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Remodeling 101: How to Soundproof a Room

by LiveModern Webmaster last modified Jul 11, 2015 01:03 AM
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by Meredith Swinehart last modified Jul 10, 2015

Fact: The science of sound is complicated. The materials, dimensions, systems, and construction methods of your home make for such a different sound environment than in mine that there's no point in trying to describe any one sound dynamic here. But readers have sent us queries on soundproofing at home, and we suspect most already know the quickest fixes—take shoes off, get a pair of noise-canceling headphones, etc. (see  Seeking Silence: 10 Low-Tech Strategies for Coping with Urban Noise  for more ideas). So for those for whom interior noise is a major problem, we sought to dive a little deeper.  For guidance, I spoke with Ethan Salter, principal consultant at San Francisco acoustics consulting firm Charles M. Salter Associates . Our conversation made it clear that we won't be prescribing panaceas here, but instead we teased out some possible scenarios intended to prompt your thinking. Note: You may well find you require the help of an engineer, an acoustics expert, or a good contractor after reading through the suggestions below. If so, you read it right.  How do I soundproof a room? There’s no such thing as soundproofing,” says Salter. “Just mitigation and reduction." Where do I start? With the source. It sounds obvious, but the first step is always to identify what’s making the noise and see if you can’t stop it. If you can’t, mitigate it. Above: Exposed plumbing in the LA laundry room of Amanda Pays and Corbin Bernsen, featured in 11 Money-Saving Remodeling Strategies from a Hollywood House Flipper . I'm thinking of big solutions but need more help. Is acoustic consulting only for the superrich? Salter has a lot of commercial clients but works closely with homeowners as well. “They’re not all rich,” he says, while making an important point: "Sleep is a health issue, no matter who you are.” His past clients include people in smallish houses who are desperate for noise control: "M aybe someone is awakened at night by the garbage truck outside, or they live in an apartment above a bar." Salter describes the consulting process as one of initial factfinding to set the goals of the project, then outlining solutions based on his clients' budget. "There are many ways to reach the end goal," says Salter, "and I like to give clients options." Scenario 1: Plumbing noises are driving me crazy.  If you can quickly identify the source of the noise, spend money on a higher quality component—a gear, a plumbing valve, etc.—that will operate more quietly. Sometimes, it really is that simple. If the problematic noise is coming from within your walls, you'll need to go straight to the source, says Salter. There are as many solutions as there are scenarios you might find inside, but here are a few to prompt your thinking: A plumbing pipe might cause noise if it touches the gypsum board of the wall, through direct surface-to-surface conduction. One solution is to add air space between the pipe and the wall, separating the solid surfaces so the sound lacks a direct path to travel.  A pipe may have a rigid but necessary attachment. Is there an attachment that is equally effective for plumbing purposes but quieter, say one made of rubber or plastic instead of metal? The wall itself may be so rigidly attached that it's exacerbating any source of noise. A possible solution is a more resilient mounting system using channels or clips instead of drywall screwed directly into the studs. Above: Books absorb sound in a Clinton Hill loft by BWArchitects. (See  An Artist Lives/Works in Brooklyn .)  Scenario 2: My bedroom is close to the kitchen, so it's hard to sleep if someone is banging around. By nature, kitchens don't have many soft materials—food prep requires hard surfaces, which create noise issues. In your initial design phase, think about minimizing sound: Choose quiet plumbing fixtures and appliances, and use soft-closing hardware so cabinets and drawers shut silently. Since you can't do much else at the source, solve the problem on the receiving end: Block the sound by installing a solid-core bedroom door with a gasket that goes all the way to the bottom. If there's even an inch of room at the bottom of the door, the thickest door in the world won't make a difference. But most rooms rely on the air space beneath interior doors for air flow, so you'll need to account for air flow somewhere else.  Mask the sound by adding white noise. There are apps, sound systems, computer programs, and machines that all do this. White noise doesn't cancel sounds, but it makes your mind less able to focus on singular sounds coming from the kitchen.  Absorb the sound by adding soft surfaces in the bedroom. When sound waves enter, you want them to be absorbed as quickly as possible. Rugs, cushions, and blankets are all obvious choices, but Salter even suggests bookcases (filled with books) and hanging artwork on walls.  Above: A hidden TV solution in an apartment by Shelton Mindel & Associates; see more in 12 Elegant Solutions for Hiding a Flat-Screen TV .  Scenario 3: I want to read (in peace); someone else wants to watch TV. Find a way to turn down the volume. This sounds like a cheeky answer, but there are creative options. For instance, if the viewer is sitting 10 to 15 feet away from the television, he or she will need to crank up the volume. But speakers mounted nearer the viewer will dramatically reduce the need for volume. Is the TV mounted on the wall? If so, some of the same concepts addressed in the plumbing question apply here. A rigid mounting job may be amplifying the noise of the TV through the wall. Consider taking it off the wall and setting it on a piece of furniture. If that's not an option, get help finding a more resilient (less rigid) mounting system.  Read on for more sound advice:  Silence Is Golden: Problem-Solving Acoustic Curtains Remodeling 101: 15 Luxuries Worth Considering in Your Remodel In Praise of the Water Fountain 10 Secrets for a Better Night's Sleep More Stories from Remodelista DIY: Pot Holders Knit from Ocean-Tossed Twine DIY Project: Rope-Wrapped Mason Jar Lights Design Sleuth: Simple Brass Napkin Rings (from the Hardware Store)




 

 


 

 

 
 
 

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