Today’s houses can be noisy. Though “paper-thin walls” were once the culprit when it came to noise in the house, today’s houses suffer from a combination of open floor plans, lightweight construction, and a multitude of machines and high-tech audio and video gear. Good luck trying to find a little peace and quiet.
In this article, we’ll look at the materials and methods that can help quiet the noisy home.
In many of today’s homes, we’ve removed walls to create a sense of spaciousness. We’ve filled our kitchens with whiz-bang appliances and our family rooms with surround-sound home theaters. 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’s not just an irritant. It can mess up our sleep, add to our stress, infringe on our privacy, and generally compromise our quality of life.
Fortunately, there are a number of soundproofing or noise-reducing initiatives you can take to alleviate the problem. The most effective of these are best done during a building or remodeling project because they involve the way walls or other structural elements are built. For more about these, see Soundproofing Walls & Ceilings.
Here we look at relatively easy steps you can take in a weekend to create a quieter home. But first it helps to understand the dynamics of sound.
The crash of a cymbal, the clang of a bell…all physical actions send “sound waves” rippling through the air. When these “waves” reach our ears, they vibrate a sensitive membrane—the eardrum—and we hear them as sounds.
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, phone conversations are noise. Your teenagers’ music is noise, period.
Unfortunately, conventional walls and ceilings are only marginally effective at blocking noise. 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.
And where there is a very thin wall surface (or no surface at all, such as an open window or door), sound simply travels from one area to the next without the need for transference.
Controlling noise involves cutting down on noisemakers and reducing the movement of sound from one place to another. Soundproofing measures employ surfaces that absorb sound vibrations and structures that minimize sound transference.
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.
Here are 7 helpful techniques for making your home a quieter place:
1 Cut Down on Noisemakers
No, “cutting down on noisemakers” doesn’t mean sending your kids off to play at your neighbor’s house, though this no doubt will help. It does mean opting for quiet appliances when you need to buy new ones. Manufacturers have picked up on the problem of noise and, as a result, make premium models that are very quiet. The difference between the noise made by conventional whole-house fans, dishwashers, 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.
2 Use Sound-Absorbing Materials
Hard surfaces reflect sound waves; soft surfaces absorb them.
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.
Sound-blocking curtains are an inexpensive way to minimize outdoor noises and absorb some interior room sounds. You can buy sound-blocking curtains for under $40 on Amazon.
Companies such as Armstrong World Industries have a wide range of acoustic ceiling materials that are particularly popular for cutting 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 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 Soundproofing 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.
If you’re building a home recording studio, soundproofing is an art. A good place to start is with soundproofing acoustic deadening sound tiles like the ones shown here. They come in a variety of colors. Cost ranges from about $15 to $40 for a pack of twelve 12-by-12-inch tiles.
3 Install Sound-Blocking Doors
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.
Most interior doors are of hollow core construction. 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, but they are also available in a much broader selection of elegant styles. For more about interior doors, see the The Best Doors for Blocking Sound.
4 Weatherstrip Interior Doors
But most of the sound doesn’t come through the door, it comes around the door. It’s important to install weatherstripping or door soundproofing to provide a seal. Usually the easiest and best material to use is adhesive-backed high-density foam tape.
Rubber bulb weatherstripping gaskets and a weatherstripped threshold should seal the gaps around the perimeter.
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.”
5 Tweak Your Sound System
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 idea is 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 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.
6 Consider the Garage Door
Your garage door is also a consideration if there is a room next to or above the garage. Though the typical garage door is built with a open interior framework and a sheet of plywood, steel, vinyl or aluminum on the outside, you can also buy premium garage doors that are filled with foam insulation and have an additional covering on the inside. These are particularly good at keeping street noise from invading through the garage. For more, see the Garage Doors Buying Guide.
7 Fix Floor Squeaks
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 house suffers from squeaky floors or stairs, check out this helpful information: How to Fix Squeaky Stairs and How to Fix Floor Squeaks.
8 Silence Noisy Pipes
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 these issues. The answer is usually to install water hammer arrestors, like the one shown here, on the hot and cold water pipes. For more, see How to Fix Noisy Pipes.
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