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Noisy Neighbors: How to Deal With Them When You Work From Home

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One of the downsides of web working is that you’re prone to distractions at home, whether it’s the snacks calling to you from the fridge or a toddler throwing tantrums.  I experience these distractions everyday and have found ways around most of them.  My most important “weapon against mass distractions”, so to speak, was to wake up at 2:00am and work while the rest of the neighborhood sleeps.

Except for my new neighbors, of course.  They moved in last week and, since then, it’s been one loud evening after another.

The first thing I attempted was to talk to them.  When they opened their door, it became evident that there were no serious adults to talk to.  The people spread out in the living room looked at most 20 years old, and there were a few beer bottles lying around.  The karaoke machine was on at full blast, blaring out “Close to You” by The Carpenters.  I asked for the owner of the house and a young woman, I’m guessing she was 17, came up to me.  I said the little speech that I’ve been practicing in my head:

1064039_gas_horn“Listen, I don’t want to cramp on your fun, but I usually work at around this time and the rest of the neighbors are asleep.  I know parties are fun and everything, but this has been going on all week.  Do you mind toning it down a little so I can get some work done and everyone else can sleep peacefully?”

She gave me a blank look and said “Why don’t you just work in the morning?”

“I would, but it’s noisier in the morning because the neighborhood kids are running around, all my pets are awake…Uhm, where are your parents?”

At around this time their little party starts quieting down a bit and the others start looking at me.  Then she agreed to lessen the noise.   As I walked away, I overheard one of her guests making a quip about how I was overreacting.

The following night, it became evident that our little conversation didn’t work.  In the Philippines, calling the police because of neighborhood noise won’t be taken seriously, so that option is out.  This time, I resort to headphones and Puccini.

It works out well – at first.  Then I realized that the music was too powerful for the piece I was writing, so I played some acoustic jazz.  But as the hours wore on, I realized that I was spending too much time rearranging my MP3 files to complement whatever it was I was working on.

Here’s what didn’t work: my first solution was to try and get my neighbor to change.  This left my peace of mind in their hands. The trouble with this approach was that I still had no control over how to fix the problem, and they don’t care about my problem even if they are the ones causing it.  After all, I’m not giving them any inconvenience.

My second attempt was to fight fire with fire.  I was hoping that by playing my own music directly into my ears, I would cancel out the neighbor’s karaoke machine and loud voices. What I actually ended up doing was creating more distractions for myself, giving myself more stimuli to fight.

Today I’m trying something new.  I remembered that on a recent trip, I got a pair of complimentary earplugs from an airline.  I took those out of the drawer and placed them on my ears.  While I can still hear a slight murmur from the neighbor’s karaoke machine, it’s not too distracting.

This solution is the simplest, since all it involves is the earplugs, which I can take out of my drawer anytime I want.  I’m letting the neighbors go on with their lives, while I go on with my work.  I basically found a solution that is within my control, no matter what the outside world does.

In “The Art of Learning”, Josh Waitzkin introduced a chapter with this quote: “To walk a thorny road, we may cover its every inch with leather or we can make sandals.”  I guess that’s what I’m doing by wearing earplugs.  I’m making sandals.

How do you cope with noisy neighbors as a web worker?  Are they understanding of the fact that you work from home?  Do you have any suggestions for other web workers with noisy neighbors?

Image by Peter Suneson from

34 Responses to “Noisy Neighbors: How to Deal With Them When You Work From Home”

  1. Reading this blog made me shake my head. You see, I’m on the “headphone-solution” phase of our noisy neighbor problem. They are a shameless bunch who thinks they are the only ones living in our subdivision. They are not even homeowners. They just rented the house next door and first thing they did when they move-in was play their disco music so loud as if they’re all deaf. No wonder they all talk like their shouting from one hill to another. And can you believe it? Just when it’s time for you to go to sleep at night, they will also turn their radio on a certain FM station and play it loudly all night long. Oftentimes, they also bring along their friends and they talk as loudly as their music while drinking some booze and playing cards. I guess at times they also have pot sessions there and so here I am waiting for the right timing. I’ll get my revenge! Hehehe…

  2. I have the same problem. We have shameless neighbors who think that they are the only ones who are living in our compound. from parking space up to noise, they are the complete package. We have been patient for so many years now and we can no longer tolerate their ways. I tried reporting them to the police and it did little effect (they took me seriously since we told them the barangay officials are cooperating with the disturbance). I’am all out of options. hope the nuisance law won’t stay as a bill otherwise i’ll be forced to use underhanded tactics. And oh, they are also stealing electricity (jumper). they were caught (i reported them hehehe), however they are still doing it and fucking meralco is doing nothing this time around.

    Hope there is a solution to this like laws. ciao.

  3. I am able to empathize!!.

    One best solution for working unaffected is by working in glass rooms.

    Building a glass door covering from ceiling to the floor in the corner where we are working will give our own personal space as well as help us keep an eye on what is happening with the kids in the home.

    This would even help in keeping our dear ones know that we are at work and not to disturb us for some time.

  4. For earplugs, check out the decibel rating… some of them go up above a “30 db” rating.

    But it’s easier to work with a Peltor headset, just flip it on and off, much easier: hearing protector

    (The $20 models work great, but if you’re getting a WorkTunes for the input mic be sure to get the newer, higher-DB models.)

    Noise-cancelling headphones work best with repetitive noise, but not varying noise. Decibel ratings can be tricky, because they differ at varying frequencies.

  5. We seemed to have the ‘obnoxious’ magnet when we lived in apartments. Our neighbors sound much like yours.

    I found a combination of loud techno music early the next morning, calls made from my cell phone to their apartment (to mare SURE they were not sleeping in) and knocking on the door of their like I was a SWAT team got the point across.

    I have no peace, neither do you.

  6. My solution: I own a medium-sized snake and have a good relationship with the local pet dealer, and get mice for cheap.

    Last time I wanted a neighbor out, I drilled a small hole while he was out, put a pipe through the wall (so the mice wouldn’t go into the wall cavity) and passed about 25 mice through the pipe into his apartment. Then I patched up the hole inside the wall and on my side.

    I waited a few days, he complained a ton, even came over to tell me about the “infestation” in his apartment and that I should “be on the lookout”.

    He was out the end of the month. No more midnight all-night beer parties next door. I got a good night’s sleep for the first night in a month and was finally productive again.

    The apartment was vacant for the next month, so I talked to my super and got the keys to do a “walk around” – told him I was interested, as its a larger apartment.

    I rangled up most of the mice then let my snake loose in there, and conveniently forgot to return the key for a few days. A couple days later, I grabbed my snake (he was fattened up nicely so I figured we were all cleaned up) and gave the key back to the super with a “no thanks, moving’s a pain.”

    Problem solved.


  7. Yes, I have had this problem myself. The neighbors just moved in and I think they’re all in a rock band or something. They play loud music, have intense base, and the noise goes into the night…

    The noise-canceling headphones just might work.

  8. I live in Texas and when a group gets too noisy I just call the cops. They stop but usually within an hour and the noise stops.

    After several calls to the cops I have a nice quite neighborhood.

    Its nice to live in the States.

  9. I live in an apartment building and had similar problems with particular neighbour constantly making parties that went on until the morning. Even though he is two stories above me it was too loud for me to fall asleep.

    One time I got enough of it (at around 4 AM) so went down to where the circuit breakers are – and I just pulled out ones for their apartment. And then he finally got it ;)

    Next time he was making a (relocation/immigration to USA) party he announced it with a notice on main entrance, asked that neighbours don’t call the police and just ask them to silence it a bit (seems that someone else called police) and that everyone is welcome for a drink.

    There are also be other ways that don’t damage the property and are not dangerous. Such as taping or jamming with a small stick their doorbell switch in the middle of their sleep after the party

    OTOH – New neighbours just above me got a piano (perhaps pianino or electronic one) – music is mostly nice unless father (music teacher) is teaching his kids to play when in addition to not-so-nice music I hear constant foot pounding on the floor for keeping to the rhythm. But that happens during the day obviously.

  10. I can tell you a few other things that don’t work:

    1) Putting holes in your ceiling with a broom handle (or other nearby arm-extending-device) – it only escalates the issue and then you lose your deposit!

    2) Threatening to call the police – police have a hard time doing anything about these issues and you just become “The Complainer.”

    Well, what it boils down to is: that’s apartment living for you! Glad you found a solution that works for you!

  11. I can relate to your struggle. Even in New York City, where there are laws against noise pollution (eg: fines for excessive honking with vehicle horns), a call about people repeatedly disturbing the peace may not be taken seriously. If the noise persists at hours that people normally sleep (eg: between 10 PM and 5 AM), I suggest you make a record of repeated violations, and try to get some evidence — like an audio recording from a camcorder taping within your residence. From experience, I can tell you that there are a significant amount of people in this world that just cannot bear the presence of peaceful and productive individuals around them. BTW, I really like the idea of “weapon(s) against mass distraction”, and the metaphor of “making sandals”. Maybe you should try noise-cancel headphones.

  12. So, what you have done by tacitly permitting continuing bad behavior is not teaching them how to live with others in society. Sometimes you have to be more direct when the polite approach doesn’t work.
    Giving up and allowing them to continue anti-social action does not help them share the world with adults who work for a living. I say hammer on the door and let them know in no uncertain terms that this will not continue. Sometimes “the look” is enough to convince others that you are serious. Don’t let them hinder your ability to earn a living.
    Working at home is a privilege you have earned by working hard – don’t let a bunch of kids rob you of that.

  13. Great story! I liked your solution. My upstairs neighbor is not super noisy – it’s just an old house and not insulated or soundproofed. His bedroom is directly over mine. I work until 2 a.m. He gets up at 4 a.m. and clomps around. It’s not like it’s a stereo he can turn off – and he does keep his music/tv so low I don’t really notice them. So I recently moved my bedroom into a back room of the house where I don’t hear him. I like your use of the quote “Making sandals.” Thank you!

  14. Some of the guys at my husband’s company wear noise cancelling headphones to avoid the noise of the workshop next door. I think that rather than playing pink noise like Matthew is suggesting, they actually pick up the sound from the environment and create opposing sound waves that harmonize to cancel out the noise completely. Apparently they’re really good, but probably expensive.

  15. Rolltimer

    What about banding together with some other neighbors who may also be bothered by the noise? You can strategize, commiserate, and take turns presenting your complaints at their front door. Are there any neighborhood watch or homeowners’ association type groups you can appeal to?

  16. At a place I used to work at (games development) the programming department was really active and noisy, but one guy used to dit there with his headphones on always lloking peaceful and getting on with his coding.

    I asked him one day what music he used to block out the noise around him while maintaining his concentration. Supridingly his response was “I work in complete silence”.

    On further investigation he explained that his headphones were playing back a CD full of pink noise. This is like white noise (like you used to get from TVs) but the sound is different. If you listen to pink noise for any length of time you block it out so all you hear is dead silence.

    Worth trying if you can find yourself some pink noise MP3s.

  17. I tried everything, I don´t work at 2am but between 8am-1am so I need to sleep to work hard. I figured out that they do not care one bit, but that they need to sleep as well. So I tape their noise one time and then when they go to sleep I point my speakers to their house and unleash all the power of my stereo (300W) towards their house… they get the message… you are doing exactly what they do and using their own noise…. it works a charm…

  18. @ Shevonne: You’re welcome. Let me know how you work it out with your neighbors.

    @ Ron:I might try to do that continually as well, just so they’ll dread my presence enough to keep in mind that if they get too noisy, I’ll be dropping by. They probably don’t like their parties being interrupted by nerdy girls.

    @ Denise: That sounds dangerous!

  19. I like this solution and have used it myself from time to time, but I find that confronting the person continually also helps…it’s annoying and frustrating and even uncomfortable to have to continually confront someone, but being that guy (or girl) who is bound to show up at your door to raise a minor ruckus if the noise gets out of control will eventually get old to them too. Just be sure to try to handle yourself as cool and collected and not let emotions flare up too much.