Noise Reduction in Flooring Using Underlayment or Underpad Attached to Flooring in Condos
Noise is a contentious issue in most, if not all, multi-unit residences. It is such a critical issue that owners of multi-unit homes like condos must adhere to strata bylaws requiring the use of underlayment or underpad for reducing sound transmission to units below. Here are some answers to common FAQs about underlay;
Which underlay/underpad should I use in my building?
Every strata has different regulations governing the kind of flooring and underlay that is allowed. In some cases, council approval is required before flooring is installed. As a result, check if you need approval first before buying flooring. Your flooring provider should offer flooring specs as well as documented test results if your strata needs approval before installation. You should avail this information to get approval from your strata council.
What does STC and IIC underlay rating mean?
Your strata requires underlayment with a specific STC and IIC rating. In case you are wondering what that means; STC or Sound Transmission Class rates sound traveling through floor/ceiling assembly (from an upper to lower living area). STC rating is used to define airborne noise such as music and voices.
IIC or Impact Isolation Class defines impact noise such as moving furniture, impact noise, objects dropping on the floor, etc. Both STC and IIC tests are done in sound test labs. Underlayment for condominiums among other property like hotels, office buildings, hospitals, etc. must meet certain specifications.
Sound control underlayment for insulating against impact or airborne noise is made to absorb as well as to attenuate sound generated by dropped objects, footsteps, music, etc. Sound control standards are necessary to determine acceptable noise standards through common floors and walls within dwellings. The standards are used to determine product quality.
A higher number rating symbolizes better sound suppression. In simpler terms, rooms are bound to be quieter as the rating no. increases. Luxury properties adhere to the Universal Building Code or International Building Code when determining control standards, although different jurisdictions have different rating requirements.
Important: The bare minimum IIC rating still results in many impact sound complaints on floor-ceiling structures. What’s more: STC and IIC tests aren’t on individual flooring assembly components but for the entire floor/ceiling structure. Test reports also issue detailed descriptions of floor/ceiling assemblies used in individual tests. For engineered hardwood flooring installations, for instance, test results are dependent on underlayment as well as the material/s used to construct the building.
You should buy flooring from manufacturers who have their flooring tested in laboratories as per ASTM international standards for determining STC & IIC rating.
Will acoustic underlay eliminate all noise transmissions to my neighbors below?
No. Acoustic underlay, regardless of the STC and IIC rating, only reduces noise transfer but can’t eliminate noise completely. The effectiveness of underlayment to reduce noise depends on several factors, including building construction and lifestyle factors. If your neighbor above you has underlayment but leads a noisy lifestyle, there is a high probability that you will hear them. If they have active kids, walk in high heels/heavy shoes, or they are in the habit of dropping things, such noise can't be eliminated even if they have acoustic underlay.
Important: Settings in underlay lab tests can differ from those in subfloor and ceiling construction. However, most underlay testing is done on concrete slabs. STC and IIC ratings increase as the concrete slab becomes thicker or when there is a suspended or drop ceiling beneath. You should ask for testing results that specify the ceiling and subfloor assembly used to conduct lab tests.
STC and IIC rating decreases for buildings featuring plywood substrates and wooden frames since such materials aren’t good sound barriers. If you lack acoustic concrete topping or a concrete subfloor in between floors, you should consider additional sound barriers.
What else can you do to reduce flooring noise?
Besides getting and installing flooring with an underpad or underlayment and ensuring the flooring meets the required rating standards, you can take other measures such as laying carpet or area rugs. Thicker carpets or area rugs are better for dissipating impact energy and getting rid of impact noise before it enters the flooring as noise. Thick carpeting is very effective in reducing impact noise significantly. However, it can’t reduce airborne sounds such as stereo, TV, or voice sounds if such noise is part of the issue.
You can also add resilient underlayment materials such as a rubber mat in a high-traffic area. Such underlayment is heavier than cork or foam, resulting in added soundproofing benefits. Damping compound such as glue applied directly onto existing subfloor can also go a long way. This remedy works perfectly if the subfloor isn’t massive or thick.
It is worth noting that a damping compound should be in-between two stiff surfaces; otherwise, it won't be effective in soundproofing. You should, therefore, consider placing a rigid layer above, such as cement board. If thickness isn't an issue, you can add some mass to boost sound isolation using thick fiberboard among other materials.
Your flooring choice also matters. Some floors produce more noise than others with/without underlayment. You should familiarize yourself about noise levels produced by different floors before making a purchasing decision. Proper installation is also crucial. For instance, filling gaps on flooring edges using acoustic sealant helps to reduce sound energy when the flooring expands. This, in turn, reduces noise transmitted through walls.
Is a nail down installation recommended with acoustic underlay?
NO. Sound can travel through nails eliminating the sound reduction benefits of underlay.
What type of underlay do you recommend?
We recommend using any flooring underlay from reputable flooring sellers in your area. Flooring from reputable sellers meets STC and IIC ratings that meet most strata council requirements on flooring and acoustic underlay/underpad. The flooring also comes with full testing data on request from a reputable 3rd party lab. Furthermore, tests are availed with respect to specific subfloor and ceiling assemblies giving flooring buyers an accurate rating.
More information and resources:
Informative thoughts from BKL (Who is BKL? “an independent consulting firm that has worked exclusively in the field of acoustical engineering since 1966. Based in North Vancouver, British Columbia.”)
Click for article: BKL Footstep Impact Noise in Multi Family Dwellings
quote from article on noise involving flooring / Strata councils / Metro Vancouver:
It has been our experience that floor covering disputes have been a source of major expense and aggravation to both owners and Strata Corporations, incurred both as legal fees and as consultant fees. These charges can rapidly run into the tens of thousands of dollars. Accordingly, it is proposed that Strata Councils, concerned about noise impact issues, consider adoption of the following by-laws:
Possible Strata By-law Amendments
“1. Floor coverings in the interior of any strata lot shall not be replaced with less resilient coverings than the pre-existing coverings without the prior written consent of the Strata Council. For the purpose of this clause ceramic tile, marble or the like shall be considered less resilient than vinyl tile, hardwood flooring or the like which shall be considered less resilient than carpeting, carpeting & underpad, or the like.
2a. Where hard floor coverings are permitted, and where they are located in a Strata lot that is above another strata lot, the floor coverings must be installed using a resilient underlay which has a laboratory tested rating of Impact Insulation Class (IIC) of 58 or higher when tested on a similar floor structure.
2b. The floor covering must ‘float’ on the isolated underlay with no fasteners or other bridging through to the structure. ”
We recommend that Strata Councils seek legal advice on the appropriate wording for the above by-laws to suit their specific circumstances.
FROM OUR EXPERIENCE, IIC RATINGS OF LESS THAN 60 ARE OFTEN RATED AS UNACCEPTABLE. IIC 60-70 ARE OFTEN RATED AS MARGINAL AND IIC GREATER THAN 70 ARE REQUIRED TO ENSURE THAT THE FLOOR SYSTEM WILL BE RATED AS ACCEPTABLE.
From the government of British Columbia:
Strata Bylaws and Rules Explained
All strata corporations must have bylaws and may have rules. Sections may also have bylaws and rules for some matters. Bylaws and rules apply to owners, tenants and people living with or visiting owners and tenants. The strata council (or section executive) is responsible for enforcing bylaws and rules.
from BC gov website on strat housing and BC bylaws, click here for link
What is a strata and who lives in a strata in Great Vancouver / BC region?
Living in a Strata
Strata living is a popular choice in B.C. In fact more than 1.5 million people live in stratas in B.C. Living in strata housing has unique roles and responsibilities; it is not the same as renting an apartment or owning a home which is not part of a strata corporation.
Strata housing is often referred to as condos or condominiums. However, strata housing not only includes apartment-style condominiums but can also include: duplexes, townhouses, fractional vacation properties, even single family homes in bare land strata corporations (“strata subdivisions”).
There are many different kinds of strata developments including industrial, commercial, residential, bare land or a combination called mixed-use.
City of Vancouver Noise control manual - below is a paragraph pulled straight from the report:
B.9 Recommended Indoor Noise Levels - CMHC
The levels of traffic noise found to be acceptable within residences will vary form person to person depending on their nature and lifestyle. However, the noise levels found to be generally acceptable and to prevent any significant interference with essential activities (speech and sleep) have been defined by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (Reference B-3) and are widely used as guidelines in Canada. The CMHC’s target noise levels for various indoor spaces – expressed in terms of the 24-hour Equivalent Sound Level1, or Leq(24) – are as follows:
Bedrooms 35 dBA
Living, dining and recreation rooms 40 dBA
Kitchens, bathrooms, hallways, utility rooms 45 dBA
Outdoor Recreation areas 55 dBA
2.3 What effects can noise have on us?
At the levels and for the durations that most of us are exposed to unwanted sound in our homes or in the community, noise can have the following general types of negative effects: it can interfere with essential/important activities, it can cause annoyance/fear, or it can do both. The thresholds for interference with activities like speech and sleep are fairly well known and have been used to establish guidelines for acceptable levels of noise in residential areas such as the widely referenced 24-hour average noise level of 55 dBA established for road traffic noise by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, or CMHC (Reference 2). Intrusive noise at 55 to 60 dBA can begin to interfere with normal outdoor speech at a separation of 1 to 2 m. Speech interference can begin to occur at much lower levels (35 to 45 dBA) in classroom and group situations. The level at which noise will begin to disrupt sleep depends on how deeply one is sleeping (sleep stage) but can be as low as 30 to 35 dBA for sustained noise. Quite low levels of intrusive noise can also delay our falling asleep. Much louder noises are required to arouse people from the deepest sleep stages. While many sleepers appear to habituate or “get used to” familiar nighttime noises and are no longer regularly aroused or wakened by them, the body still reacts to such noises in sub-conscious ways which impair sleep quality and deprive the body of needed rest.
It is more difficult to define a noise level threshold below which people will not be annoyed by noise. Annoyance due to intrusive noise, and the stress and aggravation that often accompanies it, are largely personal, subjective responses. Whether a particular noise is found annoying depends on the listener, their state of mind and health and the activity they are engaged in. Sensitivity to annoyance by noise varies greatly from person to person. Some are driven to distraction by sounds that others can barely hear and pay no notice to. Others live and work in very noisy environments with no apparent concern. Some noises can cause annoyance even at levels not much above the threshold of hearing, particularly if they have undesirable characteristics such as tonality (e.g. hot tub or heat pump hum) or impulses (footsteps, or hammering), carry unwanted information (speech or music) or if past experience has caused the listener to become “sensitized” to the noise.
Because of the many other physical and social factors involved, it has proven difficult for investigators to prove that prolonged exposure to excessive noise in the community or workplace is directly related to negative health effects other than hearing loss. However, the World Health Organization (Reference 3) considers noise to be an “unspecific stressor” which stimulates body systems, and, along with other environmental and lifestyle factors, can have significant temporary and permanent effects on overall human health.
Acoustical Society of America www.asa.aip.org
Canadian Acoustical Association www.caa-aca.ca
Health Canada, Consumer and Clinical Radiation Protection, Healthy Environments and Consumer Safety Branch, 775 Brookfield Rd., 6301B, Ottawa, Ontario, K1A 1C1, www.hc- sc.gc.ca/hecs-sesc/hecs/
Institute of Noise Control Engineering (INCE) www.inceusa.org,
Institute for Research in Construction, National Research Council, C http://irc.nrc- cnrc.gc.ca,
National Hearing Conservation Association www.hearingconservation.org,
National Council of Acoustical Consultants www.ncac.com,
Noise & Acoustics www.quiet.uk,
Noise Pollution Clearing House www.nonoise.org,
Right to Quiet Society www.quiet.org,
From The City of Vancouver Noise Control manual. Great information and companies to explore to help solve your various noise control related issues. Again, the link to the full report is: https://vancouver.ca/files/cov/noise-control-manual.pdf
Noise Control Products and Materials
General Noise and Vibration Control Material and Systems Suppliers
Vibra-Sonic Control Ltd., Burnaby, Phone, 604 294-9495,Western Noise Control, Edmonton, Phone; 1-800 661-7241,Benton & Overbury Ltd., North Vancouver, Delta, Surrey,
H.L. Blachford Ltd., Mississauga, Ontario, Phone; (905) 823-3200.
Hearing Protection Devises (HPD’s) – Ear Muffs and Plugs
most building supply stores,
industrial and safety supply stores (Acklands-Grainger Inc., Fleck Bros.),
contact Workers Compensation Board for lists of HPD’s and information on use,NIOSH Compendium of Hearing Protection Devices www.cdc.gov/niosh/95-105.html
Sound Absorption/Insulation Materials
Fibreglass or mineral fibre batts and semi-rigid panels:
most building supply stores,
speciality building supply stores (Winroc Corp., Richmond, Phone; 604-430-1463)industrial supply stores (Benton & Overbury Ltd. Steels Industrial Products Ltd.),
Installation of Loose fill (blow-in) insulations:some major building supply stores,
most thermal insulation contractors Acoustic Duct Liners and Duct Silencers
City of Vancouver Noise Control Manual C -1
Johns-Manville “Permacote Linacoustic” duct liner; Steels Industrial Products Ltd.)Crossroads C&I, duct systems insulations, Burnaby, Phone; 604 421-1221,Vibro-Acoustics Ltd., Scarborough Ontario, duct silencers Phone; 1-800-565-8401,Owens Corning, Phone; 1-800.438-7465, wwww.owenscorning.com,
Acoustic Wall PanelsBenton & Overbury Ltd.,
Western Noise Control, Edmonton, Phone; 1-800 661-7241 Acoustic Curtains
Vibra-Sonic Control Ltd., Burnaby, Phone, 604 294-9495,Western Noise Control, Edmonton, Phone; 1-800 661-7241
Vibra-Sonic Control Ltd., Burnaby, Phone, 604 294-9495,
Western Noise Control, Edmonton, Phone; 1-800 661-7241
Overly Manufacturing Company, Greenburg Pa, Phone; (412) 834-7300.
Window and Door Weather stripping and Perimeter Seals
weather stripping - most building supply or hardware stores,
acoustical doors seals – Pemko Canada, Abbotsford, Phone; 877 535-7888,McGregor & Thompson Hardware Ltd. Phone; (604)253-8252.
Acoustical Sealants (non-setting caulking, e.g. Tremco)general building supply and drywall supply stores,
most drywall supply outlets (e.g. Winroc Corp. Richmond, Phone; 604-430-1463)
Resilient Floor Underlays
most hardwood flooring and wood finishing stores (e.g. The Finishing Touch),
Acousti-tech products; Toll Free: 1.866.889.0001, email firstname.lastname@example.orgEnkasonic; Structure All Sealants Inc., Richmond Phone 604 275-0858, BC Erosion
Control Products Inc., Vancouver, Phone; 604 327-0540,
Dura-son, Dura Undercushions Ltd., Montreal Tel.: (514) 737-6561/(800) 295-4126, Fax:
(514) 342-7940 email, email@example.comMasking Noise
Tapes and CD’s of masking sounds – Music and consumer electronic stores,
Masking Noise systems (ceiling installed) Sound-Rite Acoustics Inc., Vancouver,
City of Vancouver Noise Control Manual C -2
Phone; 604 642-0505. Sound Level Meters
basic, inexpensive - commercial electronics stores (e.g., Radio Shack),
moderate price – industrial and safety supply store (e.g. Acklands-Grainger Inc., Fleck
higher priced, more accurate, some with logging capabilities:
Instrumentation Sales and Rentals, Ontario, Phone 1-800 268-4928 ext. 23, website
Scantek Inc., USA, various brands of meters, website;
Onno Sokki, USA/Canada, Phone; 630 627-9700, website;
Noise Control Services
Noise Control Consultants – professional engineering services in acoustical design and noise assessment and control:
BKL Consultants Ltd., North Vancouver, Phone; 604 988-2508,Brown Strachan Associates, Vancouver, Phone; 604 689-0514,Wakefield Acoustics Ltd., Victoria, Phone 250 370-9302.
Noise Control Contractors – supply and installation of insulation, acoustical ceiling tiles and other acoustical products, construction of effective party walls etc.
for listing of noise control and acoustics-related contractors in B.C see;http://bc.finditincanada.ca/app/data/Acoustical+Contractors.html
Government Services – environmental/community noise related issues, control of noise entering homes and within buildings;
Health Canada, Consumer and Clinical Radiation Protection, Healthy Environments and
Consumer Safety Branch, www.hc-sc.gc.ca/hecs-sesc/hecs/
National Research Council, Institute for Research in Construction, Ottawa, website,