Who our neighbors are at home seems to be up to chance, which is crazy because who they are affects our lifestyle.  Home should be a sanctuary, a place to rest and feel secure, safe from outside aggravations and threats.

The reality is, this is an ideal.  Our right to peace and amenity in our home can be rejected by a rotten neighbor.  Beware.  Rotten neighbors exist in large quantities.

The home neighbor to neighbor relationship is very precarious.  One little complaint or comment about behavior can nudge it off track forever onto a downward spiral.

Complaints usually are about things like noise, odors, fences, drainage, night-light pollution, planting.  Detached house settings are where these sorts of problems occur mostly, and greater urban densely means more potential for problems.

Also, everyone has different intelligence, values and tolerances, adding complexity to it all.  Regardless, problems usually generate from a single source – ignorance.

This ignorance is not always stupidity, more an unknowing and is either; unknowing an activity is causing a problem for a neighbor, unknowing a complaint is not a personal attack, unknowing of solutions, or all of the above.

With all this potential for social trouble, design can help the situation.

Designers need to think about all the scenarios that could cause trouble for their client from a rotten neighbor?  The danger in not doing so, and not discussing it with clients, could lead to client dissatisfaction later.

Let’s look at some design items in relation to rotten neighbor behavior.

Excessive Noise

Excessive noise is a rotten neighbor favorite.  Power tools, barking dogs, loud music, cars and motorbikes are easy ways to disrupt peace-loving neighbors.

The best way to stop noise (apart from just not making it) is to block it out using solid construction.  This is difficult for the outside of the house (building high masonry fences helps).  The inside of the house can be more readily protected.

House walls need to be solid, preferably cavity masonry or reinforced concrete.  Stud framed walls with lightweight cladding and insulation are usually inadequate.

Windows can be acoustic quality but closing them stops ventilation.  Ventilated acoustic windows (double-depth with a breathable sound-baffled space between them) can work but this can be expensive.

It is not easy to block a rotten neighbor’s noise.

Offensive Odors

Offensive odors can come from machinery fumes, paints and lacquers, fertilizers, and more.  Unfortunately, the rotten neighbor has the upper hand with odors because all that can be done really is to close all windows and doors.


Fences are shared property so they invite a particular type of rotten neighbor nastiness.  If a new fence is part of the design, the neighbor needs to be informed, but it is desirable to build a solid fence.

A solid fence will help block noise and other unwanted things from your neighbor, such as weeds and vermin (especially if the neighbor keeps an untidy property).  A solid fence also means not having to look at the rotten neighbor.


Drainage (mainly surface stormwater runoff) needs to be resolved early, for runoff to and from each property depending on which way the ground falls.  Ignoring this can result in expensive problems later.

Night-Light Pollution

Like drainage, this issue goes both ways.  Design lighting not to spill to the neighbor, and design the house to not be negatively affected by a neighbors lighting.


Plants and trees cause many neighbor problems.  The obvious includes dropping branches, leaves and fruit onto a neighbor’s property, branches brushing against the neighbor’s house, damaged fences.  There is also one issue people don’t see or think about much, and that is trees contributing to soil differential settlement.

Trees can absorb a lot of ground moisture which can affect soil volume and strength characteristics.  Reactive clays are especially susceptible to this.  Soil differential settlement close to structures can seriously damage them from the footings up.

In Conclusion

So, designing for neighbors is important, especially if the neighbor is rotten.  Good design can’t prevent neighbor problems, but it can mitigate them so clients can be happier living in more peace in their new home.