When I heard through the grapevine that friends were moving out of their spacious South Brooklyn apartment, I pounced. It was airy, had an open living area and appeared blessedly free of the mice colony taking over my current place. So ready was I to have a new place that I almost didn’t want to hear any potential downsides. Yet, I distinctly remember asking the friends moving out about the neighbors. It went something like this:
Me: “So, what’s the story on your upstairs and downstairs neighbors?”
Them: “The guys downstairs are pretty introverted and there’s a couple upstairs with a baby.”
Me: “Oh, a baby? Does it cry a lot?”
Them: “We practically never hear them. Or even see them, really. Yeah, I think we’ve seen them maybe twice. “
Me: “Sounds great! Let’s get this lease transferred!”
Fast-forward a month and the move was made. The first week was a blur of boxes and trying to get Time Warner to install the Internet. By week two, I was ready to start nesting.
Only then did I pause long enough to realize that there was, in fact, a sumo baby living upstairs. A sumo baby who loved nothing more than to run back and forth all morning and night, thudding so loudly on the wood floor that it would wake me at sunrise and cause me a dyspeptic fit at dinnertime.
What the hell was going on up there and why hadn’t my friends warned me, I lamented to anyone who would listen. But then I remembered my friends’ professions -- she was a nurse who worked nights and he was a lawyer who started early and ended late. They hadn’t heard any insanely distracting noises because they were practically never home to hear them.
When they were home, they were either passed out or the other tenants were out and about for the day. They were also living here while sumo baby was primarily in the womb or fresh on the crawling circuit. Sumo baby was just starting to marathon train around the time I showed up.
When I first saw sumo baby, I was floored. Sumo baby looked nothing like the 200-pound baby of my imagination. Sumo baby was an adorable 1.5 year-old little girl with curly blond locks and an infectious smile. Could that really be the beast waking me up the morning?
Yet still, the thudding and thumping went on. And on. I could only reckon that sumo baby’s parents had no idea what area rugs were, and that sumo baby got to run around indoors with tap shoes on. I had no choice but to go up there and broach the subject.
So, it turns out that parents get very touchy on any subject veering toward critical of their offspring or parental allowances. Just kidding. I already knew that. But I wasn’t prepared for their inability to sympathize with how a toddler constantly running back and forth could actually be disruptive to someone below.
They looked at me with an expression that I can only describe as, “We can’t wait until you have kids of your own one day and some highfalutin neighbor requests that you keep your toddler from running around so much. Yeah, good luck with that.” I retreated in defeat.
Sumo baby’s parents and I had a few more terse back-and-forths in coming months, but there really wasn’t anything that could be done: the building simply has good-for-nothing insulation and babies can’t lawfully be caged. Were I the property owner -- and of unlimited means -- I might have seriously looked into reinforcing the floor between with noise dampening layers or sound absorption panels, but anyone who has ever Googled either technique knows that both are prohibitively expensive for most common apartment dwellers.
As a result, here are some more practical -- and immediate -- ways of dealing with loud noise from the neighbors.
I) The Sound of Silence
According to a doctor friend, any hospital worth its salt uses industry-standard MARPAC Sound Conditioners to ensure that patients get necessary R&R. This Dual Speed Model has a small footprint (5.8”diam. x 3.8”h) and is easily tucked away in a corner for plugging in before bedtime. The white-noise-only setting is fuzzy without being distracting in its own right, making it an option for blocking out daytime noise as well.
If you want a noise reduction machine with more bells and whistles (literally) than the Marpac, this sleek Ecotones Sound + Sleep Machine has 10 settings that range from Train to Meadow. The white noise setting can be softened into pink or brown noise, and its adaptive technology automatically adjusts for detected increases in background noise.
II) There’s an App for That
For those reluctant to bring another appliance into their home, you’ll be happy to know that you can simply download a free App. They work well at blocking out all sorts of background noise when plugged into speakers at medium volume. They’re also a godsend on flights or when seated next to 13-year-old girls on the subway.
White Noise Lite: This free lite version features 10 different sounds, from basic white noise to grandfather clock. Its basic white noise literally sounds like a static radio wave, but the "Extreme Rain Pouring" setting really does it for me.
White Noise Ambience Lite: Also free, this App has a total of 18 different settings. While I could certainly live without "Cat Purring" and "Tibetan Singing Bowls," the "Campfire" and "Rain on Umbrella" settings are great.
III) Plug it Up
At the end of the day, if I really want to block out noisy neighbors, I opt for old-fashioned earplugs. Yes, I do worry that repeated use will somehow result in a damaged ear canal or infection, but when it comes to turning my head into a sound-free cloud, I find that brands like Flent work wonders. Best of all, they’re cheap.
And what about you? How do you deal with loud noises from the neighbors?