Are you bothered by outside noise coming to the room? Do you wonder how to soundproof it and block the outside noise from disturbing your peace?
I admit; living in the city is fantastic. You can get everywhere with ease, and there’s so much to do too. I personally love it (and I have lived in the suburbs too, so I’ve experienced both.)
It’s just the noise is unbearable sometimes, isn’t it? Cars. Barking dogs. Delivery trucks revving their engines early in the morning. Trash collection. Emergency services and who knows what else.
Oh my gosh, it can seriously drive you mad sometimes!
The thing is, it doesn’t have to!
Certainly, you don’t have to put up with the outside noise. There are some amazing ways that help you soundproof your room or apartment from the outside noise and block it once and for all.
That’s what I’m going to show you in this guide. We’ll discuss all the methods that you can use to block the outside noise and regain peace in your room.
So, without any further ado… Let’s take it from the top.
How noise enters your room or apartment from the outside
Before I show you exactly how to block the outside noise, I need you to understand how the problem occurs.
I know, I know; it does sound like I’m about to throw some unnecessary information at you. But believe me, it is going to make the task of soundproofing a room from outside noise so much easier.
Because, to do it, to block that noise once and for all, you first need to understand how that noise enters your room or apartment.
Most of the outside noise that’s bothering you is what we call airborne noise.
Airborne noise is created when sound travels through the air. A good example of this is the music playing from a stereo. The sound of music basically “floats” in the air until it reaches your ears. That’s how you are able to hear it.
In practice, the sound makes the air vibrate, and sound waves travel through those vibrations. Your ears also pick those vibrations and translate them into the sound you hear.
And so, the sounds of dogs barking outside are nothing but the vibrations of the air that you hear. The same goes for car horns, engine roar, emergency sirens, people’s conversations, music blasting from car stereos, and almost every other sound that you hear outside.
(That said, there are some impact sounds that you might hear – Roadworks, for example. Some of the noise you hear comes from machinery working, and these are still airborne sounds. But some of it might also come as a result of ground or wall vibrations. Nonetheless, these sounds convert into airborne after entering the room, and that’s how your ears pick them up – as the vibration of the air.)
Here’s why I’m telling you this. Since airborne outside noise travels through the air, it enters the room in the same way as the air enters it.
Since these noises travel through the air, the best way to soundproof them is by putting something in their path.
A QUICK EXAMPLE: Consider how you block smells from the outside from coming into the room. You close the window or doors, right? What you experience, the smell, travels through the air, after all. And so, putting a blockade on its path will prevent it from reaching you.
Airborne sound works in the exact same way. It starts as a vibration that gets carried through air until it reaches your ears.
Or an obstacle.
That’s why the sound of your speech gets muffled when you press your hand against your mouth. Suddenly, the sound has fewer options to travel further. Your hand blocks the way, after all.
Or that’s why the sound of music gets significantly quieter and muffled when you cover the speaker with a blanket. Again, not all of the sound can reach you now. What you hear are the sound waves that manage to pass the barrier around the edges of the blanket, for example.
Can you block all the outside noise in a room?
No, most likely, you won’t. But you can reduce it significantly, even to a point where you can hardly hear most of it (unless the sound is really loud.)
This has a lot to do with the types of noises that bother you, their intensity, proximity to your apartment, frequency, and so on.
Large machinery working nearby will, most likely, generate such insane vibrations that no matter what you do, you will hear some of it. But you can reduce it greatly.
You will always hear certain noises too, as they might be entering the room through other rooms or from upstairs too.
But again, you can reduce their impact, and you’ll learn how to do it in this guide.
So, let’s get to that.
What you need to do to block outside noise from entering your room or apartment
We’ve already discussed the general solution – putting something on the noise’s path. But there is a little more to it than that. In fact, to fully soundproof a room from outside noise, you need to do three things:
- You need to seal and block any means for the sound to get in
- Then, you need to limit the wall’s vibrations,
- And finally, you need to ensure that whatever vibrations still occur do not travel from the surface to surface until they reach your room.
As a result, your project to soundproof a room from outside noise will have three stages:
(By the way, don’t worry if you don’t know how to complete all these stages. In this section, I want to discuss them, in general, to explain what’s involved in blocking outside noise from getting in. And you’ll learn exactly how to do it in the following section.)
Stage 1. Sealing any gaps and cracks to prevent noise from coming in
We’ve already discussed that airborne sound travels through the air. It’s generated by the vibrations of the air, and those vibrations are carried through the air as sound waves until they reach your ears.
This means that sound can sneak into your room in the same way as air, and that also means even the thinnest cracks and gaps in the wall. The same goes for any gaps around the window, underneath the windowsill, or around the doors and the doorframe.
So, as the first measure, you need to fill and seal all such gaps and cracks. And I do mean all of them, including some areas you might not even consider as a potential means for the sound to get in.
Example – sockets and light switches. There might be gaps between them and the wall, for example. You can barely see those, but they’re there. And air, heat, and sound can enter the room this way.
Take a look at this image, for example. See how many different entry points for the sound are there:
- Gaps in old window frames
- Window lock
- Gaps under windowsills
- Crack in the wall above the mirror
- Electrical outlets
- Ceiling lamp, and more.
Stage 2. Adding mass to the wall to reduce its vibrations
So, in the first stage, we’ve covered all the gaps through which the sound could get in.
But the outside noise can also enter your apartment in another way. Sound waves can make the wall vibrate, and some of that vibration will translate into airborne noise in the room.
Let me explain to you how it works.
The outside noise – be it heavy machinery or the rumble of a large truck passing by – hits the wall.
Some of it gets reflected back. It bounces off the wall, so to speak. Now, it’s hard to determine how much of the noise bounces back. It depends on several factors, like the type of unwanted noise and what the wall is made of. But in general, at least some of it gets reflected.
But the rest will turn into vibrational energy in the wall, and that’s what’s causing your problem.
That noise hits the wall and makes it vibrate. Again, some of that translates into heat. But most of this vibration will transmit through the wall and exit on the other side and into your room.
Therefore, in the second phase of the project, you need to increase the mass of the wall or windows, or doors to minimize those vibrations.
Stage 3. Isolating the sound so that vibrations are not passed from one object to another
Finally, we need to ensure that whatever vibrations still occur (and there will be some, it’s practically impossible to eliminate them entirely) do not get easily passed from one surface onto another.
If they do, then much of that outside noise will still enter your room.
So, here’s how to do it all in practice.
How to soundproof a house from the outside noise
Here are the specific ways to block the outside noise from entering your home.
A quick note – I organized them following the three-stages formula I outlined earlier. So, we’ll start by covering all the things that you need to do to seal gaps and other means for the air (and sound) to get in.
And then, we’ll look at ways to add mass to the wall and other surfaces and isolate sounds that are trying to get in.
So, let’s get to it.
#1. Block the noise’s entry points on the wall
I have to warn you – This may seem like a small task, but it’s actually something you should spend considerable time doing.
Noise can enter your house even through the thinnest crack, after all. So, what to you may seem like nothing but an innocent hairline crack, to noise is a massive gateway to bothering you with unwanted sounds.
One example of that is gaps between sockets and light switches and the wall. You probably, don’t even notice that these might not be fitting perfectly against the wall and the tiny gap between them. But think about it, behind them is the wall, the exact thing that vibrates and transmits the sound. So, even that tiny gap is a portal for the sound to sneak in.
Use Green Glue – a fantastic acoustic sealant caulk with soundproofing qualities – to fill in any holes, gaps, and cracks.
Also, peek behind the skirting board, if possible. What often happens is that builders leave a tiny gap between the drywall and the floor. It’s not a significant gap to cause any thermal issues and reduce the heat insulation of your room. But it’s usually large enough to let a lot of noise in.
Again, you can use Green Glue to seal it. Or, if you also want to add an extra layer of heat insulation, use expandable foam. It will completely stop the air from coming in and thus, block any noises from entering the room through that gap.
Do the same to the joint between the wall and the ceiling. The wall’s natural movement might have created a tiny hairline crack there as well. Once again, it’s easily fixed with Green Glue.
Could you use a standard caulk for this? Yes, you could. The benefit of using Green Glue instead is that it has soundproofing qualities. As a result, it adds that extra layer of protection against the noise that other standard caulks don’t.
#2. Seal gaps around windows and doors
We’ve discussed how to soundproof a wall and stop the noise from coming through various cracks and gaps. Next, we need to work on any doors and windows, if there are any.
Here are the most common ways to tighten those surfaces:
- Use Green Glue to seal gaps between the window or door frame and the wall.
- Use a weather strip to soundproof all four sides of windows and doors. Often, a window or a door might not be closed too tightly, leaving a little gap between it and the frame. Weather strips will help you seal those easily and without incurring any major expense.
- Install a door sweep to block air and noise from entering underneath the door.
- Check underneath the windowsill too. Due to natural movement, there could be a tiny crack there as well. But because we don’t look there, we rarely consider that the sound might be getting in through there.
#3. Install soundproofing curtains and soundproof window inserts
Remember my example earlier of blocking a speaker with a blanket? Well, this step works in quite a similar way. Now, even if you’ve sealed most of the cracks, the sound will still get through.
For one, windows, particularly glass, offer little resistance for the sound to come in.
Unfortunately, lass lets more sound in than most other building materials. Even a double-glazed window isn’t completely soundproof because the glass will let sound in. That’s because, by its nature, glass has low acoustic properties when it comes to different frequencies.
“A 4 mm-thick glass is rather transparent (poor attenuation measured in dB) for high frequencies at the range of 3500 Hz; 6 mm-thick glass is poor for frequencies around 2000 Hz, and 10 mm-thick glass performs badly at 1300 Hz.” (source)
One way to combat it is by replacing them with thick, triple-glazed, soundproof windows or even storm windows.
Not only would this reduce the amount of outside noise your window is transmitting. It would also have increased its mass and limit the vibrations.
But let’s face it; that might not be viable for you to do right now. So, as an intermediate step, consider two other ways of putting obstacles on the path of the noise:
- Soundproofing curtains. These typically look like normal, heavy, and thick curtains. In reality, though, these curtains have soundproofing and sound-absorbing materials woven into them and can block or absorb sounds from coming in. Check various soundproofing curtains available.
- Soundproof window inserts. These are custom-made inserts that you install onto your window, making it thicker and more sound absorbing. I haven’t tested this method before but according to manufacturers, these inserts can reduce the outside noise by a staggering 10dB. (And they’re really easy to install, which is always a bonus for DIY soundproofing projects.)
#4. Move large furniture, especially bookcases, to the wall
This is a simple, DIY soundproofing trick that can help you increase the number of obstacles on the noise path without spending any money.
Placing large objects, ideally with sound-absorbing qualities, can help you reduce the amount of noise transmitting through the room.
Books, for example, have natural sound-absorbing properties. Placing bookcases on the affected wall can help you reduce the amount of noise that reaches your ears.
#5. Install acoustic foam panels on the wall
Acoustic panels (also known as soundproofing foam or soundproofing panels) have a high sound-absorbing capacity. They are typically used in recording studios, podcasting rooms, and any other places where you need to have a clean sound without any reverberation.
But you can also use them to soundproof your room from outside noise.
How? For one, you can install them on the direct path of the noise so that the sound gets absorbed. Soundproofing experts recommend installing them on the wall opposite the source of the sound. This way, when the sound enters the room and reaches the wall, it gets absorbed rather than reflected.
That, in turn, will do two things:
- It will reduce its level and, well
- Cut it short. The sound will not be bouncing around the room but will dissolve, absorbed by the panel.
#6. Increase the wall’s mass with drywall
A major problem with outside noise is that the walls that separate you and the source of that disruption are thin.
But the good news is that you can soundproof thin apartment walls.
The not-so-good news is that doing so requires altering the structure of the wall.
One of the relatively simple ways to do it is by adding a layer of drywall to the wall.
Drywall is a material, typically coming in sheets, that you use to build interior walls and ceilings. What’s important about it is that it has some sound-absorbing properties and thus, can do several things:
- Drywall will increase the thickness of the wall, reducing how much it can vibrate.
- It will also put a block on the sound’s path as it travels through the wall. We talked about how some of the outside noise will reflect off the wall while the rest will enter it. Well, drywall can become another layer that will reflect and bounce some of that noise away from your room.
- Drywall can also support additional insulation behind it, thickening the wall further and allowing you to place even more sound insulation on the sound’s path. Not only will this increase the mass of the wall but it will also allow it to absorb a lot of the noise, rather than letting it enter the room.
The result? A significant difference in the amount of outside noise getting through.
TIP: Use RSIC-1 Clips when mounting drywall. Studs inside the drywall provide the path of least resistance for the sound to travel from one surface to another. These clips are designed to stop the sound from transmitting on the surface.
As some Amazon reviewers claim, mounting sound insulating drywall on these clips has reduced the noise coming through the wall.
Additional tips for soundproofing a room from outside noise
To close this guide, I thought I’d share several additional tips that could help you block the outside noise or at least give the methods we’ve talked about above a boost.
- Put an obstacle on the sound’s path outdoors. If you have control over what’s outside your house, and can alter it, then, you could place obstacles on the sound’s path there. Even a higher fence or bushes would help reflect some of the sound of the passing traffic, for example.
- Use soundproofing wallpaper to absorb more sound coming into the room. In spite of its name, soundproofing wallpaper does not block sound. It works in a similar way to soundproofing foam panels, and helps to absorb sound. If you don’t want to install those panels (as they do not always look good in a room,) consider using a soundproofing wallpaper instead. It will do the same thing as acoustic panels while looking a million times better.
- Build a maze in the air vent, if you have one. Air vents are a huge entry point for air (and outside noise) to get in. The problem is that, unlike gaps and cracks, you can’t permanently seal air vents. Luckily, you can still soundproof them by building a maze that will help reflect the sound, rather than allowing all of the noise in.
And that’s it…
Now you know exactly what to do to soundproof your room or apartment from the outside noise.
What’s left now is to get started on implementing those strategies one by one.