Noise can get under your skin like an invisible irritant. The mufflerless motorcycle that rumbles past your house at 4 a.m., rousing you from precious sleep. The wannabe rock star upstairs that blares the bass. The chatty roommate who talks incessantly near your shared wall. All you ask for is a little peace and quiet.
In the war on unwelcome noise, you're not a defenseless victim. Although you probably won't be able to keep sound totally in or out of a room or house, you can certainly minimize the aural agony for you and your neighbors. Without tearing down a single wall panel, you can become the master of sound instead of allowing it to make you miserable.
Before we go into soundproofing methods, you may be wondering how sound creeps around with such stealth. Moderate volumes of conversation, music or television can seep through the walls like a noxious gas. The reason boils down to the fact that sound is a series of vibrations that move surrounding particles. That series of vibrations, or sound waves, carries the noise from the boom box across the room to our ears.
Because it requires particles to carry along the vibrations, sound cannot travel in a vacuum. Think about being in a stadium, and a row of people start doing "the wave." If stands beside them are empty, the cheer will stop. Likewise, the more densely packed those particles are, the better the sound moves through, since the particles don't have to do much to jostle the surrounding ones. When you're in an open field, however, sound won't carry as well because the particles are more spread out. In fact, the farther sound waves have to travel from one point to another, the fainter the sound will become.
When sound waves collide with a solid surface -- say, your bedroom wall -- there are a few things that can happen. The surface will reflect some of those vibrations back toward the source, it will absorb some of the sound by converting the vibrations into heat energy or it will transmit it to the other side, into your room.
Read on to find out how these sound properties work inside of your home.