Hardwood floors can give your condominium a warm, luxurious look. However, wood floors can also increase the amount of noise that filters from your unit to your neighbors downstairs. Wood floors can amplify the sounds of everyday living, from pets and kids running through your condo to electronics such as televisions and stereos. Research your community’s bylaws and talk to your neighbors before you begin laying down those wood floors.
Homeowners Association Bylaws
Your condominium’s homeowners’ association (HOA) may have strict rules regarding the flooring you can install in a unit above the ground floor. Some communities prohibit above ground units from having any hard flooring surfaces whatsoever, including wood, stone and tile. Others allow wood or tile in only certain areas such as kitchens and bathrooms. Still others set a specific surface limit — say, 25 percent — on wood flooring, with carpet mandated on the remainder. You may get your HOA board to agree to the installation of hardwood floors if you promise to keep a substantial part of the floor covered with area rugs. If you violate your HOA rules and install wood flooring, you’ll be subject to fines until you remove the floors. Consult with your association’s Architectural Review Committee to understand your community’s flooring rules.
Refusing to comply with community bylaws can cost you more than HOA fines. In some states, your downstairs neighbor can sue you if you lay down wood floors that cause nuisance-level noise or loud sounds at odd hours. If your neighbor can prove to the court that you’re in violation of your HOA’s codes, or that sounds coming from your unit violate local noise ordinances, the court will likely order you to remove your flooring. You may even have to pay your neighbor’s court costs.
Your city may also have zoning or building codes that address flooring inside condominiums. At a minimum, local codes require that you install wood floors in keeping with standard building safety practices. Call your city’s building department to ask about rules governing flooring in your unit. To ensure you’re not running afoul of local ordinances, invite a professional from the building department into your home to ensure your floors are legally and properly installed.
Installing Wood Floors
Condo communities that do allow wood flooring above the ground floor often have strict installation requirements. Rules generally call for homeowners to lay wood flooring using the floating method in which strips of wood-covered laminate are glued together in interlocking side grooves, but the overall floor is not attached to the subfloor. The wood stays in place as a result of its weight and spacer blocks placed around the floor’s perimeter. Gluing, stapling or nailing the wood to the subfloor will increase vibrations and noise filtering from your unit to the home below. Bylaws could also require a vapor barrier to prevent moisture and cold or hot air from leaking into the unit downstairs. A soundproofing barrier such as a 1/4-inch layer of cork may be necessary as well.
If you’re set on wood floors and face no community or city laws preventing you from installing the flooring, involve your downstairs neighbors to keep the peace and head off potential noise disputes. Alert them to your new flooring choice, and let them know you’ll lay a sound barrier under the boards. Offer specific quiet periods during which you’ll keep pets and children quiet — early in the morning, at dinner and after 9 p.m., for example. Take off your shoes before walking through your unit, and keep TV and stereo volumes down. Be open to addressing complaints, and assure your neighbors you’ll consider their concerns. If your neighbors complain of loud noises coming from your unit, you could pay to install foam soundproofing between your floor and their ceiling.
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