Can You Hear Neighbors in a Semi-Attached House?

can you hear your neighbors in a semi attached house

A semi-detached/attached house or duplex is a dwelling where you share one wall with another homeowner. But can you hear them when they talk or move, or…other activities?

You can hear your neighbors in a semi-attached house because of the shared wall. Likewise, the neighbor’s sounds can be more pronounced in dwellings with rolled steel joists into the party wall. Next-door noise can also penetrate through wood floors, ceiling downlights, coving, and chimney stacks. 

Below, you’ll learn more about spotting these signs, and what you can do to soundproof your semi-detached home. 

Signs You’ll Hear Your Neighbors in Your Semi-Attached House

As the name suggests, a semi-detached house is partially attached to another home. This “attachment” is often seen in a room that doesn’t require that much privacy. 

In usual cases, the houses are attached through the garage. Bedrooms, bathrooms, and other “private” spaces are located on the other side of the house. While they’re cheaper than single-family homes, the caveat is you’ll be able to hear your next-door neighbors.

Since you can’t test it during the viewing, here are seven signs that say you’ll hear your neighbor’s noise, and them, yours. 

1. Rolled Steel Joists Are Into the Party Wall

Also known as RSJs, these joists serve as steelwork beams. While they keep your semi-detached home structurally intact, they allow for sound travel in-between homes. That said, make sure to check for the house’s uninsulated RSJ. If it’s sitting on the party wall, it means that it’s supporting the upstairs structures.

As such, it’s a clear sign that you’ll hear your neighbor everywhere in your house. From slamming doors to moving furniture, there’s no big noise you won’t hear. 

2. Dot and Dab Plaster Boarding

Dot and dab plasterboarding is a process where adhesives are evenly spread (as dot and dabs) on the wall. It’s a cheap, easy, and quick process. Sadly, the presence of such plasterboards means you’re surely going to hear your next-door neighbor. 

In fact, you stand to hear them (and your own noise) more because it can increase the noise by as much as 10 dB

To avoid this disaster, be on the lookout for these signs of dot and dab plasterboarding:

  • Common or modern-looking skirting: If the skirting looks too new for the house itself, it means the dwelling has been renovated with a plasterboard. 
  • Solid-hollow-solid sound: Tap the walls and listen for this sound. If you hear a solid-hollow-solid sound, you can listen to your neighbors, at a louder pitch, unfortunately.

3. Solid Wood Floors

The presence of solid wood floors is a welcome sight for most homeowners. Carpets, after all, can be hard to clean. 

Add to that, they can be a boon to asthmatics, as well as those with dust or pet allergies.

Unfortunately, solid wood floors are not suitable for sound insulation, especially in a semi-attached house.

When placed on top of laminate or sanded floors, a solid wood floor can decrease sound insulation by 10 dB. 

4. Suspended Wood Floors

Apart from solid wood floors, it’ll help to check for suspended wood floors as well. You might not see them physically, so you need to be on the lookout for air vents outside the house. Their presence suggests that there are spaces beneath the floors. 

While air vents help prevent the dry rotting of wooden joists, they’ll end up amplifying sound. After all, it’s a big, uninsulated void that’ll conduct sound from your neighbor to your house and vice-versa. 

If you can’t see air bricks in the house, you can test for suspended wood floors by stomping lightly on the downstairs floors. If it makes a sound similar to that of a big drum, then it means you’re standing on suspended floors. 

5. Coving

Coving in semi-attached houses will transmit noise from your neighbor’s place all the way to your home. Unfortunately, this is common in dwellings built during the 1990s. In that time, construction crews used to place concave-shaped molding on the joining wall of the ceiling. 

Like any other void, this cove helps carry sound from the walls to the ceilings. Likewise, the cove displaces sound from one place to another. 

Similar to a musical instrument, this cove will make noise seem louder at the opposite end.

6. Ceiling Downlights

Downlights are ceiling-recessed lights that direct light through a narrow beam. It’s a form of hidden lighting where it seems like the illumination is coming from the ceiling. 

While it’s modern, and can make your home look bigger, it’s terrible for soundproofing. 

Downlights require ceiling holes that allow sound to transfer into the uninsulated space. Not only will you hear noise from the next-door neighbor, but you’ll also hear sound downstairs if you’re upstairs, and vice-versa. 

7. Chimney Stacks

If you’re interested in an old semi-detached house, then make sure to check its chimney stacks as well. These parts are often the first ones to get renovated, mainly because the fires can make the plaster weak over time. 

As such, make sure to knock at the sides (chimney stack) and the face. Use your knuckles when you do so.

Listen for the sound – does it seem hollow? Again, this sound is a sign that the chimney has been renovated using plasterboard. As mentioned, plasterboard can increase the noise levels in your neighbor’s house, as well as that of your own. 

Likewise, it’s crucial to inspect the chimney stack to see if it’s fake. Again, this will help you determine if there’s a void underneath that can amplify the noise coming from your neighbors.

How To Soundproof Your Semi-Attached House

If you hadn’t checked any of the above before you moved in, you don’t have to worry. You can still soundproof your semi-attached home so as not to hear your neighbors anymore.

Here are some techniques worth trying:

  • Add mass, such as thick sheetrock, to the existing wall.
  • Add layers of wooden studs and drywall to thicken the current wall.
  • Install two drywall layers together with a damping compound.

Final Thoughts

Sadly, there’s a big possibility that you’ll hear your neighbors in a semi-attached house. So before you move in, make sure to check for these signs: 

  • RSJs into the party wall
  • Dot and dab plasterboards
  • Solid wood or suspended wood floors
  • Coving
  • Ceiling downlights
  • Chimney stacks

If you haven’t caught any of these, you can still soundproof your home by adding mass or layers to the adjoining walls. 

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