Q: I own a condominium on an upper level of the building. There is a unit below my unit. The complex was built in 1985. I would like to install hardwood floors, but the homeowners association (HOA) does not allow hardwood floors to be installed in a unit above another unit due to potential complaints about sound.
Is there something that can be installed with the floor to muffle or reduce the sound? If I have a solution, the homeowners association may allow me to have hardwood floors.
A: Our friend Keith is in a similar pickle. He wanted to install an engineered hardwood floor in his entryway and kitchen. The rules of his association, known as covenants, conditions and restrictions, or CC&Rs, were drafted in the mid-1960s and required sheet vinyl and carpet as the only materials acceptable in an upstairs unit. Materials have evolved since then, but the rules haven’t.
Unfortunately, he attempted to install the wood floor without approval of the HOA. He got caught and is now paying the price. On appeal he presented a letter from his downstairs neighbor giving him her full blessing. Two of the three-member review board agreed, but one did not. Any decision had to be unanimous so Keith is now looking at sheet vinyl.
You are in a similar situation. Mid-1980s CC&Rs were drafted before the advent of flooring that is currently available. The CC&Rs are obsolete on this point. A "floating floor" with a good sound-dampening underlayment can give you the look you want without the noise of traditional hardwood flooring.
Traditional wood flooring is nailed directly to the subfloor, allowing noise to transfer directly to the space below. Floating floors, on the other hand, are laid over a foam pad or have preinstalled cork backing. Both have sound-deadening qualities. Unless you’re planning on flamenco dancing, the floor should not transfer significant sound to the unit below. Area rugs will also help suppress any noise.
We caution you to resist the temptation to install a wood floor without permission. If you do and get caught, you’ll end up alienating the HOA, and it’s quite possible you could end up ripping out the floor. Play by the rules and with luck you’ll get the result you want.
We suggest you start by contacting your downstairs neighbor and talk to them about your plan. Then select a floor and get a sample of the floor with the pad and show it to the neighbor. Secure a letter from them saying they have no objection.
Finally, go before your HOA and request an exception. It’s reasonable that your request should be granted and you’ll be clear to have a new wood floating floor.