Reducing the Impact of Noise Pollution in your Home
Why soundproof my home?
Sound proofing is an often overlooked aspect of home improvement, although sound pollution can have an incredibly high impact on ones well being. So much so, that the UK government passed legislation referred to as The Building Regulations Part E or, “Resistance to the Passage of Sound”. The legislation is aimed at increasing the sound insulation in housing as well as between nearby housing and shared property such as flats, hotels and hostels.
Studies have shown that exposure to high levels of noise pollution can lead to a number of physiological and psychological ill effects including hypertension, high levels of stress, annoyance, aggression and where levels of noise are extremely high, tinnitus and hearing loss. You owe it to yourself to ensure that you are not exposed to unnecessary levels of noise that could otherwise be negated by efficient soundproofing.
What is soundproofing?
Simplistically when you sound proof something you are insulating against the build up of sound. Sound travels in low frequency waves in all directions from the source of the noise. These waves will then travel until they hit a point of resistance such as a wall or ceiling. Additionally, the travelling sound waves can be strengthened when they hit particular entities such as large white goods, which can cause reverberation. It is the job of sound proofing to absorb the sound waves to prevent reverberation or reduce it via blocking or absorbing the sound.
The two main methods of soundproofing are reducing the sound and/or absorbing the sound.
Reduction works by altering the distance that the sound waves have to travel or deflecting them via the use of objects placed in the path of the sound waves. Sound absorption works by altering the actual pattern of the sound waves through the use of specialist sound dampening materials, with the aim of lessening the sound produced from the noise pollution.
Sound proofing – DIY or professional?
It is certainly possible to do a DIY job of sound proofing ones home, however, it is a necessity to obtain the correct sound proofing material otherwise all your effort will have gone to waste. Obviously DIY soundproofing is the cheaper option, but you will need to evaluate your situation carefully before you make the decision to use DIY or a professional.
If you have extensive DIY skills and you are confident that you have pinpointed the cause of the sound pollution, it would make most sense to continue on a DIY basis. On the other hand if you are a novice DIYer, and you envisage that the project would involve a large amount of soundproofing you may be wise to consult the services of a professional – or at least request an initial consultation.
Soundproofing a room
If you have decided to take the plunge to soundproof a room yourself you will need to work out where the noise is actually originating from. This will then determine how you will approach the sound proofing exercise. Sound can emanate from a multitude of sources both inside and outside the home so you would need to switch off all the appliances and electrical items in your home and listen to where the sound is coming from.
You will find that noise can enter through the smallest of cracks or gaps in a room so you will want to check windows, doors, walls, ceilings and their respective sealants. It is also a good idea to perform this test on a number of occasions on different days and times of the day.
Noise levels in the domestic environment
Effectively, noise can be found everywhere in the domestic environment – particularly if you have children!
Here is a list of common sources of noise that you will likely be affected by and the average noise levels listed in decibels.
Type of noise Decibel (dB) level
Rustling leaves 20dB
Average home 50dB
Washing machine 65dB
Car in the street 70dB
Loud music 80dB
Motorcycle passing 90dB
Diesel truck passing 100dB
Business legal limit 115dB
Threshold of pain 140dB
Older style houses tend to have been built to a higher standard and will have thick walls that are adept at sound proofing ones home from exterior and interior disturbances, however new build property can have thin walls that are inefficient at soundproofing. In this instance it is advisable to cut holes in the drywall between the wall studs and blow paper or foam insulation material into the wall to insulate against sound. Fibreglass insulation can be added to walls to further insulate against noise. You can find further information about wall insulation at our Cavity Wall Insulation page.
Typically during the building process of a house or if you are structurally altering the walls you would add additional layers of drywall to the wall for soundproofing purposes. To do so you should apply silicone caulking to the stud side of the wall – this will act as a sealant, which will close any gaps. You will then be able to attach the drywall by nailing it and repeat the process to add further layers using the caulking and additional sheets of drywall.
A final method for soundproofing walls is to use a special covering material with soundproofing characteristics on the outside of the wall. This is handy if you do not want to go inside your walls and it can be decorated to fit in with the style of your home. The material can be readily bought from sound proofing companies.
Well fitted internal and external doors can be an excellent mechanism for deflecting noise and will compliment an overall soundproofing plan very well. However, if the doors are not tightly fitted, they can undo all the other soundproof techniques used. Solid wood doors are the best blockers of noise, although if your budget will not stretch to these make sure that your doors are fitted snugly.
Consider using weather seals for extra soundproofing. These are very inexpensive and fit around the frame of the door.
Choosing to effectively sound proof your windows could amount to the single most important noise reducer and will also help to keep your heating bills down by not allowing heat to escape. Double glazing is the best strategy, although this can prove to be expensive. For additional information on how double glazing works see our Double Glazing page and our Consumer Guide To Double Glazing if you are planning on buying double glazing.
There are other steps that you can take if double glazing proves to be too costly an option. You could use window plugs to soundproof your existing windows. This involves using a plug to fill in the window frame, thus insulates against noise (and also light to an extent). The plugs are usually a couple of inches thick and they can be easily fashioned to fit an existing window frame.
Another low cost option would be to buy thick, heavy duty curtains. There are specific sound deadening curtains (or sound controlling curtains) that are manufactured with the sole aim of providing an additional sound proofing barrier for your windows. These can be purchased in a wide range of styles to suit your taste and the decor in your home.
Soundproofing floors and ceilings
It is certainly easier to soundproof an upstairs floor than it is to soundproof a ceiling. Soundproofing a floor is a relatively straightforward process that will involve the addition of special soundproof matting or simply the addition of a carpet. By implementing either, you will noticeably decrease the noise heard downstairs.
Sound proofing a ceiling is a less straightforward affair. To do so you will need to install a false ceiling, which will need to be attached to the existing ceiling whilst leaving a cavity between the two. Unless there is a cavity between the two, the soundproofing benefits will be negligible. Also, it is possible to add soundproof tiling to the ceiling. Either way, it is considered quite a tricky job for an amateur so it may be wise to consult with a professional if you wish to sound proof the ceiling.