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Soundproof Walls

How to Soundproof a Wall in Your Home

How to Soundproof a Wall in Your Home

It’s time you eliminate all that unwanted noise leaking in your home. You know what we’re talking about — noisy neighbors, nearby traffic, airplane noise. All forms of unpleasant noise can affect you and your family’s comfort in your home. Noise pollution has been shown to trigger the body’s stress response, which is why excess noise has been tied to a variety of issues – ranging from heart disease to lower sleep quality to less work productivity. Whatever your reason for wanting to reduce noise, let’s dive into how soundproofing a wall can help.

We say the unwanted noise is “leaking” because sound waves behave like a fluid, moving to the weakest points and sneaking into your home through cracks, holes, and gaps. That’s why we recommend a two-pronged approach to soundproofing the walls in your home:

1. Fix the leaks (gaps around doors, windows, outlets, vents, etc)
2. Increase the mass of your barrier (with soundproof drywall or mass-loaded vinyl)
 

We’ll go into the specifics later on. For now, consider how much better a quieter home life can be. Having a little peace-and-quiet goes a long way in reducing stress, improving sleep, and promoting focus. For business owners, reducing workplace noise has the same effect for employees — lower stress, better concentration (fewer errors), and higher reported job satisfaction.

As you’ll soon find out, soundproofing the walls in your home can be very labor-intensive, but even larger projects are doable. With the right tools and good information, a quieter home is within your reach.

It’s time you eliminate all that unwanted noise leaking in your home. You know what we’re talking about — noisy neighbors, nearby traffic, airplane noise. All forms of unpleasant noise can affect you and your family’s comfort in your home. Noise pollution has been shown to trigger the body’s stress response, which is why excess noise has been tied to a variety of issues – ranging from heart disease to lower sleep quality to less work productivity. Whatever your reason for wanting to reduce noise, let’s dive into how soundproofing a wall can help.

We say the unwanted noise is “leaking” because sound waves behave like a fluid, moving to the weakest points and sneaking into your home through cracks, holes, and gaps. That’s why we recommend a two-pronged approach to soundproofing the walls in your home:

1. Fix the leaks (gaps around doors, windows, outlets, vents, etc)
2. Increase the mass of your barrier (with soundproof drywall or mass-loaded vinyl)
 

We’ll go into the specifics later on. For now, consider how much better a quieter home life can be. Having a little peace-and-quiet goes a long way in reducing stress, improving sleep, and promoting focus. For business owners, reducing workplace noise has the same effect for employees — lower stress, better concentration (fewer errors), and higher reported job satisfaction.

As you’ll soon find out, soundproofing the walls in your home can be very labor-intensive, but even larger projects are doable. With the right tools and good information, a quieter home is within your reach.

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Popular Wall Soundproofing Materials


Luxury Liner™ Roll of Mass Loaded Vinyl (1 lb / 2 lb)

Green Glue™ Noiseproofing Compound

RSIC™ Isolation Clips

Overview of Wall Soundproofing

There are two main categories of noise control. The first is improving acoustics, which is all about the quality of sound and improving speech intelligibility. Acoustics control techniques use a variety of sound absorption materials and other strategies to reduce the echoes inside of a room and the reverberations that come from sound bouncing off the walls. Acoustics control improves the quality of the sound within a room (think of a music recording studio), but DOES NOT prevent noise from entering or exiting the room. It's also important to understand the difference between echo and reverberation, so be sure to check out that article as well.

The second category is soundproofing or sound isolation, which calls for the installation of sound blocking materials. Sound isolation creates a space in which most exterior sounds are blocked out and most interior sounds stay put. By preventing sound from getting into or out of a space, you reduce or eliminate the disruptions and distractions unwanted noise can create. Sound isolation projects are time-consuming and require precision, but anyone can do them with basic knowledge and a little attention to detail.

To put it simply, optimizing acoustics in a room is a bit of an art, taking a good bit of experience and know-how, but soundproofing a room with sound isolation techniques is more straightforward and requires careful installation.

a soundproof wall blocks more sound

Key Terms to Know for Wall Soundproofing

We’ll dig deeper into what it really means to soundproof a wall, but first, let’s review let’s make sure we’re talking the same language with some key principles.

  • Sound Transmission Class (STC) rating. STC rating is a measurement of how effective a barrier is at stopping the transmission of sound across a variety of frequencies. Though they are calculated in a lab under ideal conditions, STC ratings are the best we have to understand how effective materials can be at soundproofing. Visit our guide on STC ratings to go deeper.
  • Transmission Loss (TL). TL is a measurement of the difference in decibels on two sides of a barrier. For example, if you’re listening to music in the kitchen (let’s say 50 decibels of sound) and it can be heard in the room on the other side of the wall (30 decibels), there would be a 20-decibel transmission loss through the wall. Keep in mind that TL and STC rating are NOT the same thing.
  • Flanking. Flanking paths, or flanking sound, refers to the noise that indirectly travels over, under, or around sound barriers. Think of flanking path as the route noise creeps in through, such as the gap in your ceiling tile you cut out to accommodate an exposed pipe. Soundproofing pipes can also be an important, so look to decouple pipes from the wall; their vibrations could be a source of noise.
sound leaks allow noises around your soundproof wall

Two Basic Principles for Soundproofing a Wall

  1. A wall is only as strong as its weakest point. And an air gap is the weakest of all weak points. Air gaps could be a poorly-sealed window, a doorway, a gap at the floor, around an electric outlet, or any number of other things. All these gaps are a big problem. A 1% air gap will reduce the max effectiveness of a wall to at best a 20 decibel transmission loss, no matter how expensive and dense the materials used to construct it. While it may seem obvious that having a hole in your wall is a big problem, many are surprised by how small that hole has to be to make a big difference.

That's why one of the most effective things you can do is to seal up your wall with acoustic caulk. You can’t expect your drywall or mass-loaded vinyl to block out all the sound coming from the other side of the wall if the point where the wall meets the floor isn’t properly sealed. Use a non-hardening acoustical caulk to seal the gap between the wall and the floor, as well as the point where the ceiling meets the walls, and around electrical outlets and ducts. A proper caulk seal is the best way to snuff out pesky flanking sound.

 

  1. The weak point doesn't have to be air. It can also be the materials. Design plays a large part in the overall effectiveness of a wall’s soundproofing. Introducing multiple materials in the same barrier (like adding a glass window into a brick wall) drastically affects transmission loss. Though you might think that adding one small window will have one-third of the effect of adding three windows, you’d be wrong. The fact is, adding any amount of “weaker” material to a barrier results in a big drop-off in soundproofing that doesn’t change a whole lot even if you adjust the ratios. Consider the following example:
dB transmission wall through different types of walls

Understanding this principle explains why a door or a window is often the wall's weakest point for sound. Even if you've sealed up all the air gaps, the actual construction of the door or window could be the problem. It has less mass (and a lower STC rating) than the wall itself, so it's dragging down the whole structure's sound blocking performance.

How to Soundproof an Existing Wall

If you come away from this article with nothing else, let it be this — the wall itself may not be your biggest problem. In many cases, it’s the gaps, windows, and other “weak spots” that leak the most noise. You may surprise yourself with how much sound you can block out without demolishing any drywall. That’s why you should begin every soundproof job with a few easy steps. Run through this checklist before committing to a teardown; if you’re not getting the results you want, continue on to the more labor-intensive steps.

Checklist Before Soundproofing an Existing Wall

  1. Do a thorough inspection. Examine the length of the wall at every connection point (along the ceiling, floor, and other walls). See if you can spot any gaps. Creating a consistent noise on the other side of the wall (turn on a vacuum cleaner, blender, loud fan, etc.,) will allow you to use your ears to find the weak spots.
  2. Caulk the weak spots you find. If you’ve got enough of a noise problem that you’re researching how to soundproof your walls, your walls have weak spots. After you find them, seal them with acoustical caulk.
    • Electrical boxes/outlets/vents: Start here. It’s super easy to remove the covers and seal any gaps. Scrape off old caulk or fill in gaps with fresh caulk.
    • Baseboards: If your baseboards are the weak spot, remove them and seal the gap where the wall meets the floor. Reattach the baseboards and test for sound.
    • Doors/windows: The average door has 1 square foot of airspace. Caulk is your best friend (again) for the frame. Adding door gaskets and a door sweep (comes together in a door seal kit) will close up the air gap around the door panel.
  3. Replace doors/windows. Doors and windows are the weak points in most any wall construction!
    • If you’ve run several sound tests and have isolated your weak spot to a hollow door or old window, replacing them may be the best option.
    • Replacing a hollow-core door with a solid wood door is effective and a reasonable DIY door soundproofing project.
    • Window replacement can be expensive, but that's why we developed our Fantastic Frame window inserts. They will reduce noise through an existing window by up to 80%.

While these steps can be time consuming, but it’s less work than soundproofing walls themselves and ultimately may be more effective because most walls either aren't sealed well or have a door/window acting as a flanking path.

Actually Soundproofing an Existing Wall

We still doing this? Alright, it's game time. Let's soundproof that wall. We've got 3 options for you, and 1 option for those of you that are desperate for improvement without construction.

Option A (Green Glue + 5/8" Drywall):

  1. Green Glue + a new layer of 5/8" drywall is the best way to soundproof a wall without removing the current drywall.
  2. Lay new drywall flat and apply Green Glue in beads on its surface using a standard caulk gun. The pattern doesn't matter. Just get it everywhere while leaving a 3" space around the edge. Two tubes of Green Glue is enough for about 32 square feet of coverage (one sheet of drywall).
  3. Carefully hang the new drywall, being sure to install it so the seams do not line up with your first layer of drywall. Leave a 1/8" gap at the top and bottom of the drywall. Seal the perimeter and around any penetrations with acoustic caulk.

Expected STC Rating: Low 50s

Option B (mass loaded vinyl):

  1. Remove existing drywall. Mass loaded vinyl should be attached directly to the studs of the wall. Mass loaded vinyl is most effective when it can flex as it hangs loosely between the studs.
  2. Attach mass loaded vinyl by nailing it directly into the studs. We strongly recommend you get MLV that's 48" wide for a wall soundproofing. Saves a lot of time (24" OC or 16" OC studs). Seal all seams and edges with acoustic caulk.
  3. Install a new layer of 5/8" drywall on top.

Expected STC Rating: High 40s

Option C (RSIC-1 + 5/8" Drywall):

1. Remove existing drywall. RSIC-1 isolation clips should be installed on the studs with no more than a 48" gap between clips. It's possible to install RSIC-1 clips without removing the existing drywall, but contact us if you want to do this.

2. Snap in 25 ga hat channel (from local drywall supplier), and then hang your drywall - leaving a 1/8" gap around the entire perimeter (sit the drywall on shims as you attach to the clips). Seal the perimeter with acoustic caulk.

3. It's VERY IMPORTANT the drywall is not touching the walls structure, as the RSIC-1 clips work by isolating the drywall from the building's structure.

Expected STC Rating: Mid 50s

That Extra Option We Mentioned (2" BlocknZorbe Panels):

1. Ok, ok. We heard you! You want something you can do that's easy to DIY and can be taken with you if you're in an apartment or other rented space.

2. If you have airborne sound (the TV, people talking - but NOT footsteps), then you can completely cover the wall with the 2" thick version of BlocknZorbe to increase how much noise it will block.

3. Start by sealing up any air gaps with acoustic caulk, and then screw the BlocknZorbe panels into the wall with 100% coverage. The seams will blend together so it looks just like one big wall. And now you can't hear your neighbor yelling at the TV!

 

We're going to mention one more thing, not because we think it's good, but because it's all over the internet. Soundproof curtains keep being mentioned as an effective barrier for walls. The main problem with soundproof curtains is it’s very hard to properly seal them to eliminate air gaps. But you can cut a couple decibels (20-30% of the noise) if you get a really heavy soundproof curtain and hang it over a weak spot (a door or a window). Simply hang the curtains as you would regular curtains to block a small amount of noise coming from the offending window or doorway. It won't solve your problem, but it'll help a bit.

How to Build a New Soundproof Wall

If you’re building a new wall and want it as soundproof as possible, there are a few considerations to make. Question #1 is… how far do you want to go? One key to keep in mind is that level of soundproofing done to the walls, you also need to look into how to soundproof a ceiling as well as how to soundproof a floor and do the equivalent. Sound is always looking for the path of least resistance, and if you have a beefy wall with a flimsy little ceiling... you have a flanking path. Bad news, please avoid!! With that said, here are the steps to take for MAXIMUM wall soundproofing:

  1. Install stud framing. You have a choice between wood and steel framing. Steel is more difficult for many contractors or DIY enthusiasts to work with, but steel studs do provide better isolation than wood. Often the answer is wood, but you can go either way.
  2. Fill stud cavities with insulation. Just your typical R-13 (2x4 walls) or R-19 (2x6 walls) batting insulation. When going for super high STCs (anything over 45), you no longer gain the 1-2 points of STC you'll gain by using a more absorptive insulation (like jute or Rockwool). Don’t overstuff the insulation.
  3. Add resilient sound isolation clips (RSIC). Use 25 gauge aluminum hat channel with your RSIC-1 clips to decouple the structure from the drywall. By “floating” the drywall with isolation clips, your soundproofing will be much improved due to reduced structural noise transmitting through the walls.
  4. Attach 5/8 “ drywall to the hat channel. The thicker drywall adds much needed mass to the wall, which aids in soundproofing. Leave a 1/8” gap at the floor, ceiling, and around all penetrations. Seal all gaps with acoustic caulk.
  5. Apply second layer of 5/8” drywall with Green Glue. Use the Green Glue damping compound between the two layers of 5/8" drywall . Be sure that your seams don’t line up. Again, leave a 1/8" gap around the perimeter and seal it with acoustic caulk.

What you'll need: RSIC Clips, Green Glue, Acoustic Caulk

That’s it! Your new wall is now the beefiest wall in town. All the other walls will be gossiping like that time your neighbor got calf implants. This wall is should be your "go to" for any extremely high STC needs (like a professional recording studio). Next up: finish the room with ceiling and floors!

Speaking of Beefy... Luxury Liner MLV Rolls... So Strong!

Our Luxury Liner Rolls are made of the highest quality MLV and come in a variety of length x width options. A versatile and durable material, mass loaded vinyl can be used for all sorts of residential, commercial, or even classroom (that's right!) projects.

  • Offered in two standard thicknesses, 1 lb and 2 lb.
  • Extremely durable, Luxury Liner is building grade, automotive safe, flexible, tear resistant, and fire resistant.
  • The 1 lb MLV is 1/8” thick and the 2 lb MLV is 1/4” thick. MLV is unmatched in its noise noise blocking ability for its thickness.
  • Made in the USA. All prices include free shipping.

Soundproof a Wall. Any Wall Will Do.

Way to go! You made it to the bottom of the wall soundproofing article (unless you just scrolled down here…). The steps we’ve outlined can be handled by many DIY-ers, though if you decide to go for a top performing solution, it will take more time and effort to get the results you want. Just like anything else in life really...

That’s why we suggest starting with the easy stuff though — inspect your wall and caulk up air leaks. Seal up the door with a door seal kit or just replace that hollow-core door. These are the big "bang for your buck" opportunities. If you can identify the root cause of the noise, you can get creative and sometimes avoid the full blown project that soundproofing a wall. But if you’re going to go for it, do it right the first time.

Have questions about your project?

Call us at 1.866.570.5440