Secrets to soundproofing your home

If the sound of noisy neighbors, rumbling traffic or a constantly barking dog keeps you up at night, you’ve probably thought of soundproofing your home.

Improving your home’s soundproofing isn’t as difficult or expensive as you might think. While there isn’t one single silver bullet to slay excessive noise, there are a number of things you can do to put up a barrier between you and the din of city life.

What is Sound Proofing?

Sound “proofing” is a bit of a misnomer, since it implies that you can completely cut yourself off from outside noises. The professionals often use terms like “sound isolating” or “sound blocking,” because when it comes to sound, it’s really a battle of barriers, each distancing you a little more from the outside world.

When dealing with an indoor noise problem, there can actually be two things at issue.

“One of them involves stopping noise from coming into a room or into an area,” said Randy Brown, president of Soundproof Windows Inc. “And the other kind of sound treatment is treating the noise that’s in a room so that you absorb it and stop it from bouncing around.”

The distinction between the two is a mistake many people make, and often people will hang up thick curtains on their windows in the hopes of keeping noise out, Brown said. This might keep noise from ricocheting off the walls, but that’s more of a concern for budding young musicians or home theater enthusiasts. A curtain isn’t going to cut it when it comes to blocking out a barking dog or police siren.

Plug the Leaks

To really soundproof a home, you’re going to have to find its entry points. Noise is like water, said John Storyk, a founding partner of WSDG, a firm that specializes in designing professional audio and video facilities. It will find any crevice it can to seep into your home. So the first step in sealing yourself off from the constant torrent of street noise is to plug the leaks.

“Ninety-nine out of 100 times, huge improvements in isolation can be obtained by attacking the leaks,” Storyk said. “What are the classic leaks? Someone puts in a really expensive window, but doesn’t seal it correctly. Someone puts in a terrific door, not sealed correctly, typically at the bottom.”

Windows are probably the biggest culprit, and particularly the window frames. An expensive dual-pane window will do little to buffer you from the sounds of the street if the seal around the windows isn’t rock solid, so rather than dump a bunch of money upgrading, consider installing a new frame instead, or simply improving the seal with caulking or weatherstripping.

If you’ve tackled these problems and you still find sound seeping through your windows, you can turn to a window treatment specially designed to block noise, like the ones produced by Brown’s company. These extra panes are attached onto an existing window, improving the seal and putting a layer of air between the two layers of glass, a feature designed to stop noise, Brown said.

After your windows, you’ll want to take a look at your electrical outlets and switches, which you can seal up with a simple piece of foam in a matter of minutes. Adding weatherstripping to exterior doors, and bulking up the insulation around pipes and vents will take care of two more common leaks. Make sure to be thorough in attacking noise leaks, a minor crevice or gap might not seem like a big deal, but sound will find any way it can to get into the room.

“The boundary is only as strong as its weakest link,” Storyk said.

Adding Mass

Once you’ve plugged the leaks, your next step in isolating yourself from the noise of city life is to beef up your walls and doors. This step is more expensive, and will have little effect if you haven’t already taken care of the sound leaks in window frames or outlets, so tackle the small stuff first to see if it fixes your noise problem before moving on to the broad surfaces.

“If you don’t do all the other stuff, you’re burning money,” Storyk said.

Traditional insulation will add a little mass, but that fluffy pink stuff isn’t very dense, so it’s decibel-reducing capabilities are pretty limited. To really cut back on sound, you’ll need to add something a little heavier, like an extra layer of sheetrock, or even better, a layer of a product like QuietRock, a type of drywall designed to help stop sound.

For an added layer of sound isolation between the two panels of sheet rock, you can use something like Green Glue, a product that transforms sound vibrations into heat energy, stopping the sound in its tracks.

While products like Green Glue and QuietRock can help, they’ll do little if not installed properly. Failing to seal around the edges of the new layer of drywall only introduces a new set of leaks into the room, so make sure you know what you’re doing or hire a contractor that specializes in noise reduction.