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Originally published May 27, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified May 29, 2007 at 10:35 AM

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"Party wall" a good thing in condo building

A reader writes: "When shopping for a condo, what should I look for in the way of insulation R values, studs, sheetrock, etc., that would point to construction..."

Seattle Times staff reporter

Q: When shopping for a condo, what should I look for in the way of insulation R values, studs, sheetrock, etc., that would point to construction that will mitigate noise?

A: Look for R11 insulation, double-stud wall construction and double layers of wallboard, said Bill Stewart managing partner of SSA Acoustics, a Seattle acoustical engineering firm specializing in multifamily residential design.

However that just answers your question. To really address sound transmission you have to look beyond it because there's much more to good sound control, he said.

For starters, don't assume that a property built to minimum code requirements will minimize sound. It won't. Building codes focus on health and safety issues, not sound control. Most new upper-end condos use techniques that far exceed minimum building standards, Stewart said.

If you want to really avoid sound transmission between units here's what you look for: a double-stud "party wall," which is the wall between units. In less-soundproof buildings these walls are single-stud, meaning there's one set of studs with wallboard nailed on either side.

Party walls in better buildings have two sets of studs with space in-between, and the wallboard isn't attached directly to them. Instead either a metal or a synthetic rubber system connects the wallboard and studs; this stops the vibration that causes sound.

Luxury buildings place batt insulation in the cavity and finish off with two layers of five-eighths inch wallboard on either side.

His advice on condo shopping: if you can get into the unit next door do so. Bring a boombox with music that has a lot of bass. Turn it to the level you'd listen to, then go next door to the unit you're considering. If it's not bothersome that's a good sign.

You should also ask to see construction drawings; most companies make them available, Stewart said. Look particularly at floor construction because it also affects sound transmission.

For more on sound transmission and solutions to it go to his firm's Website: www.ssaacoustics.com.

Q: My husband and I were married five years and had owned a home for three when he walked out two years ago.

In the meantime I paid the mortgage and all the housing expenses. He's now returned to say he wants a divorce and half the equity in the house, and he'll make things difficult if I don't agree.

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How much is he entitled to? What can I do to avoid an ugly court fight?

A: Just because your husband walked out doesn't mean the court wouldn't award him equity for the time he didn't contribute to housing costs, said Bellevue attorney Rosemarie Warren LeMoine. Rather, the court looks at cases on an individual basis while applying a general standard.

The court would likely give him half the equity for the entire time you both owned the house, if your monthly house payments were close to a reasonable rental cost for a like-size property, LeMoine explained. The thinking there: You were paying the bills, but you were getting something valuable in return — a place to stay and a tax break.

But if, for example, your house payment was $1,800 a month and a similar-size rental in your area was $1,000, then the court might award you the difference: $800 a month in equity applied to your share of the home's value for the time you alone paid the housing costs.

LeMoine suggests you and your husband resolve this and other divorce issues by using a mediator rather than fighting it out in court. This will keep costs, and perhaps friction, down.

You'll want an experienced mediator who knows Washington's divorce laws. You'll also want your own attorney because mediators can't give legal advice. Consult with your attorney before you see the mediator.

Q: I'm a single parent earning about $40,000 a year. I want a condo but feel priced out. So I'm considering a manufactured home. But I'm concerned that renting space in a park is risky because parks close. Then homeowners must find a place to move their home.

The other parks I've found have been seniors-only, and I'm in my 40s. How can I find out more about manufactured homes and finding a place to put them?

A: Joan Brown, executive director Washington Manufactured Housing Association, said you're smart to be cautious. Statewide, 16 manufactured-home parks closed last year; 20 are in the process this year.

This trend isn't going to change, particularly in the Puget Sound region, because of the demand for land. In Everett, for example, a recently closed park is now the site of condominiums.

However there are still parks around. Brown suggests you look for one that offers a long-term lease, like 20 years.

Another possibility is buying your own property and placing a manufactured home on it. But again, high land costs mean there are scant bargains, particularly in King and Snohomish counties. Options are greater in other parts of the state.

Brown's association offers a free DVD, titled "Today's Manufactured Home," that explains how they're are constructed and provides retailers. You can get it by calling 800-356-9637.

Her office also answers manufactured-home questions. Call 360-357-5650.

Home Forum answers readers' real-estate questions. Send questions to Home Forum, Seattle Times, P.O. Box 1845, Seattle, WA 98111, or call 206-464-8510 to leave a question on a recorded line. The e-mail address is erhodes@seattletimes.com. Sorry, no personal replies. More columns at www.seattletimes.com/columnists.

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