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Ceiling Soundproofing

How to Soundproof a Ceiling

How to Soundproof a Ceiling

When I was younger I didn’t know brooms were for sweeping, honestly I just thought it was a tool for mom to bang on the ceiling anytime we were playing. As I got older and moved from apartments to condos to houses, I realized my mom was in the right. Why is it that no one knows how to walk quietly but me?! And my mother of course.

Noise can make its way through your ceiling dozens of ways. Furniture moving, sound systems, appliances, loud televisions, pets, vacuums, and of course, people walking around with bricks on their feet. In this article we’ll help you identify different types of sound and how to combat them. People don’t often think about soundproofing their ceiling or floor, but when done correctly it can go a long way to make your space more comfortable and quiet.

When I was younger I didn’t know brooms were for sweeping, honestly I just thought it was a tool for mom to bang on the ceiling anytime we were playing. As I got older and moved from apartments to condos to houses, I realized my mom was in the right. Why is it that no one knows how to walk quietly but me?! And my mother of course.

Noise can make its way through your ceiling dozens of ways. Furniture moving, sound systems, appliances, loud televisions, pets, vacuums, and of course, people walking around with bricks on their feet. In this article we’ll help you identify different types of sound and how to combat them. People don’t often think about soundproofing their ceiling or floor, but when done correctly it can go a long way to make your space more comfortable and quiet.

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Popular Ceiling Soundproofing Materials


Luxury Liner™ Roll of Mass Loaded Vinyl (1 lb / 2 lb)
Luxury Liner Pro™ MLV and Acoustic Decoupler

Overview of Noise Through a Ceiling

When people think about soundproofing a room, they often think about movies and TV shows that show people putting up egg cartons and foam all over the walls and ceiling for a makeshift studio. Firstly, egg cartons don’t do anything, it’s a weird Hollywood thing. Secondly, these scenes are usually representing what we’d call an acoustical treatment, and while that can be helpful to reduce reverb and echo in a space, it doesn’t actually block outside noises. When you’re talking about soundproofing, what you’re really wanting is to block noise from getting in or out of a space.

When it comes to noise, there's a couple of types to consider. Let’s walk through them as well as some industry terms to help you make the right soundproofing decisions for your home.

drywall ceiling installation

Ceiling Soundproofing: Airborne Noise

Airborne noise is just sound that travels through the air. For instance, loud talking, music or TV, a dog barking – these are all sound waves traveling through the air and then heard when they reach your ear. Sound waves move like water; they flow towards the weakest point. That’s why airtight construction is so key – airborne sound waves find the path of least resistance to travel from space to space. You want the sound waves to travel through the air until they collide with something like the floor in the room above you, at which point some of the waves create vibrations through whatever it runs into and into whatever’s on the other side. Forcing that path allows your barrier to do its job, as THROUGH IT is the only option sound has. Without an effective barrier, you won’t be able to relax in the room you’re trying to enjoy some quiet time in.

There’s actually a way to measure how effective a ceiling is at blocking airborne noise, it’s called Ceiling Attenuation Class or CAC. This is a measure to rate how well a ceiling can block airborne sound between adjacent spaces. It’s more technical than that, but we’ll save that for the civil engineers reading this. Here’s a visual example:

airborne noise through a ceiling

The higher the CAC rating, the better a ceiling is at blocking sound. A ceiling system with a CAC less than 25 is considered poor, while a CAC of 35 or greater is considered high performance. Note that a high CAC ceiling can’t do all the work on its own, the walls and other construction also need to be rated highly. Imagine attaching a V8 engine to a tricycle, it wouldn’t be very effective. If you’re using a high CAC ceiling system, your wall construction needs to have a minimum STC of 40. We wrote an article outlining STC rating if you want to dig in. But for now, know that it’s a rating similar to CAC but for walls and barriers.

On the flip side if you have effective wall soundproofing and door soundproofing, but your ceiling is not soundproofed, the ceiling is the weak link in your soundproofing. A situation where the ceiling is the weak point turns the ceiling into something called a flanking path, which means its a low resistance path for sound, and a source of unwanted noise.

Ceiling Soundproofing: Impact Noise

Unlike airborne noise which is defined by sound waves traveling through the air, impact noise (also called structure noise) is sound that occurs as a result of one object “impacting” another and the vibrations being radiated through the object or to adjacent objects. Basically the difference between a bang in the other room, and a bang directly on the floor above you. Impact noise includes things like people walking or footfall, a ball bouncing, a chair rolling, or things being dropped on the floor. These noises are often so annoying because they are distinct and jarring – making them very noticeable. The key to reducing impact noise is to prevent the energy from ever entering the building’s structure.

Now you may be wondering, “is there also a way to measure how effective a structure is at blocking impact noise, like there is for airborne noise?”. Well, you’re in luck! Impact Insulation Class, or IIC, is a rating for a floor-ceiling assemblies ability to stop the transmission of impact noise. The rating system for IIC does not convert directly to CAC, but the principles are the same and higher numbers are again better. A floor that is just a bare concrete slab would have an IIC rating of 25, while a high-performing floor that transmits very little impact noise might have an IIC rating of 50 or 60.

To achieve a high IIC rating, employ the use of soft floor surfaces and materials. Things like carpet with a soft underlay, rubber floor underlayment, suspended ceilings, or floated floors will go a long way to help block impact noise. Combine these strategies for an even more effective solution. Avoid hard surfaces which do not cushion impacts, like bare concrete, vinyl tiles, or linoleum.

impact noise through a ceiling

To achieve a high IIC rating, employ the use of soft floor surfaces and materials. Things like carpet with a soft underlay, rubber floor underlayment, suspended ceilings, or floated floors will go a long way to help block impact noise. Combine these strategies for an even more effective solution. Avoid hard surfaces which do not cushion impacts, like bare concrete, vinyl tiles, or linoleum.

Common Types of Existing Ceilings

We often talk about how different materials handle sound with varying levels of effectiveness, and ceilings are no exception. Depending on the material and construction of your ceiling, the paths for sound to travel, and the amount of noise that makes its way into your room will change.

Drywall Ceiling

Drywall is the most common material used in residential ceiling construction. Drywall, often referred to as plasterboard or sheet rock, is made of a gypsum that is wrapped in thick sheets of paper. But all drywall is not created equally. There are 3 common types of drywall.

  1. Standard ½” gypsum board. This is of course the least expensive and lightest material, we don’t recommend this material for any soundproofing needs.
  2. ⅝” gypsum board. This thicker drywall has more mass and is preferred for soundproofing projects.
  3. Soundproof drywall. As the name suggests, this material is specifically manufactured to be a really effective sound blocker with a high STC rating, however the cost reflects the performance. Use this material only if soundproofing is of the utmost importance.

Dropped Ceiling

Dropped or suspended ceilings are sometimes referred to as secondary ceilings and are suspended from the structural ceiling above them. This can greatly improve soundproofing through a process called ‘decoupling’. Decoupling means that the dropped ceiling is creating space or ‘decoupling’ itself from the structure above it, breaking the path for impact vibrations to travel from the floor above to the room you’re in. However, rarely is the space above a dropped ceiling empty, and elements in that space like light fixtures or ductwork can give noise a path, sometimes even a louder path, right to you.

What About Acoustic Tiles?

You may have come across something called acoustic tiles. Often designed to work with dropped ceilings, but also available for drywall, we’re a big fan of the product. But it’s important to know that, as the name suggests, acoustic tiles are designed to improve acoustics in a room. They do so by helping absorb sound and reducing reverb inside of a space. What they aren’t effective at is blocking sound. So while we support using acoustic tiles as part of your soundproofing project, we don’t recommend you rely on them to block sound from the floor above you.

installing acoustic ceiling tiles

How to Soundproof a Ceiling

Ironically, the best way to soundproof a ceiling, is to actually soundproof the floor. Treating the floor in the room above you is the preferred and best solution to dampen impact noise. You can do this by using a flooring underlayment. This basically means using a soft, rubberized material under your finished flooring to decouple the subfloor from the floor you walk on. The decoupling will help reduce impact noise. Although rubber underlayment is preferred in most situations, mass loaded vinyl is preferred for vehicles and can be used for your underlayment in home/commercial installations with a floated floor.

To Soundproof a Ceiling Start with the Floor

If you’re working with new construction, extend the underlay under all wall frames before bolting the frame to the floor, then use strips of your underlay on top of wall frames as well. By isolating the framing from the structure, you can prevent vibrations moving through structures and creating more noise.

If you’re unable to rip up the floors, you can add carpet or even heavy rugs to help reduce impact sound transmission. Another good option is a product like Luxury Liner Pro, which is a dense, limp mass loaded vinyl fused to an acoustical foam decoupler. We use it all the time in vehicles, but it's excellent for reducing noise transmission through ceilings, walls, floors, machinery and equipment enclosures, PVC waste pipes, HVAC ducts... really on any solid surface. Just install with 100% coverage on that hard surface or on the floor under the carpet for effective noise control.

Soundproofing An Existing Ceiling

It’s not always feasible to treat the floor above you, especially if it doesn’t belong to you. If you’re in an apartment or condo, and don’t own the space directly above you, other than generously gifting your upstairs neighbors with some heavy rugs, the only thing you can do directly is to treat the ceiling.

The most effective option is to remove your existing drywall ceiling and utilize ‘resilient sound isolation clips’, or RSIC. These clips are extremely effective decouplers and will prevent impact sound from transmitting through your ceiling assemblies and into the structure of your space. Using these clips with the addition of new ⅝” drywall will not be as effective as treating the floor above your space, but will still help decouple your structure to help with impact noise.

Another potential ceiling treatment that won’t require as much construction is trying to add density to your ceiling. Now this won’t help much with impact noise, but will help block out airborne noise like loud conversations or music. This is often done with a product called Green Glue in combination with ⅝” drywall. Depending on your type of ceiling, there may be other options. All of them require construction. Contact us if you want to talk through your situation.

For any of these ceiling treatments, be aware of the tradeoffs. The key to any soundproofing projects is sealing gaps, so if you were to spend all that time and energy on soundproofing your ceiling, then decide to install something like recessed lighting, you could quickly undo all of your hard work. Too often people find this out too late, so know that if you’re going to invest in these treatments, you should be prepared to stick to them.

 

Building a New Floor-Ceiling Assemblies

For the more technical folks reading this, let’s get into the optimum floor-ceiling assemblies for good soundproofing. By implementing these tips during construction, you’re solving your noise issues up front and can be certain you’re creating a comfortable space.

Wood Frame and Light Steel Construction

These assemblies are really optimizing for impact noise, so stiffness is key here because it helps prevent vibrations which is the ultimate cause of noise from footfall. If you’re working with longer joints, couple concrete with the finished flooring with the underlayment underneath to add stiffness at the point of impact. However with shorter joists you can rest the underlayment on top of the concrete, using the concrete to add stiffness to the subfloor.

Concrete Construction

Concrete is an excellent material to stop impact noise because it doesn’t amplify the low-frequency thuds you hear with footfall as you normally hear in wood and light steel construction. Couple that with a hung ceiling for a highly effective soundproof construction.

impact insulation class (IIC) and floor-ceiling assemblies

Ceiling Soundproofing Can Take an Expert

Every space and situation is unique. But peace and quiet is universal. Whether you live in a single-family house, or a multi-level condominium, there is a soundproofing solution for you to keep the noise from raining down through your ceiling. Contact us and our experts can help you find out what you need for your project, and we promise it won’t include that broom you keep nearby to communicate with your upstairs neighbors.