How to Soundproof a Room
Whether you’re trying to avoid hearing noise from the neighbours loud speaker system or you are the neighbour that's been receiving complaints about their new speaker setup, soundproofing your room is something that is ideal for keeping peace of mind for everyone involved. In this blog we’ll cover a variety of ways to keep the peace between neighbours without having to resort to living life with earplugs in.
So Why Can I Hear My Neighbours?
To understand and properly understand how to soundproof your room, we first need to understand how “sound” works. In short, sounds are just vibrations in the air causing ripples in the air that then transfer onto any nearby surface. As such, imagine the pitch and frequency of the sound as a rope attached to a pole, as you move your arm up and down, the rope will start making a wave that in this scenario represents “sound”. When you shake your arm up and down quickly, this represents a high-pitch sound with the rope only reaching its peak for a short period, and as a result stifling off quicker. Whereas, if you do the same motion slowly, the rope will stay at its peak for longer, representing a low-pitch noise, such as most bassy sounds, meaning that lower pitch sounds travel further distances and as a result, can pass through into your room.
If you want to understand sound from someone more knowledgeable in the subject than a furniture store employee, then this article goes more in-depth providing a better idea of how sound functions, but the main takeaway is that the sounds you’re most likely to have issues with are the lower frequencies that travel farther than the higher pitch frequencies. Some examples include subwoofers in hi-fi setups that can literally shake rooms with how low their frequencies can go, and vehicles that have engines that rumble or are heavy enough to create sound themselves such as semi-haul trucks.
So How Do I Stop This?
As with anything physics related, the easiest solution always goes back to Newton’s Third Law: “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” Thus, the goal of this article is to show a variety of ways to slow and hopefully stop the journey of sound before it gets to the receiving party's ears.
As such, the easiest way to stop sound is very much the same as stopping any other object: by putting something in its way. However, certain items and materials do this job better than others alongside strategically placing said items to maximise their noise-cancelling capabilities! Thus, the following will be a list of do’s and don’ts in terms of furniture and their noise cancelling capabilities.
Do: Large Bookcases
Not only does reading require a “quiet space” for it to happen, but books are actually a great insulators of sound, making them great noise-cancelling material when placed in a bookshelf against a wall. Ideally, you want a heavy bookcase and dense quantities of books to absorb as much sound as possible, while also expanding across the wall as much as possible. But if you want your little library to stay quiet like a real one, then the right bookcase is the go.
Don’t: Large Display Cabinets
Unlike their book storing counter-parts, glass display cabinets are terrible for soundproofing your room. Since most utilise panels of glass and most likely contain small items, once these units start shaking from noise, they’ll make an unnerving noise like a glass filled maraca. As such, we would recommend placing any display cabinets away from any area where it’s likely to be shaken, such as next to a door or close or a street facing wall. However, if you’re in a position where you want to quieten your display cabinet, a very easy way is to line the shelves with a drawer mat that should hopefully better grip the items while also giving them a softer landing that the wood or glass you cabinet may already use.
Do: Install Heavy Curtains
If you’ve got a lot of sound leaking from the outside in, installing a set of blockout curtains should definitely help in dampening the noise. They can also help in making a room darker, so they’re best installed in a media room or bedroom as once they’re shut, no daylight will leak in from behind these blinds.
You can also apply this logic if you’ve got a decorative tapestry as the cloth should ideally soak in a lot of sound due to the soft density of the cloth, or even for a pile of dressing gowns and coats hanging on the back of a door, a bit of fabric can go a long way to helping quieting any noise going in and out of a room.
Don’t: Keep Your Old Windows
If you’re coming from an older home with similarly older windows, then we’d definitely recommend having them upgraded ASAP!
A majority of the time, older windows are generally single glazed and as a result, sound passes through it as if there was nothing there. On top of this, windows in wooden frames grow and shrink over time, resulting in the frames themselves not fitting correctly within the window slot.
This results in two things happening: 1.) The open spots where the window should be will now let sound walk in without worry and 2.) The gaps between the window and the frame will give the window more space to move about, this means that if a large vehicle or strong gust of wind goes past, the window will clash and bang creating a whole ton of noise.
This is why we’d recommend upgrading your windows ASAP! Not only will it reduce the amount of noise coming in drastically, but it’ll also make your house warmer and also be a lot safer, as modern windows use safety glass which break into smaller fragments rather than larger “shards”.
Do: Use “white noise” machines
A “white noise” machine is a device that emits a sound that essentially covers other more minute sounds. If you’ve got a smart speaker like a google or alexa, then great news! You’ve got one ready to go in your room, just ask for some “white noise” and it’s ready to go.
Another alternative however, is to put an air purifier or fan into your room. While this isn’t necessarily “white noise”, it still produces the same effect. The end goal here is to make a noise that goes “on top” of the offending noise, essentially putting the rug over a stain in the hopes you forget about it.
However, we also understand that this solution may not work for all so we’d recommend a.) trying different options to see which best works for you and b.) treating this as more of a “stop-gap” solution until you’re able to find a more permanent solution.
Do: Use Acoustic Panels
If you’re a musician, music lover or just some whose hobby produces a lot of sound. Then we’d definitely recommend installing some acoustic panels in the room where you’re most likely to make the most noise.
There are two ways to acoustically treat your room: One is with more “permanent” acoustic panels which are made from thick bunches of fabric moulded into a panel and are affixed onto the wall. The other is more temporary, with square pieces of foam that zig zag in height that are affixed in alternating directions for best effect. How the foam is put on however, is up to you as they can easily be held on with something as simple as command strips or blu-tack.
Obviously, this is not only the best way to soundproof a room, but also the most obnoxious. Hence we recommend this for those who know they’ll make a lot of noise or need a room isolated from outside noise. But for regular joe blogs, the above options are more than enough.
Hopefully by this article, you’ve managed to shush the sound that was keeping you up at night. It’s also worth mentioning that if your neighbour is the one keeping you up at night, it never hurts to ask them nicely to turn it down, or to send them this article in a passive aggressive manner. Either way, you should now have a quiet space for you to relax in or a place to let loose without worry of annoying your neighbours. So grab either your book or guitar and relax or shred away as your sound is kept separate from the other.
Can you make a room 100% soundproof?
If you’re wanting to have your room quiet enough that you can hear a pin drop, then unfortunately the bad news is that this isn’t possible, unless you’re a sound specialist with exorbitant amounts of money.
However, if you’re interested in what a “completely soundproof” room looks like, then look no further. Called an “anechoic chamber”, these are rooms essentially filled ceiling to floor and wall to wall in the earlier mentioned acoustic panels to effectively make any noise from inside the room get swallowed up by the walls. As a result, these rooms are often eerily too quiet to the point where you’re able to hear bodily functions such as your heart beating and your stomach gurgling. Many people are unable to handle a few minutes in these rooms, let alone live in one so maybe it’s for the best if you have a little noise in your living room.
Are there other options if soundproofing isn’t possible?
If you’re in a position where you’re unable to cover your walls in foam just on a whim, or the sound is infrequent enough to not warrant a whole room makeover, then our best recommendation is to soundproof your ears, not the room.
The great thing about the 21st century is the rise of earbuds in the mainstream. No more are you confined to the big construction ear cans you’d use with the lawn mower to cut out sound, disposable foam ear tips can be bought in bulk for cheap. Meanwhile, the rise of portable music listening has meant any variety of headphones and earbuds can easily replace your neighbours shouting with your favourite tunes within seconds, many now also come with built-in noise cancelling, in which the headphones produce a “negative noise” to what’s happening outside the headphones creating an eerily quiet effect.
If you’re not wanting to wear anything on your ears, you could also try see if the noise maker in your home could wear something on theirs? If you’ve got a guitarist or pianist in the home, most amps and keyboards offer some form of headphone jack for them to plug in and play away while not having everyone else listen to their practice sessions.
Other than this, our only other option would be to drown out the noise with more noise which we would advise against for two reasons: 1. If you’re having to turn up your TV to hear over a noise, think about what that might be doing for your hearing? And 2. Sometimes fighting fire with fire can create a whole inferno of a situation. So we always recommend speaking to the perpetrator to find a solution or just getting used to wearing headphones when possible.