Imagine that a garbage truck is idling outside your home. A soft, low-frequency hum can be felt, not unlike the hum that comes from a refrigerator, only stronger and lower. You don’t hear it with your ears, you feel it with your whole body. Subtle, gentle, but certainly there.
Now imagine the occupant of that garbage truck ever-so gently pushing the gas pedal down, so that the sound gets ever-so-slightly louder. The idling was tedious enough, but this intermittent “vroom-vrooming” is now bothersome. You feel compelled to go talk to the person in the truck and get them to stop, or leave.
We have all experienced something like that, right? We all understand that low-frequency sounds can be disturbing, even though you can’t “hear” them, right?
Now try sleeping through that.
I have been living with a similar nightmare for the past 10 nights… June 29th to the morning of July 8.
The sound – I am guessing – comes from the ventilation system on the roof of my building, one floor above me. Those big, boxy fan units that suck the stale air from the hallways and other common areas of the building and send it skyward… well they make noise, and they often need maintenance. And low-frequency noises can travel far along beams and down support walls and so on.
So in my building, this vent unit on the roof has been sending a low-frequency hum down my apartment walls. When we sit on the toilet, stand in the bathroom, or try to sleep in the bed, we can feel this subtle, low-frequency sound. It sort of hums along like normal, then it gets lower and “harder”, like motor bearing down to move something.
It is not something that happens once in a while, like a basement sump pump. It isn’t a constant, ongoing noise, like a neighbour’s window AC or a fan. Nor is the sound cycling through a series of timed sound changes, like someone doing laundry in the laundry room upstairs, or running a contraband dishwasher or washing machine in their apartment. No, this sounds like a bigger, heavier motor, that is running 24/7, and, and something has gone wrong with it, so it groans slightly…. Hard for 2-3 seconds, softer for 5-7, then hard for 2-4, then soft again.
I had noticed the sound months before (… it might have even been last summer, but I am pretty sure it was just this past spring heat wave….) and mentioned it to the superintendent, suggesting it might be the fan unit. They quickly adjusted something or other on said unit, and the sound was gone. This led them, and me, to conclude that the fan was, indeed, the source of the bothersome and mysterious Low-F sound.
Then, on June 25th or 26th, I noticed that it was back. It seems to get worse in the hotter weather. I mentioned it to the super. They fixed it again. I saw the super in the hall the next day and told him thanks, and to thank the other guy for me please. That was the 26th or 27th.
Friday the 29th, the sound was back. Being a holiday weekend, I figured nothing would get done until Tuesday anyway, so I toughed it out and didn’t call it in. My mistake. A big one. I figured that with the heat we were having, I was unlikely to sleep that well anyway, so I just let it slide.
Tuesday, July 3, I talk to the super. I tell him the sound is back and needs fixed again.
I see the other super later in the day, he tells me he tightened the thing again and hopes it will work. No reason why it shouldn’t, we figured – it has worked before.
Tuesday night the sound was even worse. Still subtle, but louder. And this sound, mind you, is just barely loud enough to keep a person awake, but moreso if they are sensitive like me. If one was really tired, or a bit drunk or on medications, they might not even notice it. My wife sleeps through it, but she can sleep in very noisy situations.
She is, however, sleeping fitfully because she knows I am suffering with the noise. She sees me all bag-eyed and yawning and groggy during the day. I avoid the bedroom as my tossing and turning keeps her awake.
Wednesday, I tell the super, and the office of the landlord on the phone, that it is not fixed and to please go fix it properly. I tell the office that it must be fixed immediately or I may end up in the hospital.
Thursday, I am told a work order is set for Friday. My health begins to fade.
I speak to some technician late Thursday night, the emergency fix it guy, and he says he thinks he knows exactly what the problem is. He is the one who suggested the Low-F noise is travelling along beams because of where the unit sits in proximity to the rest of the building.
Friday, a young fellow comes by and asks what’s what? I tell him all about it. He stands around in my bathroom, but he can’t feel the sound. He says he looked at the unit and there is some cracking in the belt and he could change that, but…. he seemed to not believe me, like I was imagining it or it was too soft to make a fuss about. Keep in mind, it is Friday afternoon, and the ambient noise from the surrounding area in the form of traffic and construction is significantly higher than it would be at, say 10pm to 6 am when I am trying to sleep.
I explained that I have lived here for 4.3 years and that this sound is not normal. I told him that it had happened before, and that it had been fixed before. I told him that now, the fix that fixed it before, wasn’t fixing it now, and it needs, I thought, more serious repair from an actual expert.
I got the impression that I was talking to my landlord’s (a large company) general fix-it guy, and not an expert specifically in ventilation systems. I told the people at the office this very thing on Friday afternoon.
And Saturday morning.
And late Saturday night to the security guard.
And again Sunday morning.
And I have been emailing my landlord every day.
To help drown out the sounds of life as much as we can, we already have a fan going and a recording of a thunder storm that plays all night. We don’t know what else to do.
I have been told that the expert will be summoned today, Monday the 9th.
My friends suggest the usual: earplugs (which would do nothing on a low-f sound like this)…. move (not really practical as I have to give at least 60 days’ notice)…. go stay with a friend for a while (we have no friends who can accommodate our difficult needs)…. play noise or music in the room (done)… exercise before bed (near impossible due to pain)…. sleep aid drugs (can’t because of my health and addiction issues, and because of my wife’s epilepsy, I need to be sharp when woken).
It is not a sound that I had not previously-noticed, and am just noticing now, as it was fixed twice already and the absence of the sound was noted.
I am not imagining it, as my wife can hear it too.
I am not crazy, as everyone I talk to about it says “Oh, yeah, I know what you mean, that would drive me nuts.” So it is a real sound.
If they shut the fan off, and the sound persists, then it is not the fan. Might be the elevator machinery, in which case, that will need fixed, or I will definitely go insane because that is what drove us out of our last apartment.
So there is scant hope, unless they fix the noise, in which case, it is a towering non-issue. If, however, they don’t fix the noise, it is a life and death issue. I am genuinely scared.