Soundproofing for a Better Night's Sleep

gringobstpr/stock.xchngI once rented a central Denver apartment where the main bedroom had big, old windows overlooking a busy street. It seemed perfect until late Saturday night, when the vehicular traffic and sirens almost drowned out the rowdy pedestrian traffic. Thankfully it was a short-term rental and we got used to the noise. However, you don’t have to put up with night-time noise disturbing your family and interrupting your sleep. You can remodel to reduce the racket or use gadgets to mask the noise.

Remodel to reduce noise

If you really want to get serious about reducing noise, hire a sound engineer. They build soundproof recording studios, and can make your bedroom dead silent if necessary. Their professional sound reduction measures could be as simple as caulk or as complex as rebuilding the walls.

The Canadian Institute for Research in Construction (CIRC) extensively studied ways to insulate homes against airport noise. The group recommends sealing and replacing windows as the top priority in sound insulation. It estimates that a crack around a window or door could let in as much noise as the entire wall surface. Properly sealing all gaps will insulate against sound and heat transfer, so you can save on energy bills while limiting noise.

The best windows for blocking heat transfer are not necessarily the best for blocking noise. A thermal double-glazed window offers essentially equal noise reduction to an old single-glazed window, according to the CIRC. On the other hand, double-pane recording studio glass can block nine more decibels than either of these alternatives. The glass panes are thicker, but the main difference is in the air gap. While standard double-pane windows have a half-inch gap, a better sound-blocking window has a four-inch gap.

Another option is adding a laminated glass layer to existing windows. Laminated glass is essentially a plastic sheet between two layers of glass. These are also mounted with a sound-deadening four-inch air gap. Laminated windows are more shatter-resistant, but CIRC tests indicate the substantial price tag does not translate to substantial reductions in noise. The air gap in windows seems to be the most important factor.  Also keep in mind that heavier, thicker windows may require new framing.

The CIRC likewise recommends sealing around doors, and using double exterior doors where practical. It suggests that sound will be 10 decibels quieter inside dual solid-core doors with an 8-inch air gap than inside a single solid-core door.

For those with serious noise issues, it might be worth adding a second layer of drywall or installing resilient channels between the drywall and the framing. These metal furring strips reduce the vibration of drywall against the framing. These strips should be professionally installed because gaps or poorly installed resilient channels negate any potential acoustic advantage.

Here are some other remodeling tips for blocking noise:

• Put sound-absorbing linings in ventilation ducts.

• Close the chimney damper and install an inflatable chimney balloon. Both these steps save energy, and block noise.

• Caulk at the base of walls, and any other potential gaps.

• Add sound-dampening insulation or mass-loaded vinyl in walls and ceilings.

• Consider stucco or brick exteriors, which are thicker and block more noise than wood or vinyl siding.

You may qualify for federal or local grants to cover some improvements, particularly if you live near an airport or other loud facility.

Mask the noise

The other option for blocking out sound is to mask it with white noise, which is typically easier to ignore, and allows more comfortable sleep. There are plenty of dedicated machines in a wide price range that generate either simple white noise or soothing nature sounds, such as lapping waves or falling rain.

Alternative white-noise generators include:

• Air purifiers

• Humidifiers and dehumidifiers

• Radio set to FM static, with the treble set low and the bass set high, if possible.

There are plenty of ways to block noise in your home, through remodeling or simply masking the sound. Of course, the best way to block disruptive noise is to avoid it in the first place. Like my Denver rental, noise is often overlooked when considering a new rental or home purchase. Be sure to visit a potential new home at several different times of the week, and talk to neighbors about noise levels.

Updated March 26, 2018.

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