Want to live in a quieter home? Read this article for some great ideas on how to tone down the hubbub both inside and outside your house. From noisy plumbing to raucous neighbors, we'll show you how to create the peace and quiet we all want in our homes.
The continuous, tight bead of caulk on the side of the window blocks noise, while the uncaulked lower edge lets sound enter unabated.
Because of its greater mass, the poured concrete lower wall is less prone to vibrate and will block more sound than the lightweight upper wall—even when insulated.
The small cork or rubber pad helps isolate the vibration of the washing machine (right), while the dryer leg resting directly on the floor passes vibration (and noise) on.
Diminish noise levels using a variety of techniques, including sealing off airborne sound paths, adding mass to walls and isolating sounds generated via the plumbing and heating systems.
Noise is simply airborne vibration. What we perceive as noise traveling “through” a wall or other object is actually sound waves causing the wall to vibrate, then this vibrating wall making the air on its other side vibrate. Regardless of how it travels, noise reaches its final destination— our ears—as airborne sound. That’s what ears are, vibration receivers. Since noise travels primarily through air, the best way to block it is to put something in its path. To be most effective at blocking sound, the material needs three qualities. It should be gapless (Fig. B), since sound will sneak through even the smallest cracks and holes. It should have a lot of mass (Fig. C), so it’s less prone to vibrate and pass noisy vibrations on to its other side. And last, it should help isolate sound (Fig. D) so vibrations aren’t directly passed on from one object or place to another. There are a few other facts (and misconceptions) about noise that are important to understand.
The concepts are pretty simple. But things start getting complicated when we apply these ideas to our houses.
Noise travels easily through gaps, cracks and lightweight building materials that lack mass. The homeowner on the left, with brick siding, snug-fitting storm windows, a well-caulked exterior and other sound-blocking measures, will wake up better rested and a lot less crabby than the guy on the right.
In a whimsical 1970s tune,“One Man’s Ceiling Is Another Man’s Floor,” songwriter Paul Simon bemoaned the noisy fate of apartment dwellers. But even those of us who live in houses can relate to the gist of the song; the world around us is noisy!
When Ray next door practices his duck calls at 7 a.m. or your teenager practices her bassoon solo at 11 p.m. or a jumbo 757 takes off over your house at dawn, you’d just as soon hear the sounds of silence.
Here we’ll explain the basics of noise transmission, plus give you some ideas on how to make your home quieter.
Taking things to an extreme, you could build a house that would shut out most outside noise. You could erect four solid concrete walls on a concrete slab, cap them with a concrete roof, then cover the whole house with earth. The concrete wouldn’t have gaps for sound to slip through, the massive walls wouldn’t vibrate and pass on outside noise, and the earth would isolate the house from impact-type noises. You could catch some serious ZZZZs in a house like that.
But you’d need a way in, so you’d add a door. And you’d want light and fresh air, so you’d add windows. And you’d cut in vents for your dryer and bath fan; you’d add a chimney for your furnace. And since concrete walls aren’t all that homey, you might replace one or two with wood-framed walls with cedar siding and knotty pine paneling. All of a sudden, your solid, quiet house contains holes and “thin spots” that sound can travel through. And, of course, the people inside your silent dream home aren’t always quiet either. Bammm, welcome to Noise Town, U.S.A.
As you can see, efforts to create a quieter home are always a compromise of function, looks, convenience, comfort and cost. Here are some steps you can take to create a quieter home. Some only make sense when done in the course of a major remodeling project; others can be done any time.
Outside noise can be the most annoying because it “belongs to someone else.” It can also be startling. There’s a logical order to follow in blocking outside noise; you’ll be wasting your time doing things further down this list until you take care of the higher-up essentials. One nice bonus about these soundproofing measures is they’ll often lower your heating and cooling bills to boot.
To quiet footsteps and impact noises from rooms above, install carpet with a thick pad in the upper room and a suspended ceiling with heavy rigid board (not flexible fiberglass) ceiling tiles in the lower room. Drywall can be cemented to the top of standard ceiling tiles to add mass—just make certain the metal grid can support the added weight.
Limit noise traveling between adjacent rooms by caulking around all outlets and switch boxes, especially those that are back to back. Replace hollow-core doors with solid-core doors and install weatherstripping and a bottom sweep just as you would with an exterior door.
To create a true quiet zone, add mass in the form of an extra layer of drywall and isolate that mass by one of two methods. The first is to screw resilient drywall channels horizontally across walls and add a second layer of 5/8-in. drywall (Fig. E). The second method, for ultimate quiet, is to build a separate 2x4 wall, insulate the cavity, drywall both sides, then erect it 1 in. away from the existing wall (to isolate it). Adding drywall usually means that you have to move outlet and switch boxes (or add box extenders) so they’re flush with the new surface. To make door and window trim fit right, you’ll have to add extension jambs, another labor-intensive job.
Our consultant loved drywall as a sound blocker. It’s simply the cheapest, easiest to install, most effective sound-blocker around.
Heating and plumbing systems are double trouble since they both create and distribute noise. Most of the following products are available at heating and cooling as well as plumbing supply houses.
To limit heating and cooling system noise:
To limit plumbing noise:
To limit appliance and ventilation noise:
Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.
Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here's a list.