Sounds are useful and they can be beautiful and relaxing. But, they can also become a nuisance. And, on top of it all, when they turn into loud noise they can actually be harmful to our hearing health.
Noise pollution is a term that is increasingly used when referring to large urban centers in particular. From traffic noise to construction noise or even the constant humming of a vibrant city. All these sounds can affect our ability to focus and sleep and become stressful. Long-term, they can also be damaging.
There is also a reverse side to this. You could be a music enthusiast or professional and require solutions for playing or recording music without becoming a source of annoying noise for others.
Soundproofing is the answer to all of these issues. It’s becoming a popular solution for those not fortunate enough to live in a remote mountain village with no annoying sounds around or neighbors to bother.
So, let’s break things down and understand what soundproofing is, how it works and what options are available.
What Is Soundproofing?
Soundproofing is any method you can use to reduce the sound pressure coming from a sound source to a receptor.
A less scientific way of looking at it is this:
Sound is energy produced when something vibrates. And once that energy is produced, it is released and has to travel somewhere. Going away from its source, the energy affects the objects it meets along the way and our eardrums. That’s how we hear sounds.
Sound pressure can travel through the air (like speech) or through vibrations (like stomping).
The way you can stop or dampen sound is by interfering with its path from the source to the receptor.
How Does Soundproofing Work?
You can use several methods to achieve soundproofing.
One option is to add mass to a structure. This way, you can block a sound because the added mass can convert or reflect the energy generated by the sound. The most common method is by using dense materials like rubber or sound absorbing materials like mass loaded vinyl.
A second option is to separate one structure or environment from another, therefore stopping the sound from going through the second structure. Such as closing the window to stop the outside noise from coming in.
Soundproofing works only as well as its weakest point. If there are any cracks in it or areas that are not properly soundproofed, the sound will still travel through.
How Can You Stop Noise?
Decoupling from the Source
The best way to soundproof a room and stop sound from coming into it is to separate it from the sound source completely. This means building it inside of another room, ideally from very solid materials. Like anechoic chambers that are built by scientists and then their walls are lined up with sound-absorbing material. This method is known as acoustic decoupling.
However, this is not a very practical solution for most of us and it’s a method used mainly by researchers and scientists to achieve superior levels of soundproofing.
To understand what would work for a normal home, let’s take some simple examples of noise-reducing solutions. If you are sitting in a room facing a road with heavy traffic and the window of that room is open, the traffic noise will come in through the open window.
To reduce incoming noise, you need to somehow absorb or block it. The way you can easily block it is by closing the window. That will decouple the outside noise from the room itself.
When applying noise-reducing solutions, you will need to take into account how well you are able to do this with what you have. For instance, closing an old and cracked wood-framed window is less likely to help reduce incoming noise than closing a tightly sealed double-glazed window.
The way to test your noise reduction solution is simple. If you can feel air coming in, that means sounds will come in also.
Dampening and Absorbing Sound
One type of material that can help reduce sound is one that can absorb it. When the sound energy passes through such a material, it is soaked up and stopped or reduced. An example of a sound-absorbing material is mass-loaded vinyl. It has good soundproofing properties because it is plastic with a layer of ceramic material that gives it extra weight and mass.
Another solution is dampening. Dampening works by reducing or stopping vibrations. An example of a dampening solution is a structure with thick walls made of concrete that have air gaps in between that stop vibrations. It’s also the principle by which double glazed windows work.
In fact, these are the more common sound-absorbing and dampening solutions - double glazed windows, thick doors or double doors. These are all easy solutions you can use to block outside noise from coming in.
How to Soundproof a Room
If you are not a scientist or a researcher and all you want is some peace and quiet in your home, you won’t have to find extreme soundproofing solutions. The best way you can soundproof a room is to first determine where the noise you want to block is coming from.
Say you live near a busy road like in our first example. In this case, the noise is coming from outside. To prevent it from coming in, you will need to install doors and windows with better soundproofing qualities or improve the quality of the ones you have. One way to do this is by installing double or even triple-glazed windows. Or, sealing any cracks in the window or the window frame and draftproofing the window seals. Make sure that as little air as possible is passing through.
Next, check for any other ways through which sound may be coming in. It could be ducts, outlets or chimneys. You can also seal those up.
Solutions for soundproofing the interior include absorbent materials like thick carpets, window treatments like curtains or tapestry. Other solutions you can try are wall bookshelves, hanging large tapestry or rugs on the walls, buying a thick sofa with many cushions.
If these solutions don’t work and you feel the need to soundproof your room even further, you could try contacting soundproofing professionals. There are many innovative solutions that can be installed to reduce sound and increase your comfort.