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

RSIC™ Sound Isolation Clips  

Green Glue™ Noiseproofing Compound

Acoustical Sealant Caulk          

Overview of Noise Through a Ceiling

When people think about room soundproofing, 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.

There's a couple of types of noise to consider when starting a soundproofing product. 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

The first type of noise is airborne noise, which is sound that travels through the air. For instance, loud talking from a noisy upstairs neighbor, 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 the STC Rating (sometimes given a more specific term of Ceiling Attenuation Class or CAC). This is a measure to rate how well a ceiling can block airborne sound between adjacent spaces. For the rest of the article, we're just going to stick to calling it STC rating because that's what we use across the entire website when discussing airborne noise. It’s more technical than that, but we’ll save that for the civil engineers reading this.

airborne noise through a ceiling

The higher the STC rating, the better a ceiling is at blocking sound. A ceiling system with a STC less than 25 is considered poor, while a STC of 50 or greater is considered high performance. Note that a high STC 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 STC 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.

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, and this is why people often ask us about soundproofing a basement ceiling. 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 joists assemblies ability to stop the transmission of impact noise. The rating system for IIC does not convert directly to STC, 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. If you have an exposed ceiling, you should read our article on exposed basement ceiling soundproofing!

impact noise through a ceiling

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 your ceiling types and construction, the paths for sound transer, 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 (sheetrock, gypsum board, wallboard - it all means the same thing) is made of a gypsum that is wrapped in thick sheets of paper. But all drywall is not created equally. We like to bucket drywall into 3 categories:

  1. Drywall that is too thin for soundproofing: a single layer 1/4", 3/8", and 1/2" gypsum board are used all in all sorts of construction projects. We don’t recommend this standard drywall material if soundproofing is a priority.
  2. ⅝” drywall. The 5/8" thick version of gypsum board has more mass and is the "go to" choice for any soundproofing project. Multiple layers of decoupled 5/8" drywall (use sound isolation clips and Green Glue) will give you the best possible performance.
  3. Soundproof drywall. As the name suggests, this material is specifically manufactured to be an effective noise barrier for high STC rating assemblies. This material is an option instead of going the RSIC + Green Glue route. Read our article on the topic for more information: Soundproof Drywall, does it work?

Dropped Ceiling

Dropped 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. For a dropped ceiling, you also may need to use special ceiling tiles or ceiling tile backers to block airborne noise from passing through depending on your floor-ceiling assembly and wall construction. Read our article on dropped ceiling soundproofing for more information on the topic.

What About Acoustic Tiles?

You may have come across something called acoustic tiles. Often designed to easily lay into a dropped ceiling grid, they can be a great way to improve acoustic performance in a room. But it’s important to know that, as the name suggests, most acoustic tiles are are sound-absorbing materials designed to improve acoustics, they are not a soundproof panel. They do their job by helping absorb sound and reducing reverb inside of a space. What many acoustic ceiling tiles aren’t effective at is blocking sound. We offer two types of acoustic ceiling tiles: BlocknZorbe EZ Drop Ceiling Tiles and PolyZorbe EZ Drop Ceiling Tiles. Both are cut to easily lay into an existing ceiling grid.

  • BlocknZorbe EZ Drop Ceiling Tiles - with both an STC rating and NRC rating, these ceiling tiles actually will block sound transfer from traveling up into the ceiling plenum while also improving acoustics
  • PolyZorbe EZ Drop Ceiling Tiles - highly absorptive polyester will improve acoustics in a room, reducing reverb and echo
installing acoustic ceiling tiles

How to Soundproof a Ceiling

Ironically, the best way to soundproof a ceiling, is to actually soundproof the floor above it. 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 rubber flooring underlayment like UnderBlock. A 100% rubber underlayment under your finished flooring will decouple the subfloor from the floor you walk on, completely stopping footfall noise between floors and also blocking airborne noise.

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 seal up the entire perimeter and any gaps around penetrations with acoustic caulk. By isolating the floor from the structure, you can prevent vibrations moving through structures into adjacent rooms and the floor below.

If you’re unable to rip up the floors, you can add carpet or even heavy rugs to help reduce impact sound transmission. This won't work as well as a rubber underlayment, but it's often the most practical way to reduce footfall noise (no construction required). The thicker the carpet the better!

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 noisy neighbors with some heavy rugs, the only thing you can do directly is to treat the ceiling.

The most effective option for ceiling soundproofing is to remove your existing ceiling drywall and utilize resilient sound isolation clips like our RSIC-1 clip. We also have a RSIC-1 Low Profile clip which is great for ceiling soundproofing. These clips are combined with 25 ga hat channel to "decouple" a ceiling from the building's structure to prevent impact sound from transmitting through your ceiling and into your living space. Even basic constructions using this clip will get a floor-ceiling assembly's STC and IIC rating into the 50s. More complex constructions can get ratings as high as the low 80s. Using these clips with the addition of new ⅝” drywall is not quite as good as treating the floor above your space with rubber underlayment, but they are far and away the best solution if your only option is to treat the ceiling. I will say that again... if you want to stop footfall noise, and can only treat your ceiling, soundproofing clips (RSIC clips) are the most effective option available to you.

Another potential ceiling treatment that won’t require removing any drywall is to add a second layer of drywall (5/8" thick) to your ceiling with Green Glue between the two drywall sheets acting as a decoupler. This is a very effective solution for reducing airborne noise like loud conversations or music, and will help with impact noise as well. Depending on your type of ceiling, there may be other options. Contact us if you want to talk through your situation.

For any of these ceiling treatments, one key to remember is that all gaps must be sealed. This means leaving a 1/4" gap around the perimeter of the ceiling and around any penetrations in the ceiling (keeps the ceiling decoupled!), and then sealing those gaps with acoustic caulk. Acoustic caulk is your best friend for any soundproofing project! Back to those gaps... if you're deep into your research, you know that the key to soundproofing is a 100% unbroken sound barrier. So for goodness sake, don't incorporate recessed lighting (canned lights) if you care at all about ceiling soundproofing. These giant holes in your wall will undo all of your hard work!

mass loaded vinyl Ceiling Soundproofing solution

Our Luxury Liner mass loaded vinyl is great for a lot of soundproofing needs. We recommend it for wall construction, pipe wrapping, outdoor uses, basically anywhere you need to block sound from transferring through a barrier. It is a highly effective noise blocking material!

We push people away from using it in ceiling soundproofing projects for two reasons. (1) It doesn't help with impact noise. (2) It is insanely hard to attach a giant heavy MLV roll over your head. Now, if your main issues are airborne noise from upstairs or downstairs, and you have a legit construction team to handle the mass loaded vinyl ceiling install, then mass loaded vinyl on a ceiling is great! Just keep in mind it often isn't your best option, and if you think it is I would recommend calling one of our soundproofing experts and we will help walk you through your options!


Building a New Floor-Ceiling Assemblies

If you're building a new floor-ceiling assembly and want to have high performance soundproofing, you can implement the same strategies we discussed for existing ceilings. It's good you're thinking about solving the problem beforehand, because it's always easier to solve your noise issues up front!

Wood Frame and Light Steel Construction

Wood and light steel assemblies are generally worse at stopping impact noise than concrete, but it's still not a problem with the right soundproofing materials. Your best friend is going to be UnderBlock rubber underlayment. With UnderBlock as your starting point, you're essentially guaranteed an STC rating and IIC rating over 50. Combine your rubber underlayment with RSIC clips for the ceiling below, and you've got a potent soundproofing combo. Green Glue can be used as either part of the floor assembly or between a layer of drywall in your soundproof ceiling.

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. That's part of the reason they are the "go to" for many large, commercial apartment, condo, and hotel projects. UnderBlock rubber underlayment and RSIC clips or hangers work very well with a concrete floor construction as well. If you have questions on your specific assembly, and what performance you can expect to get, give us a call!

impact insulation class (IIC) and floor-ceiling assemblies

The Wide World of RSIC

The RSIC-1 has been an industry leading sound isolation product for several decades. The science is simple. Decouple the ceiling or wall from the building's structure, and stop the transmission of structural noise. The RSIC line of clips features dozens of options to handle any situation when constructing a building.

  • Increase STC and IIC rating of a ceiling by 20+ points
  • Use with any wood, steel, or concrete application
  • Supports multiple layers of 5/8" drywall
  • Also used to soundproof walls in your home
  • Full line of clips offered. Just call if looking for a specific clip

Ceiling Soundproofing Can Take an Expert

Every space and situation is unique. One that we run into very frequently is on soundproofing a ceiling in an apartment. While this is very difficult, there are other apartment soundproofing methods you can do. Redfin asked us for our best apartment soundproofing tip. Check out the article we were featured in: Block Out the Noise: 10 Tips For a Soundproof Apartment | Redfin.

Peace and quiet is universal. Whether you want to learn how to soundproof a house, or a multi-level condominium, there is a soundproofing solution for you to keep the noise from raining down through your ceiling. Check out our guide on the cost of soundproofing a ceiling or 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.