Can you soundproof your living space?

How to Soundproof a Room

Bookcases and area rugs or carpeting can help insulate rooms from noise.
Bookcases and area rugs or carpeting can help insulate rooms from noise.
Greg Ryan/Sally Beyer/Getty Images

Most audio domestic doldrums relate to sound reception, so we'll cover these techniques first. If you have a larger budget and are handy with a drill, you could add a double wall or dropped ceiling to bring the volume down. Although this article won't focus on heftier DIY soundproofing projects like these, the concept behind them is important. Basically, you are building an extra space for air to trap and dissolve the sound because sound does not travel alone. Once the sound waves cross through that first wall, the added space helps to halt some of the sound because there's a drop in particle density. Construction plans also often call for filling those gaps with insulation as an added sound absorber.

Sound is absorbed by converting the vibrations of sound waves into heat energy. Fibrous materials such as insulation or foams make effective sound barriers because the strands absorb the vibration, creating heat in exchange. This is why area rugs on hardwood and tiled floors tame down the noise. Thick drapes can reduce sound volumes by up to 10 decibels when strategically placed [source: Berendt]. To put it in perspective, that would take you from a noisy restaurant to a quiet conversation at home [source:].

If you're the one making the racket in your living space, you can make your own soundproofing panels from Styrofoam and fabric as well [source: Oldham]. You can also install different shapes of foam or other porous material on walls to act as diffusers. Diffusers or acoustic panels help with sound transmission by altering the shape and surface of a wall to minimize and direct the amount of wave energy that bounces from one side of the room to the other [source: Elsea]. Just avoid concave shapes since it will draw the noise toward the wall [source: Elsea].

As mentioned earlier, you can literally block sound out with mass. Large bookcases or bureaus against common walls could help insulate rooms. Concrete items in particular work well because their mass and porous quality absorbs some of the vibrations.

When soundproofing in the home, one step that can greatly improve the situation is plugging up the crevices that sound burrows through. We're talking the cracks around baseboards, slits around window seals, you name it. Flexible caulking and weather stripping can seal the deal for these amplifiers. Door sweeps that block the area between the door and the floor allow for opening and automatically flip back down when it closes. You can even purchase foam gaskets that fit behind the plates on your electrical outlets that can make a difference [source: Warde].

Apartment tenants with loud upstairs neighbors get the short end of the soundproofing stick. Warding off this type of noise is the most difficult to accomplish since the best step would be for the neighbors to install carpets with insulating foam between it and the floor. On your end, the most effective step is building a dropped ceiling, which landlords likely wouldn't go for. To fight fire with fire, consider purchasing a white noise generator. By simulating the ultimate sound of silence, the device may cloak the unwelcome vibes you're getting.

For heavier duty soundproofing options and related information, browse the links below.

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  • Berendt, Raymond D.; Cordiss, Edith L.R. and Ojalvo, Morris. "Quieting: A Practical Guide to Noise Control." The Minerva Group. 2000. (July 2, 2008)
  • Elsea, Petr. "Acoustic Treatments for Home Studios." UC Santa Cruz. 1996. (July 2, 2008)
  • "Experts unveil 'cloak of silence'." BBC News. June 12, 2008. (July 2, 2008)
  • Gelfand, Alexander. "How to Soundproof an Apartment to Muffle Your Wife's Drumming. Wired Magazine. June 21, 2007. (July 2, 2008)
  • "Identify the Source of Your Noise Problem." Sound Isolation Company. (July 9, 2008)
  • Litchfield, Michael W. "Encyclopedia of Home Improvement." Sterling Publishing Company. 1997.
  • Manfredini, Lou. "Neighbors too loud? Indoor noise solutions." Sept. 20, 2007. (July 2, 2008)
  • Oldham, Todd. "Quiet Riot." Ready Made. (July 2, 2008)
  • Warde, John. "Home Improvement." The New York Times. Dec. 26, 1991.