Absorb Room Noise with Materials
Block Noise with Doors
Weatherstrip Doors to Seal Noise Leaks
Cut Down on Noisemakers
Tweak Your Sound System
Consider the Garage Door
Fix Floor Squeaks
Silence Noisy Pipes
Is noise at home keeping you awake or driving you and your family crazy? Here you will learn how to quiet your noisy house, apartment, or condo. Includes information on how noise travels and the materials and methods that can help you find some peace and quiet.
Let’s face it: Thanks to lightweight home construction, open floor plans, and a multitude of noisy machines and entertainment gear, today’s houses are noisier than ever. Unless a house is equipped with some forms of sound proofing, it can be insufferable at times.
Even worse are noisy neighbors in apartments and condos. How do you soundproof a room from outside noise or from noisy neighbors? Or, more to the point, how do you soundproof existing walls? Can you soundproof walls without removing drywall or installing soundproof wall insulation? We’ll help you answer these questions.
To help quiet your home, we’re going to help you do 8 things now:
- Cut down on noisemakers
- Use sound-absorbing materials
- Install sound-blocking doors
- Weatherstrip interior doors
- Design a sound system that doesn’t broadcast noise
- Block street noise with your garage door
- Fix floor squeaks
- Silence noisy pipes
Below, we’ll look more closely at all of these.
But first it helps to understand the dynamics of sound so you can effectively control it.
How Sound Works
Fundamentally, sound comes from the energy that is produced when an object vibrates, creating waves in the air around it. The sensitive membrane in our ears, the eardrum, detects these vibrations in the air and registers this information in the brain as different types of sound.
The wavelength and unique qualities of each sound are what differentiate different types of sound. Different sources of sound containing various levels of bass, mid-range, and treble frequencies create distinct “fingerprints” that we learn to recognize over time as unique sources.
Bass (with long wavelengths) and treble (with short wavelengths) are affected differently by the materials they contact. For example, harder surfaces tend to bounce treble and mid-range frequencies, while softer surfaces tend to absorb them. This is why many common soundproofing materials incorporate varying types of foam in order to achieve maximum sound reduction across the spectrum of sound wavelengths.
Bass frequencies are harder to control because they are not absorbed as effectively by soft materials. In addition, big flat surfaces such as walls and floors tend to resonate more with bass sounds, effectively transferring these sounds.
The uniformity of a surface affects its sound transmission characteristics. Flat surfaces tend to bounce sound waves around, sometimes creating a lasting echo effect if the surfaces (or walls) are directly parallel to each other. The less uniform the surface, the less opportunity the sound has to bounce off. In addition, if two walls are not parallel with one another, sound is less likely to ricochet back and forth. This is why the uneven “egg crate” and ridged patterns of soundproofing materials are popular in environments where sound reduction is key, such as in a recording studio or a bedroom.
What Is Noise?
Noise is simply unwanted sound. In the home, most people consider noise to be just about any sound other than the sound made by what they’re doing. For example, if you’re on the phone, the television in the next room is noise. Conversely, if you’re watching television, a phone conversation in the next room can be noise. Your teenagers’ music is noise, period. You get the idea.
Unfortunately, conventional walls and ceilings are only marginally effective at blocking noise because they are built like drums. They have membranes (typically drywall) on the two outer surfaces of a structural framework that’s filled with air. Sound waves strike one surface and carry through the air or framework to the other surface where they’re broadcast as audible noise.
Where there is a very thin wall surface—or no surface at all, such as an open window or door—noise has a free pass.
Think of it this way:
Controlling noise involves cutting down on noisemakers and reducing the movement of sound from one place to another.
Sound proofing techniques employ surfaces that absorb sound vibrations and structures that minimize sound transference.
Okay, let’s get started.
Hard surfaces reflect sound waves; soft surfaces absorb them. The general idea is to have more soft surfaces and materials.
Materials that help control sound within a room are familiar to most homeowners. If you want to minimize sound bouncing around a room, opt for “soft” materials such as acoustic ceilings and padded carpeting rather than hardwood, tile, or laminates.
Noise at windows. Sound-blocking curtains are an inexpensive way to absorb some interior room sounds and can marginally minimize outdoor noise. You can buy sound-blocking curtains on Amazon for under $40. But keep your expectations low—they are not going to do a great job of keeping out the noise.
Ceiling sound absorption. Companies such as Armstrong World Industries have a wide range of acoustic ceiling materials that are particularly popular for cutting deadening the sound within a room and can help cut down on noise transference to and from basements and other activity areas.
Acoustic tiles and drop-ceiling systems offer excellent acoustical properties; people who think the conventional styles are a bit too institutional will like some of the newer styles available.
For example, Armstrong offers 2-by-2-foot and 2-by-4-foot acoustic ceiling panels that have a step-edged detail or look like embossed or molded plaster. “These are very good for blocking noise generated in the basement and keeping it from invading upstairs,” says a spokesperson for Armstrong’s residential ceilings. “They will give your basement ceiling an STC [Sound Transmission Class] rating of about 35 and even better performance if you install batt insulation between floor joists,” he adds.
(For more about STC, see Sound Proofing Walls & Ceilings.)
With ceilings, as with the entire house, the most effective way to minimize noise is to combine a number of different sound-blocking and sound-reduction methods.
Wall sound proofing. If you’re building a home recording studio, sound proofing is an art. A good place to start is with sound proofing acoustic deadening sound tiles like the ones shown here. Acoustic panels come in a variety of colors.
Cost for acoustic sound proofing tiles ranges from about $15 to $40 for a pack of twelve 12-by-12-inch tiles. The intention with sound proofing acoustic panels is to deaden the sound within a room. but they will also help keep noise from traveling into or out of the room.
The largest opening in most walls is a doorway. One of the most effective ways to keep noise from moving from one room to the next is to install (and weatherstrip) solid doors, something you can easily do whether or not you’re remodeling or building. This is a great noise-reduction technique.
Most interior doors are of hollow core construction—their interiors are a honeycomb construction filled with air. They are very ineffective at blocking sound.
According to a spokesperson for the National Wood Window & Door Association, “Any one of the particleboard-core, composite-core, or solid-wood doors would work much better at providing a sound barrier than a hollow-core door.”
Of course, solid-core doors are more expensive than hollow-core doors, but they are also available in a much broader selection of elegant styles.
You can also buy doors that are made specifically for blocking sound. These typically utilize 1/2-inch-thick particle board sound board, an interior layer of lead, and interlocking thresholds and sweeps.
For more about interior doors, see the The Best Doors for Blocking Sound.
Most of the sound doesn’t come through a door, it sneaks around the door. Install weatherstripping or door sound proofing in the door jambs to provide a seal. Usually the easiest and best material to use is adhesive-backed high-density foam tape.
Rubber bulb weatherstripping gaskets can also seal the jambs and a weatherstripped threshold and door sweep can seal the gap beneath a door.
If you were to replace a hollow-core door with a solid one and weatherstrip the perimeter, what would be the result? According to the National Wood Window & Door Association, “If you did all of this, you could probably end up with an STC [Sound Transmission Class] rating of 34 to 36.”
No, “cutting down on noisemakers” doesn’t mean sending your kids off to play at your neighbor’s house, though this no doubt would help. It does mean opting for quieter appliances when it’s time to buy new ones.
Manufacturers have picked up on the problem of noise and, as a result, make premium appliance models that are designed to be very quiet. The difference between the noise made by conventional whole-house fans, dishwashers, washing machines, and other typically noisy appliances and their newer, quieter counterparts can be significant.
Of course, the closer appliances are located to living or sleeping areas, the more it matters to buy quiet appliances.
Keeping appliances working properly is also part of the equation. Listen for rattles, vibrations, buzzing, and other noises made by your home’s appliances and equipment. If something seems unusually loud, fix it or get it fixed. Just jump to the DIY Home Repairs page of HomeTips and use the Search box to find instructions.
If your entertainment gear is pumping sound through an inexpensive or poorly designed speaker system, it may be creating a lot of unnecessary household noise. The goal should be to enjoy the sound when you’re at the television or near the media gear without imposing the sound on the rest of the house.
Subwoofers, because of their booming low-frequency tones, are classic offenders. You can buy a subwoofer isolation pad to put beneath the subwoofer so it produces the base tones you want to hear in the entertainment area but doesn’t vibrate the house like a freight train.
Similarly, quality speakers such as the ELAC Unif-fi or Andrew Jones Debut Series let you enjoy great sound fidelity and clarity without the need to crank up the volume. Another option for the household where one member likes to have the sound blasting when others want it quiet is to buy a wireless headphone set.
If your home has a room next to or above the garage, street noise can travel right through the garage into your house. In this situation, the makeup of your garage door is also a consideration.
The typical garage door is built with a open interior framework and faced with a sheet of plywood, steel, vinyl or aluminum on the outside.
But you can buy premium garage doors that are filled with foam insulation and have an additional facing on the inside. These are particularly good at keeping street noise from entering through the garage.
For more, see the Garage Doors Buying Guide.
Though floor squeaks aren’t usually much of a bother during active parts of the day, they can be a real annoyance when the house is quiet.
If your home’s pipes rattle, chatter, or make loud banging noises when you turn faucets off or flush the toilet, it’s time to handle this problem.
There are relatively easy steps you can take to solve the issues of thudding and banging pipes. The problem is caused by water slamming to a halt when it reaches the end of a pipe.
Final Thoughts about the Noisy Home Syndrome
Noise has become a byproduct of our busy lives, and accompanying it we’ve created noise pollution. Sure, noise pollution isn’t like having lead in your paint or microbes in your water. But it can mess up our sleep, add to our stress, infringe on our privacy, and generally compromise our quality of life.
Fortunately, you can employ a number of sound proofing or noise-reducing initiatives to alleviate the problem as discussed above. However, the most effective measures are best done during a building or remodeling project because they involve utilizing insulation and dual-glazed windows, and modifying the way walls and floors are built. For in-depth coverage about construction methods, next see Sound Proofing Walls & Ceilings.
Achieving a home that is quiet can take a little work, but when you’re ready to relax in a quiet room and enjoy a good book, you’ll know it was well worth the effort. Silence is golden.