Now that the Duke and Duchess of Sussex have a brand-new baby boy to look after, they can expect more than a few changes to their lives. And while the royals will have more help than most, there are some universals. One is that healthy babies with healthy lungs don’t come with volume control! So Harry and Meghan will have to get used to a fair bit of noise from their bundle of joy. The good news is that the Duke and Duchess live in a large farmhouse in the Cotswolds, so the neighbours are unlikely to be troubled by royal bawling. And crucially, there are no downstairs neighbours to be plagued by the pitter patter of tiny, princely feet. Not everyone is so lucky.
Often it’s not until the addition of a new member to a neighbouring family that people realise their building’s sound proofing leaves something to be desired, as the quiet couple next door are transformed into the neighbours from howling hell. And the other change that can have a big impact is the installation of hard flooring – whether stone, tiles, marble or timber – which is increasingly fashionable. Even if the upstairs neighbours are not royals, it can begin to sound as if they’re parading around in glass slippers up there!
In the absence of carpets, suddenly the downstairs neighbours begin to hear footsteps and furniture scraping along the floor – not to mention those mind-bogglingly unidentifiable activities seemingly involving metal chains, scattered ball bearings and a trampoline! And even apart from noises coming from impact on the floor itself, there can be additional nuisance simply from sound passing through the building unhindered by insulation.
Fortunately, hundreds of acoustic insulation products are available, and can make an enormous difference to various kinds of noise nuisance. But some solutions work better than others, and none will work effectively unless correctly installed, so it is always worth having this done professionally. Moreover, sound insulation will not necessarily prevent ‘flanking transmission’ – sound coming around the floor or ceiling rather than through it – so it’s important to understand the precise nature of the problem.
In the case of hard flooring, it’s only fair that the people installing new floors take responsibility for ensuring they won’t cause nuisance for the neighbours. In a well-managed block of flats, there will be rules in place to ensure they do so. As most flat owners are leaseholders, they will typically require a licence to alter before going ahead with new flooring, and this will specify conditions. Best practice is to undertake pre and post-installation testing to make sure the new floor is no more noisy than what was there before. And the licence can also include a ‘nuisance clause’ requiring the leaseholder to reinstall carpets or runners if subsequent complaints are upheld as reasonable.
A lot of hassle can be prevented by consulting potentially affected neighbours early on to determine whether they are likely to be bothered by hard flooring or any other alterations. And of course licences to alter are not required for having children! So a bit of consideration on both sides, with additional insulation where appropriate, can go a long way. We can’t all live in palaces, or even luxurious farmhouses, but with goodwill all round, we can still greet the neighbours’ new arrival by popping champagne corks rather than reaching for the ear plugs!
Zoe Walheim MRICS, Regional Director South at Earl Kendrick Associates