How to Soundproof Walls and Floors – is adding Mass the Answer?
Updated: Mar 24, 2020
When designing a new building, be that a restaurant, hotel, office or residential building, soundproofing is an essential component that architects, planners and engineers need to consider. For example, a hotel can be clean and luxurious but you’re less likely to return if you can hear everything from the rooms and floors around you. When it comes to homes, noise complaints are the number one cause of neighbourly disputes, so it’s important to ensure there’s adequate soundproofing – not just from each other but also from other unwanted environmental noises, such as traffic from a busy road or that train line at the end of the garden.
In this post, we’ll examine the various methods for soundproofing walls. Some of these methods will need to be installed during construction, but several options can be retrofitted to existing buildings. Noise requirements have changed over the years, so some buildings will be more soundproofed then others, depending upon when they were built. If you’re in a building that seems to let every noise in and have to cope with a noisy neighbour or barking dog, then rest assured some solutions will help you cope and restore some peace and harmony to your life.
1. Decouple the Walls
This is considered to be the best practice for preventing sound transmission through walls, floors and ceilings. Decoupling is one of the most effective ways to reduce the transmission of sound. Essentially, this is the process of separating two sides of a structure so they vibrate independently of each other, preventing the transmission of structure-borne sound from one space to another.
There are various ways this can be achieved: the most straightforward at the point of construction is the use of double stud walls or staggered stud walls; resilient sound isolation clips and hat channels are also incredibly popular when it comes to retrofits.
2. Dampen the Sound
Sound damping is the use of specific materials to absorb and reduce sound transmission. In a new build, this is relatively easy to achieve, by the installation of dead walls that don’t vibrate. Cavity wall insulation is also a great option for new and existing buildings alike. If your home was built after the 1930’s it should be possible to fill the walls. Popular materials include fibreglass, mineral wool and polystyrene beads. Not only will cavity wall insulation help with noise damping, but it’s also great for heat insulation so will have the added benefit of lowering heating bills.
3. Install Products to Absorb Sound
When it comes to insulating a room for sound, sound-absorbing materials are a great and relatively inexpensive way to achieve relief. Hard surfaces such as glass, quartz, marble, granite and concrete are the worst for bouncing sound around, so soft furnishings are good options for deadening unwanted noise. If you have wooden or tiled floors, install some nice thick rugs; in terms of window dressings, instead of wooden or metal blinds, use thick curtains or fabric blinds on windows. Similarly, acoustical curtains are also available.
4. Add Mass to the Walls
As you’ve probably realised by now, when it comes to soundproofing, mass isn’t the only answer. It is, however, an incredibly important consideration for builders and DIY enthusiasts alike. Doubling the mass per unit area of a panel increases sound transmission loss by six decibels, which is a noticeable amount. This essentially means that adding mass to walls will result in less sound being transmitted through them.
There are several ways that mass can be added to walls, depending on your budget and the desired room aesthetics.
Installing plywood panels will help reduce noise transmission, although as it’s not the most pleasing to look at, you might want to use this in garages or less visible walls. On interior walls, you can install layers of plasterboard, although you’ll have diminishing returns for each additional layer you install. Acoustic foam panels and mass-loaded vinyl membranes are also great budget-friendly means by which noise-reducing mass can be added to walls.
5. Add Mass, Damping and Decouple
For the best possible effect, combine options 1, 2 and 4 above by adding mass (at least two plasterboard layers) on an independent stud frame (with insulation in the new cavity) so that none of it is touching your existing wall. The combined effect of the isolated additional mass will be significant.
So that's our guide to soundproofing. These are not your only options by any means, but if you’re struggling with sound pollution in your home or place of business, then hopefully these methods will help you reduce unwanted noises that are at best simply an annoyance or at worse having a seriously adverse effect on your life. By understanding how sound waves travel and the methods you can employ to improve the soundproofing of the walls, ceilings and floors around you, you can improve your acoustic landscape, not to mention your health and wellbeing. It's definitely not just about adding mass either, you can also consider decoupling, installing sound-absorbing materials and sound dampening, so there are plenty of options to choose from.
If you’re a project manager, contractor, property developer, planning consultant or architect and need help managing the acoustics and soundproofing of a building project then our team of specialists can help. For noise surveys in London and the South East and help with every phase of the process – from planning to construction and testing call us. Contact the London office on 020 7859 4530; for the Reading office dial 0118 207 7324. Alternatively, you can email us on email@example.com. We look forward to hearing from you and helping you with every step of your project’s journey.