Perhaps it’s the dog or the new baby in the other room. Or maybe your partner likes to watch late-night talk shows in another room while you’re trying to sleep. Whatever it is, the sound is bothering you and you need to soundproof your room.
While soundproofing involves a battery of several tactics—some of them quite elaborate—there is one surprisingly easy and inexpensive way to cut down on the sound. For very little money and effort, you can reduce outside sound by as much as 15 percent. It doesn't seem like it should work, but it does: It's as simple as applying caulking to cracks.
Reducing Airflow Helps Reduce Sound
Professional soundproofing is highly expensive. It involves adding insulating materials and extra drywall—or replacing existing wall materials with new and more expensive materials. It often involves other people and special tools: contractors and consultants and decibel meters. All of that means more expense, time, and effort.
One easier way to cut down on the transmission of sound is to reduce airflow. Physics tells us that sound is borne by air since sound is vibration traveling through the air. Wind promotes the transmission of sound even more.
If this seems improbable, it's easy to conduct a simple test of this notion. Crack open a window by 1/2-inch or even as narrow as 1/4-inch. Take note of the sound level in the room. Shut the window and notice how the sound changes.
Locating Cracks that Allow Sound
Think of the room that you want quieter as having air flowing into it from the outside. How is the air coming into your room? The gaps between outlet boxes and drywall are one area. Another area: gaps under doors. If the sound is coming from outside, airflow coming through or around windows is another place to look.
Even these very narrow seeps of air carry sound. Remember that sound is caused by vibrations traveling through the air. The type of thinking that is used to detect cold air coming into your house is the same type of thinking needed to detect sound carried by airflow. So where is it coming from?
- Through or around receptacle boxes
- Through ceiling receptacle lights
- Cracks above windows or doors
- Poorly fitting windows
- Misaligned doors
- Gaps in wall insulation
- Thin wall patches (holes in walls patched not with drywall but with fiberglass patch material)
- Cracks in floorboards
Using a Thermal Camera to Locate Sound
Since cracks that permit cold air are the same cracks that permit sound, use a tool that contractors employ to find out where the cold air is coming from: a thermal camera.
Low-cost thermal cameras are available. They simply plug into your smartphone. Through the camera's app, all of the cold air entering your home will be identified in darker colors like blue or green.
You can only use a thermal camera when there is a sharp contrast between the inside and outside temperatures. Given that, fall or winter are the best months to use a thermal camera to locate cracks that permit both cold air and sound.
Sound Transmission Class (or STC) is used by sound consultants to measure sound levels. STC is not the same thing as decibels. STC is a general range, not a precise measurement.
In the 30-35 STC range, the person in the next room who is talking loudly can be heard in the intended quiet room. By merely caulking, you can reduce that STC rating by about 15 percent. So, the loud voice is mitigated, but not stopped.
Before You Begin
Caulk, weatherstripping, and insulation are fitted into every available crack that neighbors the exterior or a particularly noisy adjacent room. Depending on the surface, you may want to use painter's caulk since it can be painted over to match the surrounding surface. If the cracks are exterior-facing, use exterior-grade silicone caulking.
Equipment / Tools
- Thermal camera
- Caulking gun
- Appropriate tools for painting
- Appropriate tools for drywall mudding and repair
- Caulk (interior or exterior grade, depending upon your needs)
- Foam outlet insulation
- Storm window
- Storm door
- Drywall compound
- Interior paint
Start With the Outlets
Carefully remove the outlet covers. Install thin foam insulation pads inside the covers and replace them. Caulk around outlet boxes for a tight seal.
Install weatherstripping along the leading edge of windows. Place weatherstripping in large cracks around doors and windows.
Work on the Drywall
Fill small holes or cracks in drywall with caulking.
Fill in large holes with material that matches the surrounding surface. Large holes in drywall should be patched with drywall, taped, mudded, sanded, and painted.
Look at the Floors
Fill in cracks in floorboards. Be sure to use an appropriate caulk that is designed for use on floors, especially if those floors are made of real wood.
Use Storm Windows and Doors
Put up storm windows to create an added layer of protection against cold air and noise. Install a storm door to help reduce the sound coming in around the edges of the door.
Repair Windows and Doors
Repair windows so that they close tightly. If you cannot repair the window, have it replaced. Do the same with the doors that lead into the room.