In the past, soundproofing your room was very difficult because the houses used to have paper-thin walls. Unwanted noise from the outside world filtered through these walls and we had to live with that kind of sound permanently. We do not have that problem anymore. We have chosen new problems for ourselves.
Lightweight construction, hordes of gadgetry (both audio and video) and open floor plans are the main culprits of this age when it comes to ambient noise.
The lives we lead are hectic and noise, it can be argued, is the by-product of the choices we have made for ourselves. In itself, open plan living is a brilliant idea and I vouch for it. However, its upside is partly offset by its downside- noise pollution. Add to this our home theatres and appliances and you have a full recipe for disaster.
But what use is narrating our worries. Humans are about solutions, right? So, in this article, let me propose all there is to know about soundproofing the room. I will also share with you that one particular aspect of soundproofing that hasn’t been talked about at all.
Soundproofing your room
The most effective way of soundproofing a room is to start with the task the moment you start your home design (or redesign). This way, you are able to sort the issue out just at the time the walls and structural elements of the home are being constructed. Before we discuss in detail, how to soundproof a room, it will be worthy to take a look at how sound works.
Sound waves reach us through ripples in the air. When they vibrate against our tympanum (ear drum), we hear sounds. Noise, to define, is any sound other than the sound you want to reach you. As an instance, while watching television, the whistling of the pressure cooker is a noise. Similarly, television can be a source of noise when you are concentrating on the telephone.
How to soundproof a room?
And now for the question, how to How to soundproof a room? The walls and ceilings we traditionally make for ourselves do not cancel out the ambient noise. This is because they are constructed like drums. They have drywall membranes on the outer surfaces on both sides.
These are packed with air. When sound waves reach one drywall membrane, they are carried off to the other membrane through the air. On this other side, they are relayed as noise. And, if the wall is paper thin, there is no need for transference. For instance, noise is projected through open doors and windows.
When we acknowledge that noise cannot be restricted at its source, we have to be doubly cautious. The next job is to determine how best our home designing or renovation effort can cut down the problem. A home designer at the top of his game thinks about all the possible sound paths. These include the direct path offered to sound; read doors and windows and the indirect paths; minor wall fissures or the fences. The designer does not leave the airborne noise, impact noise and echo from hard surfaces out of his scrutiny.
Acoustic insulation if noise cannot be restricted at source
If noise cannot be restricted at source, try to enhance the distance between the source and the location where noise will be heard. For the pursuit, locating your home as far away as possible from the street frontage may be the key. Push in a buffer space between a noisy and a supposedly quiet area. As an example, you can play with the idea of a wardrobe between two bedrooms. You can go for earth-mounding or fencing, too, but your designer will have to take up the project in a very sincere way.
You cannot possibly set up a barrier when sound originates from above it. If noise sources are located on the northern flank of your home, you cannot do much about them. However, use of trees and shrubs, brick or concrete walls and timber fences (not in a bushfire zone) can help limit the impact of noise.
Noise from above – the most forgotten source of noise
A 2 metre tall wall of concrete masonry or an equally high earth mound may help you reduce noise which runs below the barrier. The sound coming from above it will still reach you though. This, my friends, is the less talked about aspect of soundproofing I mentioned in the opening paragraph (the sound coming from above the barrier).
Sound proofing – The noise reduction coefficient
A glass window may have a very low noise reduction coefficient, something like 0.05. This would mean 95% of the sound that hits a glass window fails to get absorbed and hits back at the resident as unwanted noise. Contrarily, a carpet (that comes with a rubber inlay) may have a coefficient of 0.4%, hence holding back 40% of sound from turning into ambient noise.
You can soundproof a room by applying principles of Absorbing and Dampening
Absorbing and dampening are two significant techniques when it comes to soundproofing. Absorption relies on the use of a rubbery membrane which can help sound from bouncing off (thus increasing the NLR). Dampening, on the other hand, implies using a dead wall (I mean an acoustically dead wall) which just does not vibrate when sound hits it.
So, you can use extra thick doors and not the hollow ones which have been used traditionally. Or you can use massive concrete or lead walls designed with big air gaps in between. Usage of fibreglass, viscoelastic foam, neoprene rubber, or Mass-loaded vinyl is being prescribed and rightly so. These act as fill-in materials between walls and soak up quite a bit of sound.
Acoustic foam panels can help with decoupling
Decoupling is another technique that has got quite a few backers. It deals with constructing a small room inside the original room and by doing so, stop sound from freely travelling from one side to the other. The acoustic decoupling or the room within the room effect is carried on by building both the rooms with ‘solid’ materials that are preferably heavy.
However, both the rooms are disallowed from touching each other directly or else they can easily turn out to be pathways for transference of sound. For decoupling, I recommend the use of small clips (think of Resilient Channel) for the inner, small room and sound-absorbing materials for the lining of the walls.
Build a soundproof wall: if noise can be limited at the source
If noise can be limited at the source, it is great news for you. Sound-attenuating walls, windows and roofs can together help you win from the noisy outside. Use massive walls which are preferably without windows and doors. If windows need to be there, they must have laminated panes.
Similarly, if doors need to be there, they must have seals at the hinge area. The frame walls should be acoustically well-planned. A wall construction system with a high acoustic rating can come in handy. A stud framed construction which uses staggering can also be quite a help.
Points to remember while creating an external sound envelope through the below materials:
Fibre cement cladding
It is a lightweight construction. Sheet cladding is of high-density. Uses thermal insulation and sound-attenuating internal lining.
It is a heavy weight construction. Uses thermal insulation and sound-attenuating internal lining and an inflexible air barrier.
Used for battens and interior strapping. The sheet cladding is of high density and uses thermal insulation and sound-attenuating internal lining.
Soundproofing walls: mass of the wall is important
When we add mass to the walls, we limit the noise that can pass through them. Massive walls do not vibrate easily and hence do not give sound a head-start. No insulation is too much insulation (of course, there is a threshold) but the point I am making is that our attic area and walls need all the possible insulation.
The vents also need to be taken care of. They connect the inside from the outside and hence act as passageway for sound. Baffling vents is an important step aimed at reducing the ambient noise. This way, air will still travel more or less freely through the vent but unwanted sound will be readily absorbed.
Cheap soundproofing: forget it…go for acoustic storm windows
When we talked about the Noise Level Reduction, we dealt with the difference in decibels between sound in the external surrounding and the sound finally reaching us. There is a popular consensus that windows let in more ambient noise than walls and hence, acoustic storm windows, though expensive, can turn out to be a smart idea. If you are in sync with your home designer on this, begin by reconditioning your windows. Remember, you may not need to replace them completely.
Soundproofing insulation measures can be versatile
Start by re-glazing the really wobbly window panes. Next, replace all those cracked panes which cannot be reconditioned at all. Of course, let your home designer decide this for you. Add weather-stripping into the mix and insulate effectively. Insulating the weight cavities is important as these cavities hold the weights which offset the weight of all the windows. I am fond of vinyl jamb liners.
These are deceptively simple strips that run up the lateral edges of windows but make no mistake, they are extremely effective. Perhaps, as a valuable addition to your program, you will also want to trim the sash edges to fit in the jamb liners.
If sound enters through open windows in a flurry, central air conditioning can be a great bet, too. Not only does it help maintain a stable temperature inside, it also helps in cutting out unwanted sound at its point of origin.
A new take on “How to make your room soundproof?”
Our first attempt is towards blocking all the pathways through which noise reaches us. For the purpose, something as simple as glazing can help us. But this is only if the edges are sealed tightly. Double glazed windows with wooden frames (where hinges are posted) do not help at all because sound percolates anyhow as windows do not seal all that effectively into the frame.
If you are letting air enter, you are allowing sound to enter, too. What does this translate into? It is that you must use caulks, gaskets and tight seals around the window and door openings. You may not have given too much thought to it but simple ducts and channels that we use for our electrical cables and power outlets are not harmless either. They act as sound transferring tools, too.
How to soundproof a door?
If you are looking for an answer to the question, how to How to soundproof a door, you will need to remember that unlike windows, the doors must not be glazed or have laminated panes. To add, they should have a solid core and a good amount of rubber seals all around them. Automatic door bottoms, lift hinges, saddles, thresholds, headers, and jamb gaskets are some of the ideas that may spring in the head of your home designer. Of course, the one he or she chooses may depend on your home’s structure and the adjoining spaces.
Sound deadening insulation is just as crucial
While tackling the drafts and leaks amount to insulation and cannot be associated directly with soundproofing, any home designer will tell you that a Sound deadening insulation has got a great say on how the ambient noise is stopped..
How to soundproof floors and ceilings?
Here is a thought. Even if you succeed in covering all the traditional sources through which sound reaches us, it can still enter via the floors and ceilings, right? Let us take up roofs and floors for good measure.
If you cover the floor with carpet tiles, you can keep the neighbours who live next to you from complaining. At the same time, using thick area rugs can limit the noise that comes from the neighbours residing just below you. A rubber underlayment or joist isolator (with floor framing members) can work brilliantly. The alternative your designer chooses will again depend on your room’s structural build, the homes of people living adjacent to you and below you.
And now, let us focus our glance on the soundproofing of our roofs. An option at hand is the concrete slab roof but its use can be hardly justified unless the condition is tailor-made for it (if an airport is close by).
Soundproofing materials for your roof
With concrete and tiled roofing, you will be able to take care of rain and even hail. However, they will be no good against airborne ambient noise. For the purpose, metal roofing (long-run profiled) with plywood underlay or a bitumen-impregnated underlay will suit you.
There are many homeowners who feel good about DIY soundproofing measures. It seems a rather simple job to do. I warn you it isn’t. It is every bit a professional’s work. How much are you aware of the structural requirement of massive walls or the “resilient channel” for the room-within-the-room or the Sound Reduction Indexes (SRI) or the Sound Transmission Classes (STC)?
A professional who is well versed with modern-day concepts of room acoustics, thermal efficiency, energy-efficiency and tight envelope can implement all these principles into your home design or home renovation effort and give you a unique home which looks good and also responds positively to its immediate environment.