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RISMEDIA, Feb. 12, 2008-Brian Verban knows quiet when he hears it … or not. He and wife Jamie grew up in small-town Illinois and in suburban Franklin, Wis., respectively. When they’re home, they want to live in their own noise, and when they want to talk with their neighbors, they want to do it face to face, not through a veil of drywall.

When they started shopping for a downtown Milwaukee condo, noise-keeping theirs in and others’ out-was a deal breaker.

Or, deal maker. The Verbans ended up at the Harborfront in Milwaukee’s Third Ward, in large part because the 12-inch thick concrete ceilings, sandwiched on each side with baffling materials, stifle sound in both directions.

The Verbans can have weekend parties, weekday music, or their home theater system on any time, and their neighbors are none the wiser.

Do their neighbors do the same? They don’t know, and that’s the point.

Condo buyers are developing an ear for “acoustic isolation,” as neighbor-containing noise is known among acoustical engineers. Downsizing empty nesters, especially, may want to trade the deadening quiet of single-family suburban houses for a livelier urban setting, but they also want the freedom to make their own noise whenever they want, be that from sound surround or a vacuum cleaner.

That presents a challenge for architects, developers and builders, say developers and acoustic consultants.

Quiet doesn’t happen by accident. It has to be engineered into the structure of a building, through vibration-quelling insulation, brackets, windows and construction techniques.

That can add cost, but noise control is becoming an amenity to shout about.

George Kamperman, a Wisconsin Dells, Wis.-based acoustical consultant, reports that he’s increasingly fielding inquiries from architects barraged with complaints that their designs ignored noise.

“The next time, they allow more money for sound control,” Kamperman says.

The Mandel Group has moved acoustic isolation to the top of its priority list, especially for condo developments intended for picky empty nesters, said chief operating officer Bob Monnat.

Now, the developer’s standard construction techniques for higher-end buildings include double-framed interior walls between units, with insulation sandwiched in the middle, and vibration-squelching brackets for pipes in bathrooms, kitchens and laundry rooms.

But for every technique that architects and builders add, a noisy development in consumer products seems to follow quickly, says Dennis Huckins, owner of Advantage Noise Control Inc., a Manitowoc, Wis., consulting firm.

He’s a fan of a European “vibration isolation” material called Sylomer to muffle noise between units, but adds that wall-mounted flat-screen televisions present a new, and tricky, challenge.

“They potentially emit structural-borne sound-sound that carries along the infrastructure of the building,” he says.

The Verbans say that all their high-tech entertainment gear hasn’t spilled into their neighbors’ units.

They’re so sold on the sound control in their condo, designed by local architect Peter Renner, that they’re planning to move into a bigger unit designed by his firm.

That, says Brian Verban, should ensure that they can enjoy the addition of their noisiest acquisition yet _ a baby.

About 10% of homeowner association residents don’t get along with their neighbors, according to a 2007 survey sponsored by the Community Association Institute.

Here are the top points of contention, by the percentage of respondents that have these issues with their neighbors in gated communities, co-ops and condominium associations:

Pets: 36%
Personal habits: 27%
Landscaping/yard issues: 15%
Lifestyle: 8%
Noise: 7%
Appearance of home: 2%
Other: 5%

George Kamperman, an acoustical engineer who runs Wisconsin Dells, Wis.-based Kamperman Associates Inc., and Bob Monnat of the Mandel Group suggest these tactics for sounding out a condo before you buy.

Examine the architectural plans for the building and ask the designer to explain to you aspects of its sound-baffling construction. Look for: concrete floors; insulation between the joists, both vertical and horizontal; and a “floating” ceiling, constructed so that the drywall is not screwed directly into the ceiling joists.

Consider the location of the unit in relation to noise-producers in the neighborhood, such as a school, major thoroughfare, bar or other business that could reasonably be expected to have noisy machinery or patrons.

Coordinate with the neighbors in the unit above, asking them to walk around the unit as they normally do, in both stocking feet and hard heels, on all floor surfaces. Ask them to turn on their major appliances, music systems and television or home theater, at the usual volume.

Ask the neighbors above to flush every toilet and fill and run their whirlpool tub.

Review the condo documents to see what bylaws control noise; for instance, are owners allowed to cut into walls to insert sound system speakers? Are residents required to set subwoofers and other music equipment on neoprene sound-deadening mats, or on mats set on stands that keep them off the floor? Are residents required to put sound deadening material around electrical boxes and supports that they might cut into the walls or ceilings?

If you want additional testing, hire an acoustical consultant. The National Council of Acoustical Consultants has a list of its members at www.ncac.com.

© 2008, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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