection but I could tell that he'd made up his mind that he wasn't going to be living on that block with a 2-year old toddler and a moron streaking down the street in a 4,000 pound weapon.

Anyone who's ever lived in multi-family housing for more than a day knows that you can't do anything about the sound of footfalls above and must learn to live with it. Unless your client has lived a very sheltered life, the client knows that too. Don't go there.

ONE TEAM - ONE FIGHT!!!

Mike

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During a recent condo inspection, there was a loud thumping of foot traffic from the unit above.

What are your opinions re: just reporting what was heard (which was excessive IMO) or recommending a field test of sound transmissions, and whether this floor-ceiling meets applicable building standards?

Hi Mike...

What applicable building standards are you referring to with regards to noise?

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Lotta condos in Chicago are old solid masonry exterior walls with wood frame floor assemblies. They can be really loud.

There is no fix. I talk about it all the time. If I hear a lot of noise from above, I write down that I'm hearing a lot of noise from above.

That's just me.....

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During a recent condo inspection, there was a loud thumping of foot traffic from the unit above.

What are your opinions re: just reporting what was heard (which was excessive IMO) or recommending a field test of sound transmissions, and whether this floor-ceiling meets applicable building standards?

Hi Mike...

What applicable building standards are you referring to with regards to noise?

I should have mentioned it was new construction so I am extra sensitive about things that are done wrong from the start.

The IRC has standards:

APPENDIX K

SOUND TRANSMISSION

SECTION AK101

GENERAL

AK 101.1 General.

Wall and floor–ceiling assemblies separating dwelling units shall provide airborne sound insulation for walls, and both airborne and impact sound insulation for floor–ceiling assemblies.

SECTION AK102

AIRBORNE SOUND

AK102.1 General.

Airborne sound insulation for wall and floor–ceiling assemblies shall meet a Sound Transmission Class (STC) rating of 45 when tested in accordance with ASTM E 90.

SECTION AK103

STRUCTURAL-BORNE SOUND

AK103.1 General.

Floor/ceiling assemblies between dwelling units or between a dwelling unit and a public or service area within a structure shall have an Impact Insulation Class (IIC) rating of not less than 45 when tested in accordance with ASTM E 492.

I also believe the IBC and other standards apply.

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I'd be unable to sleep if someone above me had a television blaring out laugh-tracks every few seconds, or if I had to listen to Akon chanting his latest hit song. So I'd want to know.

There's a neighborhood in my town that has a sewage-treatment plant in its vicinity. The noxious odors the plant emits permeate the entire area and are detectable within the houses. But the plant's only in operation about half the time I'm in the neighborhood. It has nothing to do with my job, but on the sweet-smelling days, I tell buyers what they should expect after they move in.

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Listen folks, I understand that you all want to do what's best by your client but the job isn't about telling the client about things that the clients are able to perceive on their own; it's about cluing them into stuff that they have no clue about so that they don't go into the deal with their eyes half-closed. A noise standard for new construction is just fine but it's the job of the engineer that designs a house to figure that out and the code guy's job to ensure it's done. Once the wall, ceiling and floor planes are closed, there's no way for us to know whether it complies or not.

If someone is purchasing a unit in a multi-story housing with someone above, below and on both sides of them they are going to need to expect that they're going to hear things from units around them and their going be able to perceive all of that stuff on their own - they don't need you to tell them about it. Doing that is the same things as writing up cosmetic stuff - which is also stuff that the client can perceive without assistance.

If all inspectors get into the habit of commenting on and writing up unnecessary stuff, they end up creating unreasonable expectations in the minds of buyers. Imagine what would happen for instance if all inspectors in Seattle were to start writing up noises they hear from neighboring properties - even though it's never been a requirement of the profession over the past half of a century; people would soon begin to expect all inspectors to write up noises they hear. Okay, so what if the units on both sides, top and bottom are vacant during the inspection and no sound is heard. The inspector doesn't report any bumps in the night and now two months later the client closes on the house, moves in and on the very first night gets woken up by a yelling match between some guy and his wife in the unit above. The client calls the agent all ticked off and, because you have placed the unreasonable expectation that the standard of care is to write up noises you hear from other units, the agent tells the client that you screwed up. Now you're the victim of a self-inflicted wound.

What if the client has unusually keen hearing that's much better than yours and you don't note anything that you think is unusual during the inspection. If the client moves in and then can't sleep because the guy upstairs stays up each night to watch the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson should you the inspector be blamed for not having X-ray vision? What if Mike's hearing is better than the average person, he reports unusual noise transmission and theorizes that the home hasn't been built to proper acoustical standards and then they bring out someone who cuts holes in the walls and ceilings and discovers that it's all been built to standard. Mike will have inflicted a grossly unnecessary wound upon himself.

Where do you stop when you start down that road? Are you going to report weird ethnic cooking odors from the neighbor's house - what if that neighbor isn't home and cooking at the time? Are you going to report a neighbor's house that's been painted what you consider a garish color - how would other inspectors who are color blind handle that if you make it part of the local standard of care? How about the window dispute a few years ago where some guy configured his windows to look like a hand giving someone the finger - are you supposed to report that? How about if a neighbor is a religious nut and has his or her property festooned with crucifixes and cherubs or crescents or pentagrams - should we report that when the client can clearly see it and has made an offer on the property anyway? How about if the neighbor has a car that's a piece of crap - should be report that? Should we go upstairs knock on the neighbor's door and say, "Hey, I want to come in and conduct a noise test to see whether you walking around up here is going to disturb my client in the future?"

All of that kind of crap is the stuff that the agent is charged with discussing with the client. If someone is moving from an apartment building to a condo or townhome they probably aren't going to give this a second thought - of someone is moving from a home to a condo situation after having lived in a home for 20 years the agent is probably going to point those things out to that person and that person certainly will have already considered them - we don't need to be doing it for them. In fact, if you've lived in your own home for years, that's probably why you noticed it but the client didn't comment on it. Jeez, people, get real!

I'm sorry if I'm lecturing but this is just too goofy for words - it's even more goofy than the idea that inspectors should be finding and reporting on all mold in a home.

People, home inspecting needs to be kept about the standard of care that's been practiced for the past half of a century and we should stop making up new imagined house inspection bogeymen.

ONE TEAM - ONE FIGHT!!!

Mike

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Well, I thought I was keeping it real. I thought I was in there to notice stuff other folks might not notice.

I get 2-3 customers every year that call back and say "how can I reduce the sound transmission from adjacent tenants units?" (paraphrased).

I don't bring it up as standard part of my inspection. If I hear a lot of noise during an inspection, I might say something like "how sensitive are you to neighbors noise?", and make an observation that there's no apparent soundproofing in the unit.

Again, that's just me. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don't depending on the situation.

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Mike, you can lecture if you want. And that was a humdinger. A lot of words.

However, sound is real and it is measurable. I don’t know why you insist that it isn’t. Even the code books consider it real enough to create a standard for testing. It’s not a poltergeist or mold. “Imagined.â€

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So, Mike.

What are you going to do in the case of a condo where nobody is home in surrounding units and all is quiet at the time of the inspection - just add another disclaimer? You see, it is like mold in that it's there at the time of the inspection, even if you don't realize it, and there's absolutely nothing you can do about it. Like mold, cigarette smoke, noisy kids next door, a dog barking next door, noisy television in the units above and below, guy who likes to crank up the bass and play rap music so loud it vibrates the floor, there are all things that might not present during the inspection but can present themselves after your client moves in that you couldn't possibly have predicted and have no way to measure.

Do what you want, it's your inspection; just be mindful of the fact that you could very well be raising unreasonable expectations in the mind of the client.

ONE TEAM - ONE FIGHT!!!

Mike

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So, Mike.

What are you going to do in the case of a condo where nobody is home in surrounding units and all is quiet at the time of the inspection - just add another disclaimer? You see, it is like mold in that it's there at the time of the inspection, even if you don't realize it, and there's absolutely nothing you can do about it. Like mold, cigarette smoke, noisy kids next door, a dog barking next door, noisy television in the units above and below, guy who likes to crank up the bass and play rap music so loud it vibrates the floor, there are all things that might not present during the inspection but can present themselves after your client moves in that you couldn't possibly have predicted and have no way to measure.

Do what you want, it's your inspection; just be mindful of the fact that you could very well be raising unreasonable expectations in the mind of the client.

ONE TEAM - ONE FIGHT!!!

Mike

I understand. And as always, thanks for your input.

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  • 10 months later...

I got a call to inspect an average house in an average neighborhood last spring. My client was an out of towner and she made the arrangements for the agent to meet me. The agent was very upset about the time I was available and kept trying to push "her" agent on the buyer. Finally the agent relented, but when she met me she said "you have 90 minutes, I have an appointment".

Anyway, skipping the ensuing banter, we came to terms and I inspected the house. Two hours in, a friggin freight train blew by so fast and so loud that it literally scared me. The train was going about 70 mph and it lasted a solid minute. The tracks were only 75 to 100 yards away but were obscured from sight by grade and undergrowth.

I interviewed the neighbors to find out how often the train ran through and it turns out that instead of being a spur line with light use as the agent had told the client, it was used everyday around 4pm and 10 pm.

I reported it. I reported to a different client that the safety lighting at her condo complex was right over her patio and explained that her patio would be daylighted 24/7.

Every time anyone pulls out any tool that takes them beyond a visual inspection they're exceeding the standards set forth by the States and the associations. I don't see any reason to not exceed the standards in regard to reporting noise if that noise seems objectionable.

Doing a walk-through with rose colored glasses in the middle of the day whilst chatting w/ an agent is entirely different than trying to drift off to sleep with Regis Philbin querying "is that your final answer"?

Noise isn't subjective, it's quantifiable and limits are set by all kinds of towns and villages and OSHA says a few words about it as well. Reporting noise is subjective... so is using a moisture meter.

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What are you going to do in the case of a condo where nobody is home in surrounding units and all is quiet at the time of the inspection - just add another disclaimer? You see, it is like mold in that it's there at the time of the inspection, even if you don't realize it, and there's absolutely nothing you can do about it. Like mold, cigarette smoke, noisy kids next door, a dog barking next door, noisy television in the units above and below, guy who likes to crank up the bass and play rap music so loud it vibrates the floor, there are all things that might not present during the inspection but can present themselves after your client moves in that you couldn't possibly have predicted and have no way to measure.

Do what you want, it's your inspection; just be mindful of the fact that you could very well be raising unreasonable expectations in the mind of the client.

Mike I don't often disagree with you but just because you won'talways be able to identify objectionable noise doesn't mean you shouldn't ( or should) report it.

Unreasonable expectations can be handled easily by starting the sentence, "It's not part of any inspection standard but I couldn't help but notice blah blah blah. I do it all the time: I didn't inspect the shed but it's racked and leaning west. Stuff like that.

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