How to Implement a Comprehensive Flooring Policy
Could the upstairs neighbors possibly be any louder? It sounds like a war is going on up there with all the furniture moving. And when they walk around, it sounds like they’re stomping around in cement shoes. Enough is enough!
Well, don’t get too upset at the people living above you, because it might not be entirely their fault. The problem could lie in the way the floors were constructed and not because there’s too much furniture banging around or because of the shoes your neighbors are wearing. It’s a difficult problem that community association board members and property managers face, especially since flooring is the primary conductor of noise in high-rise buildings. Having the right approval processes in place, writing the proper soundproofing policy, as well as determining what types of floors are permitted, can prevent noise problems from erupting and can maintain peace in the building.
Here is a quick step-by-step process association board members can follow to establish a policy for floor construction.
- Review community association documents: Checking in with the community’s established protocol is a wise first move. There should be documents already in place that stipulate what kind of flooring, beyond carpeting, is permissible in the building, the proper soundproofing specs, and if an amendment is required to allow another surface such as hardwood. There also should be a clear and concise process implemented for residents who would like to install new flooring. This process will ensure that the association board is apprised of plans, flooring materials that will be used, proper sound specs and which contractors are scheduled to do the work.
- Determine who should be writing the flooring policies: Another issue that commonly arises with flooring policies is that they are often written by developers, attorneys, board members, and volunteers without consultation with experts such as acousticians, architects, and floor product specialists. If you’re unsure, bring in local experts to look over your community association documents to make sure they are sensible, structurally sound, and will not contribute to other future problems. These experts can be very valuable assets as they are the ones qualified to comment on such policies.
For example, many times documents exist that stipulate any new flooring must achieve the same sound rating as the original floors, but that’s not always logical. That’s where an acoustician can be a great source, because he or she will know if that stipulation can apply to a situation based on the materials earmarked for the project. They also will note things like the building plans, as the construction itself can be a huge factor in determining sound attenuation. They also analyze ceiling and floor assembly including subfloors, insulation, and gypsum board attachment to determine how sound travels. These experts can also determine if something like hardwood flooring or certain tile would be disruptive to residents’ comfort based on building construction and the amount of isolation that exists between units. These are technical areas most people don’t have the expertise to address, so don’t make the mistake of not tapping into a knowledgeable source.
- Develop a process for construction approval: There are a lot of do-it-yourself homeowners out there, and many are great builders, but most of them are not experts. Faulty work, poor materials, and bad processes could wind up adding a noise nuisance to the building. Require homeowners to submit their plans in advance – not just to the board, but to the experts themselves. Make sure a sound technician or floor products expert has reviewed the plan including details such as materials scheduled for use. With the knowledge from a flooring expert, the board could easily come to a decision regarding this construction project and feel certain the work will have minimal or no impact on the building acoustics. Another important matter is the credentials of the contractor hired to do the work. Investigate the person and company’s history, ask for references, licenses, and review a Better Business Bureau profile to see what other customers are saying about their work.
- Establish complaint procedures: Even if the work has been thoroughly vetted and materials approved, there still could be unhappy neighbors. A complaint procedure should be established for other residents to follow that will ensure their concerns are heard and addressed. Having a clear policy in place ensures residents know their concerns are taken seriously and that all floor construction is up to standards.
- Have your policy approved and published: It is always helpful to have the association attorney review any new or amended building documents such as your flooring policy, whether this document is going to be published in your association's "House Rules" or Owner Alteration/Construction Applications (or both). Once a thorough review is completed by the attorney, as well as the board and managing agent, it is important to ensure that this policy is published in as many community locations as possible – starting with the association website (even posting it on social media outlets), to specific e-mail messages that can be mass distributed to each resident. You should also consider holding owner/shareholder meetings to further discuss or elaborate upon the newly implemented policy, or host special seminars to educate the community on this particular topic. This way, the HOA board has done its due diligence in effectively communicating the rules and regulations, and time and money is saved for everyone involved.