Why Is My Apartment Shaking?

If you’re constantly feeling your apartment floor quiver beneath your feet, you’re not alone. It’s not unusual for occupants of multi-dwelling buildings, especially those living on higher floors, to experience slight tremors inside their homes.

Now, you might wonder: Why is my apartment shaking? Let’s get to the bottom of this seismic situation before you call the movers and pack up your belongings.

Is It Normal for Apartment Buildings to Shake?

Fortunately, vibrations propagating through your apartment’s walls, floors, and ceilings are normal. These vibrations can be pretty low at under 20 Hz. Other times, they can be in the audible range of up to 20,000 Hz, radiating from the structure as airborne noise.

Since the 1970s, there has been a shakeup in the structural designs of buildings. Thinner floor slabs and more space between columns have made it harder for buildings to dampen vibrations. Also, modern design trends like open floor plans result in fewer floor-to-ceiling partitions. 

Not to mention, lightweight furniture means less live loading and damping in the building. That’s why moving objects around and heavy footfalls from the floor above or next door can make your apartment’s bones shudder.

Small vibrations can be disturbing, particularly in enclosed spaces where you can perceive significant motion from even minor disruptions. However, these movements are mainly vertical in direction and are unlikely to pose a grave risk to the building’s structural integrity.

What Causes an Apartment Building to Shake?

Here are the usual suspects that cause your apartment to shake:

1. Nearby Construction Work

Construction activities can cause disturbances in the soil, which then transmits vibrations into the building’s foundations and up into the structure.

If you feel like the earth’s crust is shifting, check your neighborhood for any of these: 

  • Blasting
  • Soil compaction or excavation
  • Demolition
  • Jackhammering or drilling
  • Pile driving
  • Heavy machinery traffic

2. Heavy Vehicles Passing By

If you live near a busy road, the rumbling of passing vehicles can make your apartment tremble.

Trucks and heavy equipment are especially notorious for creating intense vibrations that can be felt throughout the building.

3. Mechanical Equipment

You can also find the most likely sources of vibrations inside your apartment building, which include:

  • Appliances, such as washing machines, vacuum cleaners, or dishwashers
  • Trash going down the garbage chute
  • Loose pipes
  • HVAC systems
  • Power tools
  • Radiators
  • Pumps and chillers
  • Elevators

4. Nearby Trains

If there’s a train track nearby, you’re all too familiar with the bone-rattling vibrations caused by those hulking metal beasts.

5. Weather

Extreme weather events, like strong winds and thunderstorms, can pound on roofs and rattle windows.

6. Earthquakes

Similarly, earthquakes can generate powerful ground vibrations and cause buildings to sway. Now, unless your building is in an area that experiences earthquakes often, this is likely going to be a very rare occurrence.

But it does happen, even in regions that are not known for it.

I live in Virginia and we experienced an earthquake about 10 years ago – everyone kind of freaked out because no one knew what was going on. I used to live in California so I knew right away, but many were definitely panicking, even thought it was not a serious quake.

7. Structural Issues

While rare, structural problems can cause your apartment to shake. These issues include weak foundations, damaged support beams, and poor construction.

So, you want to check for cracks, sagging, and deformation of structural elements, as these are signs of structural failure. In that case, it’s best to inform your landlord or building manager so they can have it checked out immediately.

Engineers can look at the plans, inspect the structure, and even run tests to ensure everything’s up to snuff.

How to Tame Low-Frequency Vibration in Apartment

While you can’t get rid of vibrations for good, you can tame the shaking in our apartment using these tips:

  1. Install area rugs, carpets, and paddings on hard floors.
  2. Rearrange furniture, placing the heavier ones against walls or on areas on the floor where vibrations are worse.
  3. Place anti-vibration rubber pads under the legs of washing machines, bed frames, and other furniture.
  4. Replace your metal furniture with wood ones.
  5. Add partitions or increase floor load with heavy planters or cabinets.
  6. Use resilient underlayments like mass-loaded vinyl, fiberglass, or crumbled rubber.
  7. Open existing walls and add fiberglass insulation.
  8. If you’re planning to renovate your apartment, avoid messing with structural and load-bearing elements.

Wrapping Up

If you’re wondering why your apartment is shaking, some common culprits include active construction work, heavy vehicles passing by, and mechanical equipment. 

Modern building designs lean toward thinner floor slabs, open floor plans, and widely-spaced columns. Together, these predispose your apartment to vibrations. Additionally, human perception amplifies motion and makes minimal shaking feel significant.

While these vibrations may be unsettling to occupants, it’s highly unusual for the building to collapse. However, if you are experiencing excessive shaking and worry about your safety, it’s best to consult a professional to put your mind at ease.