Much of the advice I dole out in my articles is focused on ensuring that no sound can escape the room you’re soundproofing. However, there are some differences between those tips and the methods you would use to prevent outside noise from entering your home.
For example, acoustic foam products are meant to improve the acoustics inside of a room, rather than keep the sound out. In this article, I’ll explain which soundproofing techniques you can use to make your house or apartment the silent sanctuary you need.
As you know, there are two types of sounds we need to worry about: airborne and impact noise. Understanding the difference between these two will allow you to realize which soundproofing methods you should implement in your home. So, if all you’re dealing with is airborne noise, like children laughing outside of your windows or dogs barking, you’ll need to focus on plugging any air gaps in the walls and around windows and doors.
However, impact noise has more bass qualities, so it’s actually shaking the structure of your home. So, if you have cars or trucks rumbling by, or a construction site nearby, you’ll want to separate your walls, floors, and ceiling from the building structure in order to prevent shaking.
You should keep the different types of noise in mind as you read my suggestions for soundproofing various areas around the room. Let’s start with what’s arguably the most vulnerable area — windows.
1. First, Soundproof the Windows
Windows are definitely the flimsiest parts of our homes as far as soundproofing goes. And if you’ve got really old wooden windows, there’s really not much you can do to soundproof them. I did previously write an article on soundproofing windows, but the gist of it is fairly simple.
So, you should start by examining your existing windows:
- Check if there’s a draft around the window’s frame — if you can feel the breeze, you’ll be able to hear sound.
- See if the air is getting through the closed windows. Just move your hand around the perimeter of the window. Using a candle could work too, if you’re careful — just see if the flame flickers.
- Examine the glass — it may be too thin to keep the sound away. In that case, consider getting new windows, or at least getting double-pane windows.
Essentially, it’s best to get double-pane PVC windows if you can. You could also install window inserts, which are another layer of glass or transparent acrylic.
However, as someone who’s spent many nights sleeping under 40-year-old wooden windows, I also understand that sometimes we can’t change the windows for various reasons. In that case, I recommend doing your best to remove air gaps:
- Seal the gaps with acoustic caulk.
- Use a closed-cell weatherstripping foam tape
- For a quick and easy fix, you can always make a soundproof window plug.
- If the windows themselves aren’t shutting properly, you could get rubber gaskets. These thin (often self-adhesive) strips of rubber will make sure that your windows are closed tightly enough not to let air in.
- Hang heavy soundproof curtains.
2. Soundproof the Outside Walls
Soundproofing walls is pretty similar to soundproofing windows, in that you should first make sure there aren’t any cracks or gaps. You can just check for gaps and seal them with acoustic caulk and hope that soundproof blankets and some clever furniture rearranging will take care of the rest. In fact, I’ve written a whole article on 6 different ways to use soundproof blankets in your home.
However, if you think nailing a few blankets to the wall just won’t cut it, you could soundproof the walls from the studs in. I’ve written another article on the best way to soundproof a wall using soundproof insulation, MLV, resilient channels, soundproof drywall, and Green Glue. Of course, you’re only going to be able to use this method if you own the home, or if you have permission to alter the walls.
If you can only afford to fix up a few walls, you should pay special attention to the outside and the shared walls. And, as I’ve previously mentioned, you can just reinforce them by adding some mass to the most vulnerable ones. You can do this by lining them with bookshelves, wardrobes, paintings, and tapestries.
You’d probably think that would do it, but no: you still have to think about the air vents! If you decide to, you could completely seal them off with drywall and a soundproofing sealant. Or, you could count on soundproof blankets to take care of them. Of course, if you need the airflow, and are in the mood for a DIY project, you could also make a sound maze inside of the vent — check the linked article to see how.
3. Soundproof the Outside Doors
Doors can be an important piece of this puzzle for several reasons:
- If you live in an apartment, the front door may be letting sound in from the hallway or the staircase.
- In a house, you could be looking to soundproof the door of your own room.
- If you’re working on a room with a balcony or a porch access, the noise could be coming in directly through the door.
The fix is pretty simple and probably predictable at this point in the article. Try to plug all of the air gaps first. You can use acoustic sealant just like you would on a window — all around the door frame, between the frame and the wall. Weatherstripping foam tape can be used in a similar way as well.
If your door hangs a bit too high, you can also install a rubber door sweep. In addition, you can use rubber gaskets all along the inside of the door, where the door meets the frame.
Finally, if you’re working on the balcony or the porch door and it has a glass portion, you can pretty much treat it as a window and refer to my advice on soundproofing windows. And, if you need more information on soundproofing doors, you can click through to the article where I went into more detail.
4. Soundproof Your Backyard
There are also several changes you can make to the outside of your home (in your yard, if you have one) to make sure that the least amount of noise is reaching you inside.
For one, you can transplant tall and bushy plants or trees close to your windows. This won’t actually do much, but it may soften harsh noises as they pass through the foliage.
Something that may be a bit more efficient is building a tall fence — especially if your house is in line, or lower than the fence. A thick fence will also absorb some of the impact of deeper bass sounds. And it’ll be twice as effective if you install MLV on it.
Now, the noise could also be caused by your dog. If the little guy hasn’t learned his barking manners yet, he could be making your days pretty difficult. And I can just imagine what your nights look like if the pup sleeps outside. Well, there are several ways you can approach soundproofing his outdoor kennel:
- Line the floor and walls of the outdoor kennel with soundproof blankets.
- For a smaller dog house, use soft pads and pillows for the floor and cover the outside of the house with a big soundproof blanket.
- Get one of the soft crates and kennels I recommended in the linked article.
- Consider bringing the dog inside, at least at night. He’ll feel safer and less irritated if it knows where you are.
5. Finally, Soundproof the Ceiling and Floor
Soundproofing floors and ceilings may not be totally necessary in order to get rid of outside noise. If you live in a house, for example, your upstairs and downstairs neighbors are probably family or roommates.
However, in an apartment building, you may need to step up your soundproofing efforts. Your main concern is probably the impact noise of your upstairs neighbors’ footsteps.
Fortunately, I happen to have already written an article on reducing noise from upstairs neighbors. The one advice I have for removing the noise would be to construct a drop ceiling. That will allow the sound to dissipate between two layers of drywall.
And, of course, if you don’t want to cause the same issues for your downstairs neighbors, you may take some steps to soundproof the floor. You can do that easily by laying down rubber mats, MLV, or a foam underlay under thick carpets.
Last Thoughts on Blocking Outside Noise
Getting rid of extra noise can significantly improve all of our lives. After all, that’s the whole point of this website. However, most of the time, there isn’t a way to remove all noise. To do that, you’d need to build a completely airtight room — which isn’t very realistic.
So it’s likely that some outside noises are still going to reach your room. Even after trying all of the tips on this list, you may need to seek alternative solutions. For example, you can get noise-canceling earmuffs, or a white noise machine to block annoying sounds.
Ultimately, any one of these solutions should work — and if they don’t, perhaps you should try to figure out the source of the noise. After all, if your home is shaking a bit too much every time a car passes in front of it, you may have a bigger problem on your hands. So implement some of the simpler tips in this article first, and if that doesn’t fix the level of outside noise, you may have to do some more serious construction work.