The Best Materials for Sound Insulation

Written by ian kenney
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Bands that practice at home, apartment dwellers that live next to a crying baby, and city dwellers plagued by traffic noise all wonder at some point if there is any way to truly soundproof a room or home. Methods and myths abound, and no practical room will ever be truly soundproof, but you can insulate against noise pollution in ways that are simple and cheap or complex and pricey depending upon the amount of insulation the problem requires.

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Acoustical Caulk

Sound waves are like water. They find open spaces and penetrate them. Sealing all gaps with acoustical caulk should be your first step in soundproofing, particularly in existing construction. Use it around all window door trims, along baseboards and in particular around electrical boxes. Caulk any holes in the electrical box as well.

Mass Loaded Vinyl

The two types of noise pollution are airborne and contact. For airborne noise, Mass Loaded Vinyl (MLV) is the gold standard in carpet underlays and wall barriers. MLV replaced lead sheeting, which was used for years in soundproofing installations. It's a plyable high-grade vinyl that is has barium salts and silicas embedded in it, and comes rolled up. It can be used between two layers of dry wall or directly on the joists in the walls as well as over the plywood subfloor. Be sure to caulk all seams and gaps between the applied sheets of material when installing MLV.

Ordinary Dry Wall

Soundproofing works by blocking and absorbing sound. The greater the wall volume, the better it will both block and absorb airborne sound pollution. Attach furring strips --- thin strips of metal or wood usually one-inch wide and one-half to three-fourth inch thick --- with screws over the first layer of drywall to create a pocket of air between sheets. Install the second layer of drywall, which will reduce the amount of noise compared with a single-layer installation by more than 50 per cent.

Green Glue

Green Glue is like magic. You apply it to an existing wall in a random pattern using an ordinary caulk gun before you add your second layer of mass, be it a wood panel or additional sheet of drywall. It has 100 times the damping effect of a standard one-half-inch drywall installation when applied between two layers.

Soundproofing Foam Roll

Egg crates do almost nothing to block or absorb sound. You need a specially designed product that uses a closed-cell structure. Foam rolls are available in 48-inch widths and sold by the linear foot. They can be affixed to an existing wall with rubber cement or with the pressure sensitive adhesive available as a backing on some products. As always, use acoustical caulk for gaps and seams.

Windows and Doors

Use exterior doors in interior spaces. They have more mass and they are also often weather stripped and can be used with an under plate that minimises gaps. Double-paned windows are a major investment, but they are very effective when fitted properly and caulked thoroughly.

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