By Bob Vila
Noise. There seems to be plenty of it, no matter where you live. In the city, it’s the cacophony of sirens, honks and upstairs neighbors. In the country, it’s mowers, trimmers and blowers, along with next-door neighbors at work or play. Even if you live in a quiet neighborhood, laundry and dishwashers, hair dryers and even showers can make your house a noisy place. If you work at home, you know how important a quiet environment is, especially when the kids are enjoying that fabulous new home theater.
So what’s the best way to address noise problems at home? Take a three-part approach: Reduce noise transmission from outside and other parts of the home, reduce the noise that your household generates, and use sound-absorbing materials to lessen the effect of noise that you do generate.
Hang fabrics & panels
The materials used in decorating the house can help mitigate noise. The basic idea is to eliminate some of the hard surfaces that tend to bounce noise vibration in all directions. Heavy drapes will absorb a great deal of sound as well as stop noise transmission from the outside. For walls, try acoustical fabrics or panels. They are available in dozens of styles and textures but tend to be pricey. Choosing upholstered furniture, area rugs, and wall-hung quilts may be a less expensive way to go. When selecting a new floor, opt for products that will absorb sound, such as carpeting or cork flooring. Use sound-absorbing tiles at the ceiling.
Add insulation & drywall
Adding insulation to walls or ceilings is a great way to turn down the volume of daily living. Good candidates for additional insulation include the walls of a master suite, bathrooms, family rooms and guest rooms. Of course, this presupposes that you’re willing to remove drywall or at least cut holes in the walls to blow in insulation. Denim batts are an effective sound (as well as a good thermal) insulator. They contain no VOCs, are fire resistant and green, too. Blown-in cellulose also works well. Adding a layer or two of drywall will significantly reduce sound transmission. Even more effective is acoustical drywall, such as QuietRock, which can reduce sound transmission by 25 to 40 percent compared to the same wall built with standard drywall.
Try sound-dampening underlays
When installing new flooring, you can limit noise transmission with a sound-dampening underlayment. Underlays are typically dense sheets that are rolled over the entire floor and taped along the seams. They are most effective when the flooring is installed without fasteners. There are sound-dampening underlays for every flooring type, including ceramic tile, carpeting, luxury vinyl planks and engineered wood, so be sure to choose the correct one.
Weatherstrip your windows
Windows and doors are often the weakest link in your sound defense because noise is like water and can infiltrate through any opening. Weatherstrip all points where sash meets jambs, headers and sills. Use an acoustical caulk sealant to fill the tiny gaps around moldings. Heavy or insulated drapes drawn over windows at night will also help quiet street noise.
Install solid-core doors
Replace hollow-core doors with solid-core doors. The more mass in a barrier, the higher its ability to reduce sound transmission. While a well-fit solid door will significantly reduce sound transmission, it will not eliminate it. For that, the gaps around the door at jambs, header and sill must also be sealed — typically with gasketing.
Apply duct wrap
Your plumbing also contributes to noise. Water running through pipes is unavoidable, but by insulating those pipes you can cut associated sounds in half. The same is true for air ducts. Duct wrap will suppress the whoosh of air rushing through ducts — and will also save on your energy bills. Apply duct mastic to all joints to stop air leaks before wrapping them with insulation.
Adopt a shoes-off policy
There are many low-cost ways to reduce noise generation inside your home. One of the easiest — adopting a shoes-off policy — costs nothing. The difference between someone walking across a floor in stocking feet as opposed to boots or hard-soled shoes is significant, whether you’re in the room or one floor below. If you feel uncomfortable asking friends to go around in stocking feet, keep a supply of slippers in the front hall closet. At the very least, have family remove shoes.
Opt for a quiet dishwasher
When buying appliances and outdoor power equipment, check out the sound rating, which is measured in decibels, or dB for short. The differences in dB ratings can be surprisingly large. For example, a quiet dishwasher may have a rating of 45 dB. According to sensorynutrition.com, a dishwasher with this rating would be an acceptable choice for a home with an open floor plan. A dishwasher with a dB rating of 55, however, would be twice as loud and would make conversation difficult.
Use sound-reduction pads
Put rubber pads under countertop appliances, such as mixers and blenders. Isolating motor-driven machines from hard surfaces cuts the decibels. The same principle can be used to reduce noise from air-conditioning units, furnaces, sump and pool pumps, compressors, stationery power tools, generators and the like. There are many sources for rubber, neoprene and cork sound-reduction pads.
Squeaky floors and stair treads can be a real nuisance. Although there are lots of tips out there involving substances like talcum powder, the long-term solutions almost always involve tightening up the floor or stair assembly. On first floors, if the joists and subfloor are accessible from the basement or crawl space, tightening is possible from below. Use shims and/or long screws to prevent floor boards and treads from rubbing against other boards and creaking when walked upon. The same goes for stair treads that are accessible from below.
Remove squeaky flooring
You can also tighten existing floors from the top, but the fastener heads will be visible. If you plan to carpet or paint the floor, this won’t matter. If you aren’t, try using ringed nails, setting the nail heads and puttying over the holes with filler that matches the floor finish. Whatever you do, don’t install a new floor over an old one that squeaks. The problem will likely remain. Instead, remove the old flooring down to the subfloor. With the subfloor exposed, drive screws to hold it tight to the floor joists. Then install your new flooring.
Consider an isolated floor
For rooms where lots of noise is generated, such as a music practice room, media room or home gym, consider an isolated floor over the existing floor. Use stud and joist isolators (they may be slid over framing at regular intervals) to reduce noise transmission from one floor assembly to the next. Then proceed to add sound insulation under the new floor and to wall and ceiling cavities.
Choose a DC-operated garage door
Automatic garage doors can generate an incredible amount of noise, particularly in rooms built over the garages. Choose a quiet garage-door opening system, such as a direct-drive opener with a direct-current (DC) motor. Direct-drive openers have fewer moving parts, and the DC technology allows soft starts and stops. For existing belt- and chain-driven openers, ensure that the door and springs are balanced and that the hinges and wheels in the door tracks are lubricated.
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Bob Vila is the home improvement expert widely known as host of TV’s This Old House, Bob Vila’s Home Again, and Bob Vila. Today, Bob continues his mission to help people upgrade their homes and improve their lives with advice online at BobVila.com. His video-rich site offers a full range of fresh, authoritative content – practical tips, inspirational ideas, and more than 1,000 videos from Bob Vila television.
Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of Zillow.