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I Need Soundproofing!!!

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I need SoundProofing!!!

Trying to keep sound in or out of your room?

Dear Mr. Acoustics:

I am having a lot of problems with my neighbors.  I am a musician and practice a lot at night.  The neighbors have begun to complain about being able to hear me.  It really kinda sucks because I have put up with the neighbor above me playing TV too loud and all the sounds of his girlfriend’s high heels, and an occasional fight once and a while (that part can be entertaining!).  How much of your foam panels do I need to install to fix this  Do I have to cover the entire wall and ceilings?  I also rent, so I don’t want to have to glue it in place.   HELP!!!

We get this type of question almost every day, minus the fighting part.  Unfortunately, we are unable to HELP 90%+ of the people who inquire because:

  1. Acoustical foam panels are unlikely to solve the problem
  2. The correct solution is not easy, can be time consuming and expensive, and THUS usually impractical for many that inquire
  3. They have been lead to believe that there is an easy, quick fix

WHY?  Bottomline: Acoustic foam panels are not intended to solve this problem and they provide only a minimum effect on the “soundproofing” challenge, BUT they will make the sound inside the room better by reducing flutter and slap echo.  In most cases, you are going to need to consider products beyond acoustic wall panels that include construction methods and construction-type materials such as insulation, and additional layers of building materials.

WHAT? (skip to STEP INTO IT to avoid the ugly facts):

We love to help everyone solve their “sound” problems; HOWEVER, a dose of reality for many of you…that others out there don’t tell you…

“SoundProofing” is a bit of a misnomer; In absolute form (eliminate sound), it is nearly and practically impossible to “get rid of all of it.”

If you want to make your room(s) sound better by controlling the echo and reverberation time, we call that treatingor tuningyour room, and our standard products are great for this!  Also, it is very reasonable economically to significantly improve “your audio space” with acoustic panels, and the products do absorb some of the sound energy, thus it is not there to escape.  However...

If by "SoundProofing" you mean keeping sound within a space, OR not letting sound outside a space, we call that sound mitigation, or minimizing sound YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT “SOUNDPROOFING”transmissionWHAT

  • Anyone advertising items such as foam panels for “soundproofing” knows little about acoustics and is likely misleading you so that you might buy their products…BUYER Beware!

 

  • Acoustic foam is primarily intended to make your room sound better by absorbing errant, reflective sound waves.  To minimize sound transmission, you use construction type products and not acoustic foam!!! An additional layer of drywall will be more effective to reduce sound transmission than any foams less than 8 to 12" thick.

 

  • To address sound mitigation beyond the minimal effects that room treatments may provide, you likely need to consider other isolation methods and construction products.

 

Construction Techniques and Products:

In general, you minimize airborne sound transmission (sound waves) with either density or a volume of air.  In most residential structures, space is at a premium…you don’t have enough room to build double walls with a 3” to 6” sealed air gap between them.  Thus the method and products of choice are construction related, and involve increasing the density of the “offensive area”…your walls, ceilings, floors.  Construction techniques include everything from adding insulation to a wall or ceiling, additional layers of product (drywall, plywood, soundboard, etc.), and building walls with staggered studs, or even double walls (room permitting).

Construction products include batt insulation, heavier insulation (mineral fiber or rock wool), sheets of drywall, composite sheets like Medium Density Fiber Board, and acoustically engineered materials like rolls of 1/8” limp mass barrier (modern day lead substitute).  For professional facilities, like recording studios and performance venues, rooms may be built within a room with specialty isolators to “float” the ceiling, floors, and/or walls from the surrounding surfaces.  The cost relative to the performance is very proportional…insulation alone may be inexpensive, but it is also the least effective, whereas beefing up the “offensive areas” is more expensive for product AND labor, but yields significantly better results.  POINT: There generally is no quick, easy, inexpensive fix for effective sound mitigation.

 

WHOA!  But what do I DO?

Ask a Pro…YOU can begin with US…

Determine what is/are the “offensive areas”.  Where is the sound leaking in or out of your space.  Most common culprits may be your doors, windows, or un-insulated walls, floors, ceilings.  Also check to make sure the sound is not traveling in/out through the HVAC system….the air ducts.  Define ALL offensive areas and the sound source you are trying to contain in the room or sounds you are trying to keep out (neighbors, traffic, trains…)

SHOWSTOPPER:  If a bathtub had two cracks that were both leaking a lot of water, would you fix one and not the other?  If you were trying to stop car noise from coming through an exterior wall and did what was needed to “beef it up,” but did nothing to the single pane window, you likely wasted your money and a lot of others’ time.  Many times we will consult someone with an office that is having trouble because they can hear what is going on from the office next door.  Thus, they decide to “beef up” the wall between the offices.   When done, the problem still exists, we get involved and find out that both offices have a suspended ceiling (tiles), but the wall does not extend above the wall to the ceiling deck.  The sound is simply going up and over the wall. (this is called Flanking Transmission)  Not good…this is why you need to determine all the offensive areas and their relative contribution to the problem.  POINT: You have to address all the significant “leaks”.

  • Determine if the sound is being carried to other areas by
  • SoundWaves (Airborne): going through the walls, such as human voice, stereo, instruments…
  • Resonance: a physical vibration, such as high heel shoes on a floor, or a bass drum transferring sound to the floor and into the structure of the building.

Ok, at this point, all you Engineers are puking.  Yes, they are really are the same…whether the energy is being transferred via physical, material contact or via soundwaves (it’s a matter of degree). Yet, it is important to diagnose the source of the sound and if it may be transferring significant vibrations into the structure beyond just the soundwaves it may be creating.  And, yes, it may be both, such as a bass drum, guitar amp, TV, speakers: both the soundwaves they are producing and the vibrations caused by physical contact/transfer, and creating the problem.

The reason to determine this is that we may attempt to isolate the two differently.  If you determined that the vibration and structural transfer of a bass drum was the biggest contributor to your neighbor’s complaints, by isolating the kick drum from the floor, you may solve your problem without having to take on the complete room or a common building surface.  Would you try to minimize the sound from high heels above by cushioning the floor above to lessen the noise caused by impact, or would you try to fix it with insulation and multiple layers of building materials? Yes, budget becomes a huge consideration, and you may need the cooperation of your upstairs neighbors…be nice!

  • Decide what the minimum level of results that is acceptable to you or “neighbors”.

What level does the sound transmission need to minimized for your satisfaction?  If others are involved, what is satisfactory? Our experience (particularly with rental properties) is that (quite frankly) once the neighbor is pissed off, anything less than near total mitigation will not be acceptable.

Do YOU rent and how does that affect the whole project?

What are you willing to spend to fix the problem minimally:

What are you willing to spend to fix the problem “totally?”

Who else has a vested interest…is your landlord, tenant, neighbor, municipality willing and able to help fund the solution.

Will adjacent parties be willing to help?  Are the upstairs neighbors willing to allow you to place a “dampening pad”under their carpet?  Are the upstairs neighbors willing to (or let you) install carpet and “super” pad in the room(s) above you that are currently hardwood floors?...You get the idea!

Are you willing (and have the skills) to do the construction as needed?

Can you get the construction done by others or do you need a general contractor?

Would you need a building permit and/or inspections to do construction?

OVERWHELMED?

Unless your needs are pretty minimal, sound abatement is not for the weak or timid.  HOWEVER, here’s our suggested gameplan for you, once you have some answers to the above questions:

STEP(s) INTO IT:

  • Evaluate your situation;  what is wanted, needed and your resources
  • If YOUR situation is “correctable,” or must be addressed, STEP into it:
  • Consult a PRO…get an idea what is needed and how much time/$
  • Are their minimal solutions that fit within your budget?
  • Can you solve some of the problem with minimal effort/$/products:
  • Individual Isolation products: if they challenge is your shaking the pictures off the room in Mom’s bedroom with your guitar amp and you think it is largely due to resonance/vibration, build a isolation platform for your amp…ask us how!  Your Mom may suggest “you turn it down” a notch or two, or wear headphones…Mom’s are pretty smart and $-wise!
  • Door/windows:  sometimes replacing a hollow-core door with a solid core door installed correctly may make a significant difference.  If your window or door seems to be the biggest problem, using common insulation products like weatherstripping, gasket thresholds, etc. may help a lot and are readily available at the hardware store.  Choose the “best” weatherstripping/other “winterizing” products they have available…it is a relatively inexpensive fix...maximize it!  Yes, you Southerners may have a little harder time finding some of the good stuff.
  • A limp mass barrier covering the one offensive wall, then covered with acoustic panels may be realistic and affordable.  A 12’ w x 8’ h wall with an limp mass barrier and SoundTrax  acoustic panels would be around $750.00 for materials and not too difficult to install.
  • What other specialty products exist out there to help?  Ask us.  You may need specialty items like isolation pucks, resilient channel to hang drywall,  and industrial strength doors and windows, that are beyond the scope of this little primer.

 

Do I have other alternatives?  Sometimes a rental studio may cost less than it would to fix the problem at home, and may make sense in other ways.  With due candor, we many times suggest  you consider moving if your music or other audio endeavors are that important to you.  YES, we do know about NYC rent controls and are sympathetic, yet honest…at least we are not selling you something that will not work!

 

This little article is intended to give you a layman’s overview of “Soundproofing” so that you can be conversant and begin to correctly address fixing your problem without installing a bunch of foam and wondering why the neighbor is still unhappy.  For the engineers and acoustic nerds, you likely know that there is plenty of other information out there if you want to really dig in and become an expert on sound mitigation.  For you that just want the layman’s version, and where to begin, you are there.

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