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cFern

@brownsteingroup.com

Neighbor Noise through Vent Return

Click for full size
Hi Everyone-

I've searched through the forum quite a bit trying to find something that closely resembles my issue. However, perhaps due to my own topical ignorance or the uniqueness of the issue I haven't pinpointed it...

As for the issue: I bought a 3 story townhome with basement 2 years ago that was part of a contiguous development of 9 homes on a city block. Each unit is a mirror of its neighbor, with the heating/cooling units in the basement.

On the third floor of each home is a master bedroom that has an intake vent (picture attached). Considering the units are mirrored, each return is going to be lined up, or nearly so. The problem is, while in my master bedroom I can sometimes hear my neighbor that has the return vent adjacent to mine. Now, I'm aware of and have experiences throughout the house with a degree of sound traveling between units. I am OK with this. However, when I hear my neighbor in the master bedroom I can hear the conversation word for word at normal or even below normal speaking volumes. This isn't yelling or even speaking loudly/excitedly, and it isn't muffled at all. We don't share units, they're all single standing homes separated by double walls, firewall, insulation or whatever else code requires.

I've managed to get the builder back in to verify the noise is happening but there is a certain degree of shrugging and an 'oh well' attitude. While I have access to him and the home warranty I want to get it fixed but am unsure what to do... I'm hoping some of the combined expertise on this forum can suggest or even identify the issue and solutions so the builder can't simply rely on my ignorance when he says 'there is not a solution'. Whether that is shifting the return's position or moving the entire return vent between a different set of studs... I'm clearly out of my league in solutions.

If it helps at all, my neighbor is aware and would also like it to be fixed for obvious reasons. So access to his unit and vent is possible.

robbin
Premium,MVM
join:2000-09-21
Leander, TX
kudos:1

Looks to me like I can see a stud through your grill. That would mean there is no duct and the wall cavity is being used as a return air. Take the grill off and post another pic. Might try to take some pics down through the wall also. Not sure what code requires for this type of application but if your unit is using the wall cavity for a return air, then that is just really cheap at least and I would question the adherence to code.



brian
Premium
join:2002-05-02
Lake Forest, CA
reply to cFern

Are the owners/residents of the other 7 units also having the same problem with their shared wall? You might get better results if all 9 of you go to builder with the same complaint.



cdru
Go Colts
Premium,MVM
join:2003-05-14
Fort Wayne, IN
kudos:7
reply to robbin

said by robbin:

Not sure what code requires for this type of application but if your unit is using the wall cavity for a return air, then that is just really cheap at least and I would question the adherence to code.

All 3 houses that I have lived in have used a wall of an inside wall or joist cavity as the cold air return. Houses ranged from 34 to 50 years of age or so.


jack b
Gone Fishing
Premium,MVM
join:2000-09-08
Cape Cod
kudos:1
reply to cFern

I would think there would be a building requirement for a cinderblock firewall between adjoining living space, separating the units. This does not appear to be the case based on your photo, especially considering the fact you can easily hear "conversation" and whatnot from the other side.

If the builder is simply shrugging it off, I would call the city building inspector to get an opinion.
--
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cFern

@comcast.net

Click for full size
Click for full size
I've asked the other neighbors of the other 7 units and none of them have complained about any type of noise issues.

I've attached a few more images.

robbin
Premium,MVM
join:2000-09-21
Leander, TX
kudos:1
reply to cdru

said by cdru:

Houses ranged from 34 to 50 years of age or so.

I would expect it in a house of that age, but not a new one.


ArgMeMatey

join:2001-08-09
Milwaukee, WI
kudos:2
Reviews:
·voip.ms
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reply to jack b

said by jack b:

I would think there would be a building requirement for a cinderblock firewall between adjoining living space, separating the units. This does not appear to be the case based on your photo, especially considering the fact you can easily hear "conversation" and whatnot from the other side.

If the builder is simply shrugging it off, I would call the city building inspector to get an opinion.

Check with local authorities on firewall specifications.

In highrises where I have worked, built in the 1970s, the units had two layers of 5/8 sheetrock on the metal studwalls separating them from the adjacent units. So that's four sheets of 5/8 sheetrock, 2.5 inches, plus an insulated stud cavity between units. However there were receptacles and phone jacks in these walls, albeit in metal boxes, but not caulked or sealed. I believe now such receptacles in firewalls must be firestopped, firecaulked, whatever. But requirements for low-rise buildings are probably less stringent.

Also I'm curious whether the neighbor's return air would be directly on the other side of the wall that says "PAN", or in adjacent stud cavities in the same linear plane. If it's in the adjacent cavities, that means you have 64 linear inches of studwall that are not sound insulated. What is the wall that says "PAN" made of?
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LazMan
Premium
join:2003-03-26
canada
reply to cFern

Using the stud cavity as a return is perfectly legal, and exceptionally common in Canada... Ditto for the cardboard 'pan' material - it's used to close off joist or stud spaces for use as air ducts.

As for the firewall; double layer 1/2" is typical in residential use; 5/8" type X is used in commercial/institutional applications. One side of the double wall should be insulated, for sound transmission...

If I had to guess, the insulation is the part missing... If the air returns line up; the sound would transfer easily...

Putting filter material (like a cut-to-fit air filter) behind the return grate would help; but don't know if it would be enough - likely not, I'm afraid to say...



Cho Baka
Premium,MVM
join:2000-11-23
there
kudos:2

Yes, but it seems exceptionally shortsighted to use a shared wall (a firewall??) for such a purpose.

I would take strong exception to this in a house I was purchasing.
--
The talented hawk speaks French.


robbin
Premium,MVM
join:2000-09-21
Leander, TX
kudos:1
reply to cFern

said by cFern :

I've attached a few more images.

What happens at the top on the right end of the first pic? Almost looks like a gap there.


cFern

@comcast.net

There is a bit of a gap there, behind the stud b/t it and the sheetrock. It appears as though, with a little inspection, there isn't any insulation above the opening either.

Assuming the returns are adjacent to each other, would shifting the top half of the return to the right help? Is having a bend or corners in a return such as this even permissible? At the very least moving them away from each other may... help, no?

Apologies if I appear to be grasping. I'm doing my best to come up with a solution, easy, hard or in between.


robbin
Premium,MVM
join:2000-09-21
Leander, TX
kudos:1

I don't see how you can shift anything as studs are in the way. That return goes down how far -- is this first or second floor? Where is the HVAC? And why is there a gap in your return air duct? Something is not right here.



cFern

@comcast.net

Its the third floor and the HVAC is in the basement, though the return doesn't appear to be lined up on any of the floors – not sure that they should be or you were asking.

The gap looks more like general laziness than anything else, as if they didn't want to cut the cardboard bit to fit around the stud. I don't really know much beyond that, sorry. Hopefully someone still has some thoughts or suggestions.


MaynardKrebs
Heave Steve, for the good of the country
Premium
join:2009-06-17
kudos:4
reply to cFern

Tell your neighbor to break open his interior wall and soundproof *his* duct.


MaynardKrebs
Heave Steve, for the good of the country
Premium
join:2009-06-17
kudos:4

1 recommendation

reply to cFern

Go to Home Depot and 'rent' one of these Milwaukee snake cameras
»www.milwaukeetool.com/instrument···/2311-21

Then punch a few holes in the cardboard duct pan material (top and sides) and stick the camera through the holes and take some pictures - also looking down too. Then consult with the local building inspector if what you see doesn't meet code (ie. insulation, etc...). Then arrange for a meeting at your premises with the builder & the inspector....and maybe your lawyer.

It isn't uncommon for inspectors to NOT inspect all homes in a development. They look at a random sample, and if they're ok then they assume that the rest will be as well. Because insulators are often separate subcontractors from drywallers, missing insulation isn't flagged by drywallers because they get paid either by the job or Sq. ft. & time is money - so they don't want to wait for anything to get fixed that would slow them down.



StillLearn
Premium
join:2002-03-21
Streamwood, IL
Reviews:
·AT&T Midwest
reply to cFern

Viewing your latest pictures, is the neighbor's wall what we are looking at? Are there resistant clips that keeps each sheet of drywall from contacting the stud directly? If so, I would expect that you and your neighbor are mixing your cold air returns. If you have to deal with this yourself, I would look into soundproofing techniques.

If you were to get a warranty to pay for this, shoddy as it is, I suspect you would have to find that it did not meet code. I would check with the local building department. This is a big deal. I would consider moving.


MaynardKrebs
Heave Steve, for the good of the country
Premium
join:2009-06-17
kudos:4

said by StillLearn:

Viewing your latest pictures, is the neighbor's wall what we are looking at? Are there resistant clips that keeps each sheet of drywall from contacting the stud directly?

It looks as though it might be 2x4 studs staggered on a 2x6 top/bottom plate. This is commonly used on interior walls within the SAME home for sound attenuation, or on exterior walls as a way to thermally-break the studs from the outside - but I've NEVER seen anything like this in a fire block common wall between adjoining dwellings (unless there some really stupid building code that I'm not aware of).


LazMan
Premium
join:2003-03-26
canada

2x6 top and bottom plates, with 2x4 studs are very common as dividing walls in town houses...

I had one that was built in '99 that was that way; and looked at one under construction in '05 that was the same. As long as 5/8's rated drywall is used on one side, it counts as a firewall... Insulation knocks the sound down, although doesn't completely prevent transmission.



Warzau
Premium
join:2000-10-26
Naperville, IL
kudos:1

I used to live in one of the best town homes ever. I swear I couldn't hear my neighbors at ALL. Shoot the trains next to us barely a whimper. The only time I heard the neighbor was when their newborn was crying and that was barely audible. IIRC they had the staggered studs and 5/8 on both sides and to boot insulation between the walls. The HOA was great something that isn't true many places. I miss that place



Bubba
GIT-R-DONE
Premium,MVM
join:2002-08-19
St. Andrews
reply to cFern

If the builder is willing, I would ask him/her to make a return opening at floor level and close off the upper return. That might soften the neighbors sound enough to be much less noticeable