How to soundproof your home

Let’s face it. Unless you live in a remote part of the countryside in a house with very thick walls, then noise pollution is a part of your every day life. Noisy neighbours, loud televisions and radios, and high level of traffic volume are just some of the typical noise pollutants which regularly invade our homes when we are trying to relax after a stressful day.

It’s a real invasion of privacy but there’s not a lot that you can do a lot about it. Right? Wrong. Before you decide to move away from the constant racket, read our straightforward guide to soundproofing your home. From your windows to your walls, your ceilings to your doors, our guide will ensure you won’t hear as much as a peep from outside. And if you’re on a tight budget, we have tons of helpful tips which will reduce noise in any property, without complaints from your wallet!

Why should I sound proof my property?

As well as being an irritant, UK environmental consultants believe that excessive levels of noise pollution can actually lead to ill health!

The Government is also concerned about the problem of noise pollution, and has passed legislation for all new buildings and refurbishments, known as Building Regulations Part E or, “Resistance to the Passage of Sound”. The aim of these regulations is to improve sound insulation, not only between dwellings but actually within the properties themselves, and also between shared property such as rooms in hostels, hotels and residential homes.

How does sound travel?

In order to best sound proof your home, it is important to understand a little bit about how sound actually works. Sound is made up of low frequency waves, which are similar to radio waves. When something makes a sound, it emits these waves which will travel in all directions from the source.

These waves will keep travelling until they meet some form of resistance, such as a wall or sofa. But they can also bounce off these items, and that can cause an effect known as reverberation, which actually strengthens the sound. Proper sound proofing uses materials that not only absorb or block sound, but they do not allow it to reverb or echo, which keeps things nice and quiet!

How does sound proofing actually work?

In plain English, the only way to stop sound is to either reduce it or absorb it. Whether you opt to use a professional or go down the DIY route, it is still these two techniques that will be used. The first technique is noise reduction. Noise reduction works by blocking the passage of sound waves through either the use of distance or the placing of intervening objects in the sound path.

The second way - noise absorption - operates by transforming the sound wave itself. While this might sound like a magic trick, it simply means that the wave changes when it comes into contact with certain materials. A simple example of noise absorption is with the material lead. Lead is both a heavy and soft material so when a sound wave comes into contact with it, the wave does not reverberate as lead is soft and it begins to quiet, or dampen, as lead is heavy.

Making a sound wave transfer through different layers of material with different densities also assists in noise damping. This is the reason why foam in a wall is a popular sound damper. The sound waves are forced to travel through multiple foam cells which transforms and absorbs the sound.

But a word of warning - if not done properly, then foam in a wall may be undependable as a sound proofing technique. If in doubt, consult a professional sound proofer or builder.

Can I sound proof my home myself?

It is completely possible to sound proof your home yourself, although the key is to get the correct products for your particular needs. Most sound proofing companies such as Soundstop provide sound proofing materials that need only low to medium DIY skills, but can also offer a professional fitting service in the UK if required.

Whichever route you choose, it may be worth considering that if you intend to spend a lot of money on sound proofing your home, and you possess only basic DIY skills, then it might be more cost effective to use a professional. It would be very frustrating to fork out and then have to cover your ears!

What a din!

The first step when sound proofing your home is to work out where the sound is coming from, and what part of your property most needs sound insulation. The problem with sound is that it will find every crack in your home in which to sneak in, so a thorough examination of walls, doors and windows is in order.

A useful way to do this is to turn everything off in your home, and listen carefully to where external sound is emanating. Try to do this at different times of the day when there will be different levels of sound in your neighbourhood. In order to most efficiently sound proof your home, you will need to know what level of noise you are attempting to block out.

All sound is measured in decibels (dB) and the table below will give you an idea of what level of sound you are dealing with. This vital information will determine what type of materials you need for your particular property.

Common sounds measured in decibels (dB)
Type of Noise Audibility (in dB)
Rustle of leaves 0 dB
Quiet conversation 30 dB
Ambience in a city at night 45 dB
Background noise in an office 50 dB
Average radio 60 dB
Car passing on the street 70 dB
Intercity train/loud music indoors 80 dB
Pneumatic drill at 3 metres 90 dB
Jet plane taking off at 100 metres/Rock band 100 dB
Screaming baby/Industry legal limit 115 dB
Deafening 120 dB

Materials used for sound proofing rooms are all rated for their effectiveness at dampening sound. These ratings are known as Sound Transmission Class (STC) ratings. Basically the higher the STC rating, the better the sound proofing capabilities of a material. Most windows, insulation, and carpeting all come with STC ratings, even if they are not specifically for sound insulation. Specialised sound proofing materials will not only have these STC ratings, but have additional qualities that are designed to deal with all decibels of noise pollution.

As we have already mentioned, sound proofing companies such as Sound Service (Oxford) Ltd, Noise Stop Systems, Sound Proofing R Us, Sound Stop, Sound Reduction Systems, iKoustic, or Karma Acoustic Solutions can supply you with soundproofing materials, or supply and fit your materials for an additional cost.

What are the problem areas?

What a pane!

Windows are the biggest culprit for sound entering or leaving your home - with single glass panes the worst offender of all. The irony with single glass panes is that they are usually found on older properties, which actually have very thick walls, so if they were replaced then the difference would be immense.

Upgrading single pane windows to double glazing can reduce your noise levels by up to 20%. And if you splash out and buy double glazed windows with acrylic frames, this can reduce your noise levels by up to 50%!

How swish!

Although highly effective, if buying new windows sounds too expensive, then the next best thing can be to buy heavy curtains or drapes. There are special kinds of drapes known as sound deadening drapes and they come in a variety of styles to suit your tastes – and they won’t break the bank.

Plug it!

Window plugs are simply soundproofing mats that are cut to the exact size of your window frame. The plugs are normally one or two inches thick and are easy to fashion yourself.

Window plugs form a tight sound barrier around the cracks in the window frame but they will also block the light – so are only really suitable for use at night.

The Walls Have Ears!

Despite appearances, the walls in a room can be the least solid barrier for noise. Standard thin drywall can be ineffective for hampering travelling noise but there are solutions!

Adding Drywall

Simply adding more layers of drywall to a wall can improve sound resistance. The basic rule of thumb is: the thicker the drywall, the better. Simply apply silicone caulking - a sealant which will close up joints and gaps - to the stud side of the wall. Attach the drywall with screws or nails. Then apply a second layer of caulking and another sheet of drywall.

Insulation

Adding insulation to your walls can help improve sound absorption. This is especially handy if you are moving into a newly built home as you can apply fibreglass insulation to the wall before both sides of drywall have been put up.

Again, the rule of thumb is: the thicker the insulation, the better sound absorption you will have. But don't worry if your walls have already been built, you can still apply insulation by cutting holes in the drywall between the wall studs. You then blow in foam or paper insulation, which will deaden sound.

Wall coverings

If you are renting, or you simply don’t want to go inside your walls, then you can apply wall covering material with soundproofing capabilities on the outside of your walls. These materials are available from any professional soundproofing company and can be painted to match the style of your room.

Look up!

Well, before you look up, look down! If you can soundproof the floor above your ceiling then that is a much better option. Soundproofing the ceiling is trickier because it involves installing a false ceiling. This false ceiling needs to be attached to resilient bars to create a cavity between the existing ceiling otherwise you won't benefit from a reduction in sound. If you are certain you need a false ceiling, then contact a professional but read our tips below in case you can reduce the noise problem without forking out.

Cover the Upstairs Floors

Adding carpet or special soundproof matting, which is available in carpet shops, to an upstairs room, you can noticeably reduce the level of noise heard below.

Insulate the Ceiling

Depending on your level of DIY skills, you can remove the drywall on your ceiling, and insert layers of fibreglass insulation. While you’re up there you can also add soundproof tiling to your ceiling, which is fantastic at stopping sound travelling through!

Close the doors!

It might sound obvious but you don’t want to fork out hundreds of pounds for top soundproofing and then ruin it by leaving your door ajar! But on a more serious note, don't forget that snug fitting internal and external doors in your property are vital for trapping sound, otherwise your sound insulation efforts will be wasted.

If you can afford it, then solid wood doors make the sound blockers, but also make sure you have airtight thresholds, door heads and jambs. Special weather seals for doors are also available at most DIY stores for a few quid. These are easily stuck around the seal of the door frame, and make a world of difference!

Are there any quick fix solutions?

If you’re on a tight budget, then don’t worry. Here we have compiled a list of some of the cost effective ways of reducing sound – guaranteed to be music to your ears!

  • Try to ensure that at least 25% of every room contains absorbent materials, such as carpeting, furniture, or draperies. These materials help dampen sound waves, and absorb sound.
  • If you’re really stuck then you can always hang carpeting or bedding or push mattresses up against the walls, to help reduce noise transmission.
  • You can attack noise at the source. Place half-inch-thick pads of rubber or cork under the legs or corners of heavy appliances.
  • Put stereo speakers on stands to prevent turning floors and walls into whole-house speakers.
  • Mask noise indoors or outdoors with table top fountains, garden water features, or plant ornamental grasses that make a soothing sound when the wind blows.
  • Place weather stripping around all doors, even interior ones. Replace any weather stripping that is loose or admits light or air.

The Sound of Silence!

Your home can turn into an oasis of silence by reducing or absorbing unwanted noise in your property. Whether you use a professional or have a go yourself, the costs need not be excessive and the rewards speak for themselves. In fact, you’ll be so happy with your quiet home that you’ll want to shout it from the rooftops – but do have pity on your neighbours who haven’t soundproofed theirs!

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