Robert Frost’s “Mending Wall” includes the famous line that good fences make good neighbors. Boundaries are crucial for close neighbors, especially in an apartment.
Respecting your neighbor’s quiet can mean the difference between peace and feuds.
If you want to avoid fines and complaints, you need to avoid being the loud neighbor.
But how loud is too loud in an apartment?
How Loud Is Too Loud in An Apartment?
If you receive a noise complaint from your landlord or the police visit your apartment, that means you’re too loud.
But, besides those striking signs, there’s no single answer.
What defines “too loud” will vary depending on location.
For example, if you live in a quiet area, even a little bit of loud music can create a lot of issues, and in case you live close to a busy street, even your full volume speakers may be alright.
And it also depends on the time of the day. If you’re having a mid-night party when everyone is sleeping, loud music is an issue, but it may go unnoticed during the day.
It can also be subjective.
For example, your lease or even your neighbors might have differing opinions about how loud is too loud in an apartment.
Also read: 9 Tips to Find a Quiet Apartment
Noise Control Act – What does the Law Say?
The US Noise Control Act of 1972 established a national policy about noise emission standards.
The purpose was to declare that Congress had a responsibility to promote protections for the American people. Inadequately controlled noise was a danger to public health and welfare.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t outline specific guidelines. It’s more about approving the need for more research rather than offering solutions.
Noise Levels by Location
Your neighborhood’s allowable noise level will depend on your area or county.
There’s an exhaustive list of noise ordinances by city and state available at Noise Pollution Clearinghouse.
Many communities copy similar rules. Still, reading through your state, city, or community guidelines is the best first step.
For example, in Birmingham, noise ordinance limits “any noise which, because of its volume level, duration, and character, either annoys, disturbs, injures, or endangers the comfort, health, peace, or safety of reasonable persons of ordinary sensibilities.”
Los Angeles includes a chart of allowed decibels by zones, where two zones have the same allowance, day and night, of 65 dBA while others limit to 50 dBA during the day.
New Orleans allows 60-70 dBA during the day and 55-60 dBA at night for residential and public spaces. The ordinance defines day hours as 7 am to 10 pm.
Some ordinances are more straightforward than others. But, generally, the daytime sound level is acceptable at 70 dBA or lower, while nighttime sounds should be less than 60 dBA.
If you live in an area with more restrictive limits, it’s better to know before you get too loud.
Knowing the Decibels would Help
For those of us who have long-forgotten our school lessons about decibels, 60 dB is everyday conversation, 85 is a food blender, and a rock concert might be 120 dB.
You might have noticed that sometimes decibels are marked with dB or dBA.
The older dB scale is based solely on sound intensity. A-weighted decibels or dBA describe how the human ear responds to sound intensity.
For example, exposure to an 85 dBA sound for at least 8 hours will likely damage your hearing. Further up the scale, exposure to 110 dBA sound can damage your hearing after 2 minutes.
It’s unlikely your neighbors will repeatedly expose you and other neighbors to higher-range dBA sounds. If it’s painful for them, they probably won’t try to repeat the sound.
However, there’s more room for debate when it comes to the 60-70 dBA range. Noises 70 dB and up can be irritating and cause hearing loss with prolonged exposure.
For example, a dishwasher or washing machine generally hits the 70 dB mark. Yet, when run during an agreeable time of day, it’s not unreasonably loud.
Some apartment dwellers might consider specific household equipment, such as food processors and kitchen appliances, too loud.
Loud Is Subjective
Unless your neighbors have taken advantage of a sound meter, it’s unlikely that it’s the exact decibel that they consider loud. Instead, the level you find irritating is subjective.
While noise level is a contributing factor, annoyance is more often about repetitive noises, tone, or timing. For example, you might be a dog-lover, but no one likes incessant barking after midnight.
The best course of action is to be on good terms with your neighbors. You might not borrow a cup of sugar regularly, but neighbors should be open to compromise.
For example, your neighbor might ask you to limit your guitar practice from 9 am to 7 pm. If your neighbor has excitable kids, you might request quiet until 8 am.
Whatever compromises or bargains are necessary, it’s better to establish clear rules. The last thing any apartment dweller wants is to enter a noise war with a neighbor.
Review Your Lease
No one enjoys reading the fine print, but somewhere in your lease, you might find your landlord’s answer to how loud is too loud.
If there are no details about volume or quiet hours, the rules default to your location. Review the fine print of your municipality’s ordinances and laws.
It’s also wise to discuss apartment sound before you move in. You might not get an exact answer, but it might give you a better idea of what to expect.
Sound meters measure sound levels to help you better understand the noise you or your neighbors are causing.
It can be wise to use a sound meter before making a formal noise complaint. It’s also handy to check your noise levels to avoid complaints against you.
You can buy devices that measure sound, or you can download smartphone apps. Costs will vary, but if you’re only using it to check that you’re following sound bylaws, you can rely on a free phone app.
It can also be a bit of a fun experiment. For example, have you noticed that you need to turn up the volume at certain times of the day?
Audiologists refer to this phenomenon as listening fatigue.
We use more than our ears for hearing. We also process what we hear, which requires brainpower and energy.
People who experience hearing loss often need to focus more of their cognitive power on hearing, meaning you’re working harder to process information.
Throughout the day, noise exposure can tire out your hearing. It’s not that your ears or that your hearing ability is exhausted. The problem is that your brain is having more trouble understanding it.
When you overtax your brain, you might end up turning the volume up more than you usually would. In other words, you might be disturbing your neighbors without realizing it.
Soundproofing your apartment can make a significant difference if you’re concerned about being too loud.
If you’d like to avoid receiving a noise complaint or filing one yourself, try some soundproofing hacks first. Reducing noise might be as simple as adding rugs, fabric wall decoration, bookshelves, plants, or even improving your door’s weatherstripping.
If your landlord allows it and you have the budget, you might invest in other methods. Sometimes though, even a little bit helps.
Another popular idea is sound-absorbing foam. You should know that the acoustic foam that musicians and Youtubers hang on their walls doesn’t stop sound from escaping. It prevents echoing.
It won’t block sound, but it will make it easier for you to hear. You won’t need to raise the volume as much.
Suppose you know you want to enjoy evening movies and the occasional jam session. In that case, sound-absorbing foam is a cheaper option that you can add to an apartment.
Anything that completely blocks sounds or significantly limits the transfer of sound will cost more. Your landlord is also unlikely to approve the heavy-duty installation.
In case you’re planning to play drums or have jam sessions with your buddies (or anything else that includes loud sounds/noise), it would be a good idea to soundproof a room and use it
Penalties for Being Loud
What happens if you or your neighbor is too loud? Well, it depends on the ordinances in your area and your lease agreement.
It’s extremely unlikely landlords will evict noisy neighbors. Most landlords and neighbors understand that sharing walls means sharing some noise.
Reasonable landlords are more likely to give you a warning if they receive a noise complaint. It’s also possible a neighbor will approach you first before making an official complaint.
For most good neighbors, a warning is enough. After that, neighbors can resolve the noise or make compromises.
A neighbor might not be aware of the noises escaping their apartment. However, mentioning the issue can often solve the problem or at least reduce the frequency.
But what happens if your neighbors call in a noise complaint to the police?
If the noise is occurring late at night or disturbing enough, some loud noises might result in fines or other penalties.
The penalty will vary depending on the ordinances of your location.
For example, New Orleans considers noise violations a misdemeanor. After conviction, noise violators can be fined or imprisoned according to state law.
Each noise violation is a separate offense, meaning noise violations can add up.
Low noise levels make good neighbors, so it’s always better to be cautious. However, the answer to how loud is too loud is often related to the level your neighbors will tolerate.
Review ordinances and your lease to better understand the tolerance for noise in your apartment.
Good luck negotiating sound and sharing walls with your good neighbors.
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