The insistent repetition of your daughter's piano practice or your son's garage band can take a toll on the old ear drums. Sometimes, that loud stereo music can really make you want to hurl a couch cushion across the room. No, the walls aren't getting thinner, but the decibel level of some common neighborhood activities may be getting louder this summer -- including those that seem to happen just when you want to head off to bed. Sound can be very invasive and difficult to tune out no matter how hard you try. You don't have to suffer in the lack of silence, though. There are ways to banish the noise without causing a rift in the family or creating an international incident.
Becoming the master of sound control is about learning how to stop the vibration, because that's what sound is. The nature and location of the sounds you want to control can be important, too. Soundproofing is the art of blocking, dampening and absorbing sound waves, and there's a difference between muffling the sound of your karaoke night antics and reducing the street noises entering your living room from the front windows. On the next pages, we'll take a look at some materials and targeted methods for stopping the bad vibrations before they become noise pollution.
Types of Soundproofing Materials
Imagine you're standing at the end of the block shouting at your kids to stop roughhousing. The more empty space between you and your brood, the less you'll be heard. If you're in the house watching them rolling around on the lawn, you'll have a similar problem. The walls of your home will trap the sound of your voice, and less of what you say will make it through the wall to them. Distance, nearby sound dampening materials and solid barriers (mass) make good soundproofing.
You may not be able to move your home to the middle of nowhere, but you can put sound absorbing materials between you and sound, or between the sounds you create and the outside world. Sheetrock and brick are both great soundproofing materials, but the beauty of adding mass is that things like bookshelves (complete with books), drapes and carpeting all help dampen sound, too.
Another option is to add insulation and soundproofing to your walls. The empty spaces inside your walls help deaden sound, but insulation does an even better job. You can use special viscoelastic sound dampening material, but even standard insulating materials will provide some added soundproofing.
Sound seeps through cracks and crevices and exits (or enters) through the same spots where air can escape -- the same areas you're on the lookout for when insulating your home from heat loss. Loose window seals, gaps in baseboards, cracks and crevices are all areas where sound can penetrate. Weather stripping, sealer and silicone caulk insulation will help block sound transmitted at these sites. While you're at it, don't forget to insulate your wall plugs, and cap them, too.
Noise can redouble as it bounces from place to place. It's like the gift that keeps on giving -- in a bad way. Added mass helps absorb sound vibration, and the more textured the material (think nooks and crannies), the better it will trap sound and curtail its ability to jump around.
Having lots of overstuffed furniture, a sealed environment and insulated or thick walls will help soundproof your space, but you may still need additional soundproofing. One of the quickest ways to add soundproofing power to a room is with acoustic tiles: porous tiles designed to grab sound and keep it from reflecting back into the space. Typically, the more sound absorbing materials there are in your room, the fewer tiles you'll need. Acoustic tiles are available for both ceiling and wall installation, and tiles are usually rated for noise reduction efficiency. You'll be able to get a good idea of the impact they'll have in your space before you buy.
Soundproofing Walls, Windows and Doors
The presence of doors, windows and, to a lesser degree, ceilings and walls can present unique soundproofing challenges. Sound is like water: If it can get in (or out), it will.
Let's take a look at different room features to discuss some soundproofing options:
- Walls - If your walls are insulated or made of brick or stone, you already have some soundproofing in place. When you need added protection, though, you can approach it two ways: from the front or the back. Wall-mounted acoustical tiles, wall panels, fabrics and vinyl barriers designed to be applied to the surface of a wall can be effective and relatively easy to install. They may not always be the most attractive choices, though.There are also sound dampening products like blown-in fiberglass insulation, vinyl and lead barriers designed for installation behind drywall, often in new construction or as part of a retrofit. If you're replacing your drywall, you can also choose from a number of drywall products that have enhanced soundproofing capability.
- Windows - To get the biggest bang for your soundproofing dollar, tackle the windows. Soundproof windows or standard triple-paned windows add layers of glass to help deflect sound. They also have a sound dispersing air layer sandwiched between the glass panes. If you currently have aluminum frame windows, even just making the change to vinyl will help cut the noise.Making sound sensitive changes to your windows can help keep outside noises just that -- outside. Where a triple-pane window upgrade will require a change out of your existing windows, some specialty soundproof window options can be installed behind your windows for a less invasive fix.
- Doors - Like windows, doors are notorious for letting sound leak in and out -- even when they're closed. To create a better sound barrier around doors, swap hollow core doors for MDF (medium density fiber) or solid wood doors, and add closed cell foam tape or weather stripping around doorframes.If you're on a tight budget, adding vinyl peel-and-stick soundproofing material to a hollow core door will increase its sound dampening ability somewhat. It's made especially for doors and comes in door-sized sheets. Whatever your choice, make sure you have a snug-fitting bottom door seal in place, too. If you have sliding glass patio doors, upgrade to acoustical soundproof glass doors or install sound dampening drapes.
If you aren't equipping a sound studio, you don't have to spend a fortune on soundproofing to get results. You'll be able to hear (or not hear) the difference by employing a few of these recommendations. Silence is golden. Once you start dialing back the decibels, you can finally relax in peace.
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