How I adapt to 1975’s Residential Tower

“Adapting houses” is considered a demand-side strategy for bringing down global emissions. This strategy becomes especially important when facing the high ratio of “one-person” households, while more than 70% of newly constructed houses are single-family homes.

The concept sounds simple, but how can we adapt to these units technically without altering much of the existing condition and meeting our modern code simultaneously?

Here I want to share some of my design struggles when adapting to the high-rise structure designed in 1975.

Acoustic issues

Like many of my neighbors whose birthplace is a foreign country, I grew up in a house built with concrete and finished with terrazzo flooring. The culture there was that people mob the floor and take off their shoes inside their homes.

Therefore replacing the carpet floor with an easy-maintained wood floor was my initial consideration. In the end, I decided to keep the original carpet floor, not because of financial concerns but rather the acoustic consideration.

According to IBC Chapter 12 Sound transmission requirement, the floor assemblies at the unit shall have Sound Transmission Class of at least 50 and have Impact Insulation Class of at least 50.

Image on the left is original construction drawing from 1975. Image on the right is the sketch published by HUD. (STC: sound transmission class. IIC: impact insulation class)

Above image is the excerpt from original construction documents from 1975. The image was blurred, but I suspect the initial-designed floor assembly was a quarter-inch parquet tile on top of two-and-half-inch of the concrete slab. It seems to be a 14" plenum space with a 1/4" steel furring channel and drywall at the ceiling.

There is no way I could take the whole assembly to test its Sound Transmission Class or Impact Insulation Class rating. Luckily, I found this document published by HUD that uses 1970s research publications as their references. In their sketch, a 3" thick concrete slab has an Sound Transmission Class rating of about 45–56 dB; and with carpet over soft padding, the assembly will have an Impact Insulation Class rating of approximately 70 dB.

Assuming I raze the carpet and use either existing wood parquet or replace it with thicker wood flooring, the overall Impact Insulation Class rating can still be about 51 dB, that only slightly over IBC’s requirement.

Paint Consideration

Although paint color is a very personal choice, the primary reason that I repaint the whole unit rather than touch-up is because of its original sheen.

When I moved into this condo, the entire unit, other than the kitchen bathroom, was painted with a flat sheen. This kind of finishing has a non-reflective appearance and can hide minor defects on the surface. Yet, it is prone to leaving marks on the surface and is not easy to remove.

Eggshell sheen is a slightly shiny finish that minor defects can easily spot under the light. On the other hand, it is easier to wipe down the marks left on the eggshell sheen. For that reason, I repaint the whole unit. As you can tell from the image, the ceiling has a tiny glittery glow when the morning sun penetrates the entire space. This unexpected shimmery was one of my delight moments of the day.

By the way. here are some before-after photos.

  • Below is a list of areas where you would commonly encounter issues when adapting your homes.

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Architecture-expat living at the intersection of Art, Space, Place & City. Sketches more than writes. If interested, learn more at www.phdesigns.us

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Hsiao Wei

Hsiao Wei

Architecture-expat living at the intersection of Art, Space, Place & City. Sketches more than writes. If interested, learn more at www.phdesigns.us

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