Your home is your castle. Right? At least until the inhabitants of the castle above you start stomping around on your ceiling. Now what?
You are going to have to deal with it sometime, so you might as well get after it. Here are few suggestions to help.
Stomping Noise – The Basics
There are 3 types of noise–Airborne Noise, Flanking Noise, Impact Noise (sometimes called Footfall Noise). Although you might get a little Flanking Noise through the walls, stomping noise will almost invariably be Impact Noise; the direct collision of your neighbor’s feet with her/his floor which also happens to be your ceiling.
Before building codes became a little stricter (and even since), many apartments were constructed without any kind of consideration for soundproofing. It is quite possible that the floor/ceiling above your head is an echo chamber made up of laminate flooring, plywood on floor joists, no insulation, and a layer of 1/2″ drywall. (Even when the laminate went down, probably very little thought was given to soundproofing.) Then someone turned it into a condominium, and people bought the things and were stuck with the inadequacies.
8 Ways to Deal With Upstairs Neighbor Stomping
Before deciding to soundproof your ceiling, try at least some of the less expensive, less intrusive options listed below.
1) Talk to the Stomper
Some people tend to be oblivious to the world around them. Your upstairs neighbor might be one of them. They may not realize the amount of noise that transfers to your place. And the solution could be as simple as convincing them to remove their shoes when at home.
One of the biblical rules I grew up with was ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’ In other words, give a little thought to how you would like to be approached and plan talking to your neighbor that way. (Heading upstairs at 2 AM foaming at the mouth with smoke coming out of your ears carrying a baseball bat will probably not work out well.) I obviously do not know either you or your neighbor, but here are a few general suggestions that should help.
- Choose a relaxed time. Weekends or early evenings are likely best. NOT after you have been putting up with stomping for an hour or two.
- Be as calm and as understanding as possible.
- Try to pinpoint the source of the noise. (Ranting at a 72 year old widow using a walker will not be a winning program.)
- Have a few stomping-reducing suggestions in mind before talking to the neighbor. Such as removing shoes, soft slippers, exercise mats (if exercising is the cause), carpet and underlayment, even a timing agreement (maybe keeping it down between 10 PM and 7 AM).
- Recording the noise or having a decibel meter reading c/w a noise comparison chart could be helpful. (Keep in mind that stomping is probably low frequency noise combined with vibration so your decibel readings may be relatively low. And not particularly convincing.)
- If at all possible, invite one of the neighbors into your home while his/her partner does whatever they do up there.
2) Offer to Help them Install Carpet with Underlayment
The best place to stop the noise is in the neighbor’s place. Almost any hard flooring such as laminate, hardwood, tile, linoleum is going to amplify footfall noise. Convincing your neighbor to spend money covering flooring that has nothing wrong with it (and may look great) could be a tough sell. If you show that you are willing to help her/him install it or even chip in a few dollars to help pay for it, you might be able to come to an agreement.
Keep in mind that wall to wall carpet may not be necessary–just an area rug on the high traffic areas. Go prepared with some suggestions like RugPadUSA or QuietWalk Plus that you can get by reading our article Best Soundproof Underlayment.
3) Get the Landlord/Condo Board Involved
Whether you are renting an apartment, basement suite, or own the condo you live in, there is invariably someone with a little more authority–landlord, caretaker, management firm, or condo board–that you can take your noise issue to. If you could not convince your neighbor to quiet down, it is possible that someone else may be able to get it done for you.
If you have reached this point in stomping neighbor negotiations, you probably realize that you are not going to make any friends anyway, so make sure you have the sound recordings and decibel readings before approaching any of these entities. Along with a summary of your meeting with the neighbor including any suggestions you made. Inviting landlords or board members into your place to hear the noise you are putting up with is always a good idea.
Although there are not many threats you can use on the neighbor, there are a couple you might consider trying on the landlord/condo board.
- Moving Out. You can suggest that you will have to move out of the place if the stomping problem is not fixed. (Note: This works better if they prefer you to the other person. Maybe not so well the other way around.)
- Good for the Goose–Good for the Gander. You can suggest that you can be just as disruptive as the stomper above you.
- Rent Payments. You can suggest that you will withhold rent or condo fees if the issue does not improve. (Again–this works best if you are better liked than the other person.)
As with neighbors, landlords and condo boards vary quite a bit. Some will be very helpful and accommodating, some will not care as long as both you and the neighbor pay fees or rent on time. Hopefully you are blessed with the former, and something positive will come of it.
4) Soundproof Your Ceiling
Depending on the type of soundproofing you choose, this could be a fairly pricy and time consuming project–specially if you need to do your whole apartment. Soundproofing your ceiling will require one, or more, of these soundproofing principles–adding mass, damping, absorption, decoupling.
Before embarking on a soundproofing project, it is advisable if not essential, to get written permission from the landlord or condo board. (If you can trick them into paying for all, or part, of the project–so much the better.) And be prepared to be frustrated. Quite often it takes a major selling job to get permission to spend your money to do major renovations.
Almost all serious soundproofing projects involve adding mass. Which means drywall. Which means tape and drywall mud. Which means it will take at least a week to complete. And whether you hire someone to do the work or you are going to make it a DIY project; plan to empty the room to get the best results.
Note: Even blowing cellulose insulation into the floor cavities involves patching drywall.
Soundproof the Ceiling with Cellulose Insulation
Installing cellulose into the joist cavities can improve the ceiling STC rating by 44 points. The biggest challenge may be finding a contractor who can do it properly. You need to cut at least one hole approximately 4″ x 4″ in each cavity space to allow hose access. The hose needs to be inserted all the way to the far end of the cavity, the air pressure needs to be turned down, and the hose withdrawn slowly to ensure complete filling of the space. Then the drywall needs to be patched, taped, and painted.
If you have a little aptitude, this is not a tough or expensive DIY project. It is a little time consuming, but can save you quite a bit of money. Generally, you can rent small blowers from wherever you buy your cellulose.
Drywall patching tip: Save the pieces of drywall you cut out, insert an 8″ long x 2″ wide piece of half inch plywood into each opening, screw it to the existing drywall, and screw the plug onto the plywood. Tape, mud, and paint as required.
Note: If your ceiling is textured, you will likely not get a perfect match of the finish on the patches.
Soundproof the Ceiling with Drywall
- Drywall & Green Glue. If your ceiling is smooth (non-textured), you can get some additional soundproofing by adding one layer of 5/8″ drywall to the existing with Green Glue sandwiched between layers. The drywall adds mass, and the Green Glue absorbs and dissipates sounds by turning soundwaves into small amounts of heat. Tape, mud, and paint.
- Drywall & Resilient Channel. For textured ceilings, you will have to use either resilient channel or isolation clips and hat channel to achieve a relatively level surface. (Unless you want to scrape the whole ceiling smooth.) Then you can attach 5/8″ drywall. Tape, mud, and paint as required. Other options include 2 layers of 5/8″ drywall with Green Glue sandwiched between them, or one layer of QuietRock or Certainteed drywall, which have a layer of Viscoelastic Sound Absorbing Polymer between layers of gypsum. Green Glue does not work on a textured ceiling. (It must be used between 2 hard smooth surfaces.)
If you really want to quiet the stomping, you can combine either drywall method with the cellulose to get added mass, decoupling, absorption, and damping.
Note #1: For either of these options you will have to get electrical box extensions to allow light fixtures to be mounted properly.
Note #2: Because I hate taping drywall corners, I would fill the gap between new drywall on the ceiling and the drywall on the walls with acoustic caulking, then install crown molding on the wall against the ceiling to cover the caulking. (Acoustic caulking is not paintable and never dries which is why it is a great sound barrier.)
For more information on soundproofing your ceiling please see our articles:
5) Block Out the Noise
If the stomping is intermittent, some of the following ideas might be enough to make things bearable.
Ear PlugsMack’s Ultra Soft Earplugs can reduce most noise by up to 33 decibels, which means that if your stomper is coming in at 85 decibels–about the noise made by a passing diesel truck–the earplugs can lower the the noise to 52 decibels–about the sound your refrigerator makes. These earplugs are definitely worth trying before getting into more costly soundproofing.
Note: Keep in mind that the earplugs will not stop vibrations.
White Noise Machines
White noise machines are designed to cancel incoming sounds. Depending on model and style, they will make fan noises or nature noises or you can choose from either. The Lectrofan is an inexpensive white noise machine that offers the versatility of 10 fan sounds and 10 other sounds. For much more information on white noise machines including more models and choices, please see our article The Best White Noise Machine for an Office of 2022.
Cooling fans can also act as white noise machines with the Honeywell HYF290B Tower Fan having a very quiet white noise setting. For more information on quiet fans and fans doubling as white noise machines please see our article The Quietest Fans for Sleeping of 2022.
Headphones and Sleeping Earmuffs
Some people cannot, or do not want, to sleep with either earplugs or fans blowing in the bedroom. If this is you, give some consideration to using sleeping earmuff with, or without headphones. Musicozy Bluetooth Enabled Sleeping Headphones are one of several options you will find in our article Best Noise Cancelling Ear Muffs for Sleeping of 2022 along with timely information about types, uses, and styles.
Sleep earmuffs–with or without embedded speakers–will likely not do anything about reducing stomping vibrations, but it may be that if you can eliminate the noise, a little vibration may not be a problem.
6) Call the Police
Although calling the authorities is always an option, I would leave it as a last resort. I think it is a one-shot deal. You don’t want to be the boy who cried ‘wolf’–threatening but not following through. And I think calling the cops more than once may get you the “It’s just him/her again.” response.
In my opinion, you want the best bang for your buck. So, maybe wait for the giant party upstairs. It would be a good idea to have a decibel meter and a tape recorder to collect proof. (Note: Your recordings and/or readings will not be admissible in court, but anything the police record is.)
Also, before picking up the phone, it would be a good idea to check your local bylaws. You want to make sure you are on solid legal ground before calling. Otherwise there is a chance of being blown off and ignored in the future. There may, or may not, be one or more of the following bylaws–among others–that you need to know about.
- Types of Noise Allowed. Loud music may be classed differently than exercising.
- Times of Noise Allowed. There may be a blanket ‘No Noise’ time or it may vary by type of noise, location of noise, or how annoying the noise maker has been in the past.
- Location of Noise. Inside may vary from outside.
Note: I am sure you can record on your phone. I can’t, so I don’t want to talk about it.
7) Fight Fire with Fire (Get Even)
At some point, and at some time after you have tried to solve the problem in a reasonable manner, it may become apparent that sweet reason is not going to work. The neighbor, neighbor’s spouse, kids, pets, whatever seem to have no interest in even trying a little bit, to make your life quieter. So you might as well let them live with some of their own medicine. Some people will react positively to this disturbance of their space. Having their peace disrupted–specially at odd hours–may just be enough to help them see reason.
There is a product called the Strike Back Noise Deadener that might just be what you need. It is an electric thumper that is attached to a pole and placed against the ceiling. Even comes with its own remote and timer, allowing you to set it to operate at whatever times and intervals you think will be most annoying.
There is also the old cartoon/comedy routine of banging on the ceiling with a broom stick. This may get the neighbor’s attention but banging holes in the drywall is not a great plan. You can also turn up the music, with the speakers aimed at the ceiling. Use as much bass as possible. It will pass through the ceiling/floor easily.
Note: Be prepared for an escalation of your noise wars. Some types of people will consider your noise making a challenge. For more detailed descriptions of noise making types of people, and more ‘Fire with Fire’ suggestions please see our article How to Get Revenge on Noisy Neighbors.
8) The Geographical Cure – Move Out
Although moving is about as much fun as hemorrhoids, you may eventually have to give it some consideration. Deciding to move is usually the last option and depends on your noise tolerance, or your spouse’s noise tolerance, whether there is a baby in your home, finances, location, work schedule, and probably a host of other considerations.
Before signing a lease or purchase contract on a new place, do as much investigating as possible. Although it is virtually impossible to be totally certain of everything, you do not want the aggravation of moving–only to find things are as bad, or worse, in the new home.