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HARDSURFACED FLOORING ACOUSTICS

Quiet Ejoyment. "Quiet enjoyment" is the right of a property owner or tenant to enjoy his/her property in peace without interference. There is usually a provision in the CC&Rs granting an easement of quiet enjoyment. Disruption of quiet enjoyment may constitute a nuisance, which is generally prohibited by an association's CC&Rs.Even though owners have the right to quiet enjoyment of their property, that does not mean they have the right to a noise-free environment. To constitute a nuisance, the noise must be such that it causes an unreasonable disturbance or annoyance. The occasional cry of a baby or the faint sound of a radio or television does not constitute a nuisance.

Reasonableness. Having an allergy does not give an owner the right to ruin a neighbor's life. There are plenty of hypoallergenic rugs and other products on the market that could have resolved the allergy without creating noise problems. On the other hand, if the association had flatly refused the installation of flooring of any kind, it could have lost the case. Associations must be careful to balance their restrictions against the needs of the disabled. Some guidance is offered by an unpublished case that addresses hardwood floors and the disabled. In this case, the association was found to have discriminated against a disabled member when it refused to reasonably accommodate her hardwood floors. (Savoy v. Zhang.)

Subjective. Because a nuisance is largely subjective, associations are not obligated to become involved in disputes where the noise causes mere inconvenience. If, in the board's opinion, a nuisance exists, it may send cease and desist letters or, following a noticed hearing impose fines, suspend privileges, and/or take legal action.

Objective Standards. When it comes to hardwood floors, it is better to have an objective standard. This will minimize potential litigation.

Violation. A common problem encountered by condominium associations is excessive noise created by bootlegged hardwood floors. Some owners have the mistaken belief they can override CC&R restrictions by approval from the building department or claiming allergies. The first is never true and the second may require some form of reasonable accommodation.In Ryland Mews HOA v. Munoz, a new owner installed hardwood floors in violation of the CC&Rs and created intolerable noise conditions for the owner below. When confronted, Munoz refused to mitigate the problem claiming his wife suffered severe allergies.The association sued Munoz for (i) creating a nuisance that unreasonably interfered with the quiet enjoyment of another owner's condominium, (ii) altering his unit in a manner that increased sound transmission to an adjoining unit, and (iii) failing to get written approval from the architectural committee.

Court Order. The association asked the court to issue a preliminary injunction that Munoz address the noise transmission problem pending trial on the merits. The court agreed and ordered Munoz to install rugs over 80% of his floors. Munoz appealed and lost. Munoz' violation of the CC&Rs and his refusal to compromise saddled him with an order to install rugs and a looming trial that could result in fines, an award of attorneys' fees, and an order to remove his hardwood floors. (Ryland Mews HOA v. Munoz.)

Transfer of Property. If the owner had sold his unit without resolving the unauthorized installation of floors, the violation would have transferred to the buyer.

Building Code Requirements. Code requirements are usually satisfied with carpet. However, hard-surfaced flooring creates noise transmission problems. The following are recommended FIIC guidelines for hard surface flooring.

Housing Wood Construction Concrete Construction
Government 45 45
Entry-level 48 50
Standard 52 54
High 57 60
Luxury 60 62
NOTE: Buildings are not sound-proof and sounds will continue to be audible even when the requirements are met.

As part of their Rules or Architectural Standards, many boards have adopted standards which are higher than local building codes. Because 45 is unacceptably noisy, many associations have adopted a minimum standard is 52 and others are using 55. Recognizing the problem that excessive noise creates, many local jurisdictions are also setting higher STC ratings. One example is the City of Redondo Beach, California which requires an STC of 55 (see City of Redondo Beach Municipal Code, Section 10.2.1608).

Associations without an acoustical standard should consider adopting one. Adopting a reasonable acoustical standard will allow the installation of hardsurfaced flooring while minimizing noise transmission to lower units. This increases property values and minimizes disputes between neighbors.

Sound Intensity. A decibel (dB) is the unit of measurement for sound intensity. Broadly, there are two types of sounds within a building: (i) Airborne Sounds, which are sounds transmitted though air, such as voices or radio playing, and (ii) Impact Sounds, which are created by an impact of an object with building elements or furnishings, such as footsteps, dropped objects, toys, furniture scraps, piping, and some appliance sounds.

  A 10 decibel increase means the sound is ten times louder. Prolonged exposure to noise louder than 85 decibels can impair hearing.
 
 
  Very painful 160 Shotgun  
  Painful 140 Stock car race  
    130 Jackhammer  
  Deafening 120 Rock concert  
    100 Chainsaw  
  Very loud 90 Hair dryer  
    80 Police whistle  
  Loud 70 Average radio  
    60 Normal conversation  
  Moderate 50 Average Office  
    40 Quiet radio  
  Faint 30 Whisper  
    20 Rustling leaves  
  Very faint 10 Soundproof room  
    0    
 
STC:   Sound Transmission Class. A laboratory measurement of the ability of walls and floors to mitigate airborne sounds including voice, television and alarm clocks.
     
NIC:   Noise Isolation Class. An over-all measure of the sound isolation between units in a multi-family dwelling. A field measurement of the ability floor/ceiling assembly to mitigate airborne sounds.
     
IIC:   Impact Insulation Class. IIC is a number rating for evaluating the impact noise insulation of a floor-ceiling assembly.
     
FIIC:   Field Impact Insulation Class. A field measurement, i.e., done after a hardwood floor installation is completed to test actual noise transmission into the unit below.

The higher the value, the greater the noise isolation. For example, an STC of 52 provides better sound protection than an STC of 45. Building codes typically require that floors provide an airborne sound insulation to meet an STC of 45 (field-tested) and an IIC of 45 (field tested) for impact noise. Note: local building codes may require higher standards.


Additional Information.

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