Mass Loaded Vinyl (What is MLV, Installation, and Alternatives)
If you’re a light sleeper who’s been woken up many a night by loud neighbors or traffic sounds, then you’ve probably thought about soundproofing.
Furthermore, if you have dabbled in this topic before, you’ve probably heard of Mass Loaded Vinyl. That sounds like a robust and powerful material, right? Well, that’s because it is! MLV is a reliable choice for a soundproofing material. It’s a thick barrier material that will block all those annoying noises. What’s more, it will reduce sound transmission without scaling down your living space.
If you’re wondering why to include it in your soundproofing plan, and which manufacturer to go for – keep on reading.
When dealing with noise reduction, you have to be aware of all the pros and cons of different materials. For example, if you need to soundproof your walls or ceilings, you need to know if the material is suitable for that. Today, we are going over that, and more.
WHAT IS MASS LOADED VINYL MADE OF
When you’re soundproofing your home or office space, the best choice is to go with something weighted. That sounds logical, even to amateurs. The MLV is just that. However, it’s also very flexible. That means that it isn’t hard to install on your floors and ceilings and that you can also wrap it around your air vents. You can even do it yourself, but, we’ll talk more about installation later.
MLV was introduced as an alternative to lead soundproofing. The great thing is that this material still has all the benefits of lead soundproofing materials, but without the apparent downfalls. It’s a reflective barrier, which means that it doesn’t absorb sound. Instead, MLV contains and blocks sound transmission through large surfaces such as floors and walls.
The main properties of MLV are the thinness and flexibility. What gives this flexibility, or better said limpness to the Mass Loaded Vinyl is the main ingredient – vinyl. Vinyl is a synthetic, plastic material, that’s very versatile. Soundproofing isn’t the first or the last industry to make good use out of it. Homeowners, builders, and architects love vinyl because it’s water-resistant and very durable. Therefore, you’ll only need to soundproof your space once, and it will stick.
The other main ingredient of MLV is some high mass element. In most cases, that’s calcium silicate. However, some manufacturers still use barium sulfate, although less frequently. Either way, whichever naturally occurring element is used, the goal is the same – sound reflecting.
As we mentioned, MLV isn’t an absorber but a sound blocking material (read more about different principles of soundproofing). For a material to achieve adequate sound reflection, it needs to be dense. Thus, you need more mass. This material works on a simple principle – put a barrier thick enough in front of the sound waves, and they won’t pass. Therefore, the structure of MLV is nothing like the porous structure of sound absorbing materials (read more). Though, it can also absorb the sound if you install it loosely.
ADVANTAGES AND DISADVANTAGES OF MLV
Still, why choose MLV? There are a lot of soundproofing materials out there. However, this vinyl-based material has some unrivaled benefits:
- High STC score
Firstly, MLV is very thin. If you want to block the sound, you need a thick material. However, making it light and thin at the same time is no easy task. That’s the main advantage of MLV. It has a better mass to thickness ratio than almost any other material.
To give you a reference point – if you weigh one sheet of ⅛ inch thick MLV, you’ll see that it weighs around one pound. In typical houses and offices, the burden of soundproofing falls on the trusty drywall. So, let’s compare. If we measure the weight of the same thickness of drywall, we’ll get a mass larger by two times.
Furthermore, MLV has an excellent STC score. SCT or Sound Transmission Class is a standard unit of measure. The score tells you the transmission loss between the source of the sound and the designated target place of measuring. It sounds complicated, but it really isn’t. For you to measure the STC score in your home, you would need to measure the sound at several points in the rooms – where the source is as well as the room where the target is. The difference between those measured values is the STC score.
So, due to its thinness, MLV improves the SCT score, compared to other soundproofing and regular materials. Also, the thickness of the material is almost insignificant when it comes to space reduction. However, you can still take your pick amongst several different thicknesses. Go for 1/16, ⅛, or ¼ of an inch.
But, what separates MLV the most (and makes it an excellent choice for soundproofing) is the flexibility. When you’re going for mass as a soundproofing source, you usually put up drywall sheets. However, drywall is rigid. You can’t really maneuver it around pipes and air vents. Sure, you can put up drywall on your walls easily. However, the versatility of MLV lies in the option of closing all the small gaps around hard-to-reach places. Closing the holes is essential for effective soundproofing. If you leave any, you might as well not have bothered with soundproofing.
Of course, MLV has some disadvantages. The main one is the price. You’ll pay anywhere from $1 to $2.50 per square foot. Therefore, if you’re working on a tight budget, you might want to stick to drywall, or other, cheaper materials. However, if you’re working on a space that needs tight soundproofing, like a studio, or a home theater, go for MLV.
Check this video:
HOW TO CHOOSE THE RIGHT PRODUCT
If you are determined that MLV is the right choice of material for you, there are still some decisions to be made. Pay attention to the:
- Range of flexibility
- Type of adhesive
- Additional options
Firstly, you’ll want to choose the thickness. If you’re soundproofing a small room, it’s best to go with a thinner option, like a 1/16 or ⅛ of an inch. Decide what thickness you want based on your budget, as well, because the prices vary. However, keep in mind that soundproofing spaces like studios or theaters requires top-notch soundproofing materials.
While it’s typical to choose a black MLV, if your heart is set on another color – you have options. Of course, this isn’t that crucial of a factor, if you’re looking for a translucent or transparent material, MLV comes in those, as well.
If you need a particularly flexible type of MLV, research the manufacturers in detail. Some of them offer a more extensive range of flexibility. Standard MLV is very flexible. However, some products provide better performance. Keep in mind that those products usually come at a higher price.
While on the subject of price, make sure you don’t go for cheaper options without knowing the downfalls. For example, MLV with peel-and-stick adhesive on the back is not strong enough. The adhesive won’t hold, and the material won’t be as effective. For a permanent installation, choose a different adhesive option.
As for additional options, some brands offer MLV with an added foam layer. This layer enhances flexibility and resilience. It also adds the thickness.
So, now you know what to pay attention to. With these factors in mind, we chose a Mass Loaded Vinyl brand that, in our opinion, performs the best. Keep on reading to see our top pick.
BEST MASS LOADED VINYL SOUND BLOCKER
In our opinion, the best option out there is the TMS Mass Loaded Vinyl. Firstly, TMS uses only the highest quality vinyl in the production. That means that there are no recycled or reground materials in your sheets. Furthermore, it has no odor.
Now, this might not seem like a significant advantage, but it really is. The strong odor that’s a given for some other brands is overpowering and very distracting during installation. TMS is odorless.
Furthermore, TMS is ⅛ of an inch thick, weighs one pound per square foot, and has an STC score of 27.
However, keep in mind that TMS mass loaded vinyl is very heavy. While this is just a minor inconvenience, you need to know it, especially when installing floor to ceiling pieces. In those cases, you might need a helping hand for the heavy lifting. Or, you can cut the sheet into more manageable pieces. The material is very easy to cut through.
Also, as expected, this brand of MLV is a bit higher on the price ladder. 40 square feet will cost you over $100.
MASS LOADED VINYL ALTERNATIVE
If you’re looking for an alternative to MLV, your best option is MuteX Soundproofing Material. This brand offers a much cheaper flexible soundproofing material.
However, keep in mind that more affordable options have limitations. For example, MuteX comes in sheets that are ¼ of an inch thick, and it weighs ¼ of a pound per square foot. That means that it’s twice as light as typical MLV products. Less mass means that the material is less effective when it comes to noise blocking. That’s something to consider if your surroundings are particularly noisy.
Otherwise, MuteX is a solid choice for soundproofing. It has an SCT score of 32. It’s also as flexible as MLV products, and you can use it for gaps, vents, ducts, etc. You can easily wrap it around anything, and the installation is even easier than with MLV, due to the lesser weight.
Also, it doesn’t hurt that it’s almost twice as cheap as typical MLV products.
HOW TO INSTALL MASS LOADED VINYL
MLV acts as a reflective barrier, which means that it contains and blocks the sound. Moreover, it’s useful on either side of the wall. Of course, you can also use it for other surfaces. But, how does it work?
Not to bore you with the details, here’s the gist of it. When sound waves hit a surface, their energy causes vibration. That vibration expands and transmits to the air on the other side of the wall. That’s how you hear outside noise. It travels directly through the wall.
Vibrations travel and transmit more easily through rigid surfaces, like the wall. If the wall were limp, or mobile, it would absorb the energy from the vibrations more, and you wouldn’t hear as much noise in the room. However, since we can’t make floppy walls, MLV is the next best thing. It’s flexible and limp. That means that it will block the vibrations more efficiently, thus preventing sound transmission.
The installation of MLV is very straightforward. However, there are some steps that you need to go through to make sure that everything’s done by the book. For best results, it’s recommended that you install it against the studs. Then you can put drywall over it.
Don’t worry, there are more options. You don’t have to tear your walls down just to get a good night’s sleep.
MLV INSTALLATION - UNDER THE DRYWALL
First, you have to measure your wall. Remember to deduct ⅛ or ¼ of an inch. Then, unroll your MLV on the floor, and measure the length you need. Cut it with a knife, or a sharper pair of scissors.
Next, you’ll want to apply your measured piece of MLV over the insulation, onto the studs. Hold it in place and start at the top and go downwards, or you can start at the sides. You’ll probably need another pair of hands to help with the weight. Don’t forget to keep an eye on the edges. They need to be straight along the floor and the ceiling.
You can use whatever type of grip you have. Since the MLV goes under the drywall, you don’t have to be concerned about appearances. Use nails, screws, or a pneumatic stapler, if you have one. Place them 8 inches apart along the edges.
Don’t forget about the electrical boxes. You have to leave them exposed. It’s best to press the measured sheet to its designated place and then cut out the pieces that cover electrical boxes. Be careful not to cut out too much, and to seal the hole as best as you can.
Keep the seams of the MLV as close together as you can. Make sure to overlap them by 2 inches if they fall between studs. That way they won’t peel off or come apart. If you have any gaps, you can seal them with a strip of PVC tape.
Install drywall over the applied MLV.
HOW TO INSTALL IT OVER EXISTING WALLS
If you aren’t keen on ripping your walls down, you can install MLV over existing drywall. It’s a bit more complicated, but still very doable. Use a stud finder to locate the studs behind your drywall. Mark them and then screw Furring strips through your drywall so you can reach the studs. Then apply MLV and another layer of drywall. This method guarantees almost complete soundproofing.
Final Thought on MLV
While dealing with noise isn’t easy, it can be made simple with MLV. This flexible soundproofing material guarantees excellent performance and durability. As sound blockers go, this is the best option on the market. It’s easy to use – you can install it yourself, and enjoy the silence.