Downstairs Neighbor Complains About Walking? (Here's What You Can Do)

Jennifer Eggerton
by Jennifer Eggerton

Living on an upper floor of a building has some great benefits. You have the best views, excellent natural light, and you rarely hear your neighbors. The downside is that the neighbor below may literally hear every step you take.

Be mindful without sacrificing your own comfort. We recommend speaking with your neighbor. Get more information. Type of sound, time of day, location, and frequency are all important. Otherwise, investigate on your own, and do your best. Remove shoes at the door. Wear slippers or socks, rearrange furniture, respect quiet times, and use area rugs.

You want to have good relationships with your neighbors, but walking is a necessary part of daily life. You could use your furniture as stepping stones to the bathroom, kitchen, and bedroom, but this just isn’t practical. Let’s learn about why your neighbor can hear you and easy steps you can take to minimize the noise.

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Why Neighbors Hear You Walking

Noise from walking is one of the most common complaints. Fortunately, this is more of a nuisance than a violation of quiet time and local laws. Unfortunately, the complaints make you feel uneasy in your own home.

Unless you are live in your work boots or always wear high heels, the reason that your neighbor hears you is not about your shoes or how you walk. Most noises in multi-story buildings are more about how sound carries and the quality and age of the construction.

The Floor-Ceiling Connection

Multi-story, multi-family homes have little insulation between the floor of an upper unit and the ceiling of the lower unit. If you live on an upper floor, beneath your feet is carpeting and padding or tile. The next layer is subflooring that is typically a 3/4” piece of plywood.

Next are the floor joists that make up the majority of the space between you and your downstairs neighbor. Floor joists are 2×10 or 2×12 boards. A 2×10 joist measures 9 1/4” wide, and a 2×12 joist measures 11 1/4” wide. Floor joists are installed perpendicular to the subflooring. Some multi-story buildings have insulation between the joists. Insulation starts to break down after 15 to 20 years. This is why sound carries in older buildings. The final layer is the drywall of your neighbor’s ceiling.

Counting all the layers between your floor and the neighbor’s ceiling, there may only be about 12” to 14” between the two units. Sound doesn’t have to travel very far for your neighbor to notice.

Fire Breaks

Building codes require fire breaks between the floors and ceilings of multi-family homes. The codes are based upon requirements from Underwriters Laboratory and the National Fire Protection Association. Builders have several options for fire breaks.

  • Poured-in reinforced concrete
  • Hollow-core, pre-cast concrete panels
  • Concrete poured on metal form panels supported by steel joists and structural steel
  • Layers of gypsum drywall supported by steel joints, wooden trusses, or I-joints

Some of these materials may reduce noise between the units. The choice of materials and method is made by the builder and designer, often based on cost.

Speak with Your Neighbor

Before you start looking for ways to accommodate your downstairs neighbor, have a conversation about the issue. This lets your neighbor know that you are trying to fix the issue. Get details about the type of noise, time of day, frequency, and location.

Noises from Walking

Here are the three most common sounds from walking that are heard between units.

  • Thumping: Heavy shoes or walking with heavy footfalls
  • Clicking and Clacking: Shoes with hard soles and high heels
  • Squeaking and Creaking: Shifts in the floor joists that happen with even the lightest step

4 Ways to Reduce Noise from Walking

Unless you or the building owner wants to invest in soundproofing between floors, the best you can do for your neighbor is minimize the noise from walking. Here are four options to consider.

Treat Your Feet at the Door

Nothing feels better at the end of a long day than taking off your shoes and putting on a cozy pair of slippers or socks. Instead of waiting until you get to the bedroom, treat your feet at the door. This not only reduces noise from walking, but also keeps your floors and carpets clean.

When you leave home in the morning, wear slippers or socks to the door, and put on your shoes. The slippers and socks will be ready when you get home.

Rearrange the Furniture

Rearranging the furniture to accommodate your neighbor may seem a little extreme, but a change of scenery is always nice. It is also a great solution for squeaky floors. Creaks and squeaks are signs that the floor joists have shifted or the bolts are loose. Moving furniture around helps you avoid the areas where the floor creaks and squeaks.

Respect Quiet Times

Most multi-family complexes have quiet times, typically from 10:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. Your neighbor will appreciate your effort of being especially mindful during this time.

Area Rugs

Area rugs with padding reduce noise from walking. They also add a nice decorative element to the room. Use the rugs in high-traffic areas of your home. If you put the rug on tile, use a non-slip mat under the rug.

Cork Tile

Cork is a natural soundproofing material. It is used for acoustics in recording studios, symphony halls, and office buildings. Cork absorbs 40% of the sound waves, and this is just enough to prevent your neighbor from hearing your footsteps. The material is also attractive in homes with an organic, natural aesthetic. You can purchase a piece of cork in the same size as an area rug or use cork tiles to cover your floor.

Related Questions

What is a fire break?

A fire break is a layer of non-combustible materials that is placed between the walls, floors, and ceilings of multi-family, commercial, and industrial buildings. Fire breaks prevent fires from spreading between units.

What is the best insulation for soundproofing?

The best insulation for soundproofing between interior walls is a combination of boards made of polystyrene or Styrofoam plus fiberglass panels or mineral wool. If you want to soundproof on the finished side of a wall, cork is the best option. It makes the room soundproof and has a nice, natural aesthetic.

Why do I smell odors from my neighbor’s apartment?

Odors from neighboring apartments come through the HVAC system. Ask the landlord to seal the utility closet. Replace the filters for your heating and cooling system. Use an air purifier.

How do you repair a floor joist?

Remove the finished flooring, padding, and subflooring above the joist. Attach a sister joist along the side of the failing floor joist. A sister joint is a section of framing lumber that is attached to the original joist. Using a sister joist is more efficient and affordable than replacing the floor joist. It also adds strength to the framing of your home. Sister joists are common in older homes, but can be used in newer homes as well.

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Noise from walking is the most common complaint among residents of multi-story, multi-family homes. The noise is the result of construction quality issues and the age of the building. In a typical multi-story building, there is only about 12” to 14” of space between the floor of your apartment and the ceiling of your downstairs neighbor. Sound travels quickly and amplifies as it bounces off the floor joists between units. Your downstairs neighbor may hear thumping, clicking, clacking, squeaking, and squealing when you walk across your floor.

The best way to address complaints about noise from walking is to be mindful without feeling uneasy about being in your home. Have a conversation with your neighbor, if possible. Try to determine the type of noise, time of day, location, and frequency. This helps you find ways to reduce the noise that carries downstairs.

Be mindful of quiet times in your building. Your neighbor will appreciate the effort to reduce the noise from walking.

Soundproofing between your floor and the neighbor’s ceiling is the only way to eliminate the noise. This is costly and time-consuming. There are ways that you can reduce the noise. Remove your shoes at the front door and put on slippers or socks. Avoid wearing heavy boots, high heels, and shoes with hard soles. Ask your guests to remove their shoes as well. Give them a welcome gift of a nice, comfy pair of slippers or socks.

If you have a squeaky floor, rearrange the furniture so you don’t walk in that area. If moving the furniture is not an option, be aware of where the floor squeaks, and try to avoid that part of the floor. Squeaky floors are caused by loose floor joints, and the repairs are expensive.

Area rugs dampen noise between units in multi-story buildings. The rugs work well on top of tile or carpeting. You can also use cork to reduce up to 40% of the sound from walking. Cork is available in sheets or tiles.

Jennifer Eggerton
Jennifer Eggerton

Jennifer L. Eggerton loves being hands-on, whether it's with a home DIY project, making repairs, re-decorating a room, or keeping life organized. She enjoys helping people by sharing her knowledge, insights, and experiences, as well as her lessons learned. In addition to her work as a writer, Jennifer is a Jeep® overlander, self-published author, and nature photographer who loves being outdoors.

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