It’s recently become common for people to work or attend classes from home. And while operating from home has its advantages (looser dress code, easy access to the fridge), there may be disadvantages, too. For one, it’s hard to get anything done when your house is filled with noise. It could be the daily onslaught of street noise, the tree crew who spend all week running chainsaws and chippers, or just a family member on a call in the next room. What to do?
Because sound is made up of energy (vibrations), if you absorb or block those vibrations, the sound will decrease. You can wear noise-canceling headphones all day, but that gets old—and you do want to be able to hear some things. If you have a dedicated room where you work, here are some soundproofing options that should help quell the noise.
If you have a hollow-core door, you could replace it with a solid door. You can also seal the gaps around the door. Fold up a towel or blanket and place it across the gap at the bottom of the door. You can also hang a heavy blanket over the door itself by attaching it to the top of the door trim with push pins or nails.
You can also apply an adhesive-backed weather-stripping along the perimeter of the door jamb or install a sweep or a draft stop across the bottom of the door.
If you want to take your soundproofing up a level on the weatherstripping front, you can buy a kit that consists of a gasketed aluminum frame that screws onto the door’s perimeter.
Alternatively, you can reduce the amount of noise coming through the door itself and cover it entirely with a material called mass-loaded vinyl. It’s sold in rolls and is available in different thicknesses; the thicker the material, the more sound it will absorb.
To install, either 1) remove the hinge pins, remove the door, and use construction adhesive and/or heavy staples to adhere the vinyl to the door, or 2) cut the vinyl slightly larger than the door, install grommets across one edge of the sheet, and hang it like a curtain covering the door. The stuff is heavy, so be sure to have a helper.
If you’re not averse to spending more money, you can order a custom-made sound barrier for the door. Made of mass-loaded vinyl encased in quilted fiberglass, these barriers attach to the door with Velcro and come in four different colors—grey, white, yellow, and black.
Walls are better than doors at absorbing sound but adding mass will make walls more soundproof.
Hanging blankets or quilts
You can start by hanging heavy blankets or quilts on them. If you used mass-loaded vinyl to cover a door, you should have plenty of the roll leftover and can hang it on the walls, again using grommets. There are also a wide variety of square panels made of thick foam, and others made from polyester or cork. They’re available in a variety of textures and colors, and most are easily installed with heavy-duty double-sided tape.
For the more design-conscious, there are fabric-covered panels that are hung from clips and can be installed as a design element. Most sound-reducing panels can also be installed on ceilings.
Installing a sound-reducing membrane
When it comes to soundproofing walls, high-tech translates to a big job. The most effective way to prevent sound from entering through the walls of a room is to start at the framing, tearing out the original drywall, and re-covering the walls. One approach is to install a sound-reducing membrane onto the studs. Again, mass-loaded vinyl is an option; it’s easy to install, and once a new layer of drywall goes up, you’ll never see it.
Use soundproofing clips
Another sound-reduction technique is to separate, or decouple, the drywall from the framing with aluminum channels or soundproofing clips. The clips are made with rubber pads that help to isolate the drywall from vibrations. Once you’ve modified the walls (or ceilings—the technique works there too), you can add one, or even two layers of drywall to complete the project.
Windows are prime conductors of outside sound, but most of the lower-tech sound-reduction remedies at least partially block the window, so there’s a trade-off.
Hang sound-reducing shades
If you’re desperate, you can hang blankets or other coverings over the windows. A step up in appearance would be sound-reducing window shades; the honeycombed design helps to absorb sound and the shade can be raised out of the way when noise reduction isn’t needed. You can also install heavy blackout curtains that will help diminish sound.
Install interior storm windows
The more layers of glass (and air spaces in between), the less sound transmission. So a better looking, though more expensive option is to install interior storm windows that are custom-sized for a tight, gasketed fit inside a window. The advantage to these storms is sound (and draft) reduction without the loss of light or view. Most interior storms can also be easily removed if necessary.
If you live or work above noisy neighbors or housemates, you may want to add soundproofing underfoot. The added benefit of these absorbent layers is that any noise that you transmit will be reduced as well. As with walls, if you want a serious sound reduction, you’ll need to reconstruct your floor; otherwise, here are some cost-efficient options:
Add carpet padding or a rubber layer
Carpeting and rugs help reduce sound transmission, and carpet padding underneath will reduce it even further. For both carpeting and padding, thicker is the way to go.
Working from the decoupling angle, you can install a dense rubber layer—or one made of cork or polypropylene—over the subfloor and then lay down your finished flooring of choice.