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I recently moved to an apartment house and I find that I hear a lot of street noise

thomasbrieger1 | Posted in General Questions on

I recently moved to an apartment house and I find that I hear a lot of street noise. I was told that the windows are double-paned and should block much of the noise. How can I tell if the windows are really double-paned? Is there any significant advantage…?

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  1. davidmeiland | | #1

    Insulated glass units (IGUs aka double pane) are very easy to see--there is a "spacer bar" separating the two panes of glass all the way around the edge. It is set just inside the frame, but it's usually shiny silver metal. In some cases it might be darker metal or even a plastic material, but it's pretty much impossible to miss.

    Whether IGUs or lack thereof are a significant part of your noise problem is hard to say. If the walls are solid brick and the windows are single pane, then they're the problem. If the walls are wood frame and the glass is already double, it's a lot less clear.

  2. exeric | | #2

    The windows could definitely be the problem if they are single paned windows. However, depending on how close one is to the street traffic, even double pane windows may not be sufficient.

    On the other hand it may not be a problem with the windows at all. it may be a problem with deficient insulation in the walls. There is an interesting psychoacoustic effect having to do with sound precedence. As long as the reverberation time of a direct sound comes within a certain millisecond time window from the original direct sound event then the reverberation can be a much louder sound than the original sound and you'll swear the sound came from the direction of the original sound. This is a scientifically proven fact of hearing. It probably has something to do with our prehistoric need to identify threats to survival and the direction it is coming from. It ends up magnifying all sound from all directions from one sound event and concentrating it in one location.

    This would manifest itself in an apartment with OK windows but little wall insulation. The sound will reverberate in all directions from outside traffic and will be magnified by the transmission through the total surface of the uninsulated walls. That total volume of reverberated sound can be much greater than the first direct sound coming through the windows. But the sound, to your ears will all be coming through the windows because it would be the first sound you hear.

    I personally witnessed that fact when I put in new double pane windows in my bedroom but hadn't yet insulated all the walls. I thought, OMG those windows don't deaden the sound at all. But as soon as I insulated the walls the bedroom got a LOT quieter.

    Or it could just be poor windows...

  3. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #3

    Open a window (if it is operable) and place your index finger on the glass. Reach around with your other hand and place your other index finger on the other side of the glass so that your fingers are pointing at each other. If your index fingers are almost touching, you can tell that they are separated by a single pane of glass. If they fingers are separated by 1/2 inch or 3/4 inch of space, your windows have multiple panes of glass. Look closely and you should be able to tell the difference between single-pane, double-pane, and triple-pane windows.

    If your walls are insulated and you have double-pane windows, you may want to consider installing triple-glazed windows.

  4. exeric | | #4

    In case it wasn't clear in my own experience of that sound precedence effect: The wall that originally wasn't insulated in my house was not in the line of sight that the traffic noise was coming from. But the reverberant sound coming from that wall only appeared as loud direct traffic noise coming from the window facing traffic. It can be very confusing and one can spend a lot of money trying to solve problems if one isn't aware of what's in the walls and how effective the sound insulation is in walls that don't even face the noise. Hopefully it's just the windows. That's a much simpler problem.

  5. jpritzen1 | | #5

    Before thinking that you need some more expensive windows...consider...

    a) window installation quality, e.g., are sashes plumb or bowed
    b) quality of seals, e.g., the fuzzy weather stripping, can you stick a non-sharp knife through easily
    c) insulation between window & frame
    d) insulation within the walls
    e) inside caulk from window to trim
    f) outside caulk

    Like you, I have a lot of noise coming through my windows & they are double pane. However, I've found that:
    a) some sashes are bowed, which in turn weakens/loosens the seal between upper/lower sash weather stripping, and
    b) windows are poorly caulked on the outside. Noise enters around the window & gets in the walls

    You could have the same issues with triple pane windows.

  6. wjrobinson | | #6

    Most will find noise is not a problem after 3 months of living somewhere. IE I never hear my seatbelt buzzer, and my passengers look at me like huh? I'm am used to it. Lived near an interstate once, loud as all can be... eventually didn't forgot it was even there.

    My solution. $0 cost.

  7. AlanB4 | | #7

    When i moved here i found i could hear everything from outside, i assumed it was the uninsulated walls, i got them filled with cellulose, and the noise is not dampened. The windows are 10 year old vinyl double pane windows, but the noises seem to come from the windows. I suspect they are hollow and the sound is not coming through the glass but the hollow vinyl frame.

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