Dealing with thin shared walls can be one of the hardest things about soundproofing your apartment. Apartment buildings nowadays seem to be made of the flimsiest materials more often than not. And since no one should have to put up with overly loud neighbors, I’ve decided to tell you all of the ways to soundproof a thin wall between apartments.
Another reason why you might want to make sure that the thin wall separating you from your neighbors is soundproof is to protect your own privacy! After all, if you hear everything your neighbors are doing, they can surely hear you. As someone who’s lived in their fair share of places with paper thin walls, I find myself uniquely qualified to dispense advice on the subject. In fact, the first advice I’d have for anyone looking to buy or rent an apartment in one of these paper buildings is to get the unit with the least shared walls.
So I’ve decided to split that advice into two general categories. First I’ll tell you how you can add some mass to your walls without doing construction work. Then, I’ll let you in on some professional methods of soundproofing that you’ll be able to use. But first, let’s talk a little bit about which materials you’ll need before we start.
Soundproofing Thin Apartment Walls
When it comes to soundproofing, you should always start by understanding the kind of noise you’re hearing. Your thin walls are likely not only letting in airborne noise but also shaking from impact noises that are going through your apartment building. In a previous article, I went into more detail explaining these two types of noises. To make a long story short, I’ll simply say that your thin walls aren’t protecting you from any type of noise.
This is the same issue many Americans face, much more than, for example, Europeans. Our walls just seem to be thinner on the whole, especially when we’re talking about prefabricated buildings.
Prefab buildings are essentially made in factories and assembled on site, drastically reducing the time it takes to actually build the structure. These types of homes are also typically very cheap to make and pretty affordable to rent as well. However, due to the fact that this process usually uses the thinnest materials which are easy to transport, what we’re left with is less than ideal as far as the soundproofing is concerned.
That’s not to say that some insulation doesn’t go into these walls — far from it! In fact, if anything, insulating thin walls is a much more challenging process, since insulation also serves to make the building sturdier. Still, shared walls inside of the structure are typically less scrutinized, leaving them vulnerable. And naturally, there are some apartment buildings that just have thin walls, even though they weren’t prefabricated.
Materials You Might Need
So at this point, you understand why you’re hearing the noise through the walls, and you may be itching to get started. Well, as you probably know, I love to get everything ready for me before I start working. And while I am partial to first seeing what you can do without soundproofing materials, you may also need:
- (Soundproof) blankets and curtains
- Mass−Loaded Vinyl or other rubber materials
- Soundproof acoustic panels
- Sawn timber
- Soundproof insulation
So there’s your little sneak peek into what I have planned for your walls. Some of these materials may sound familiar. However, I’ll also make specific recommendations in my article. Now grab your toolkit and let’s proceed.
How to Soundproof a Thin Wall Without Construction
As I have mentioned, I do like to start with the things you have lying around before I recommend other products. If you’ve read my article on cheap wall soundproofing ideas, you may recognize my first few pieces of advice.
Stack Furniture Against the Wall
I know, every time I suggest this, people tend to look at me like I’m crazy. But I promise it’s actually one of the most effective things you can do. You see, since your walls are so thin, adding a row of wardrobes, closets, and bookshelves against the wall will thicken it up.
It’s just as easy as that. As long as the pieces of furniture are big and don’t touch the wall behind them, they’ll absorb the sound without passing it over through the wall. In fact, one thing that I didn’t think of in my prior articles is that you could actually add one more layer of soundproofing to this tip.
If you want to, you can put thick blankets or even foam in between the wall and the furniture. That should add even more mass to the wall and absorb even more sounds before they can reach your neighbors. This is also the best solution if you don’t have permission to put nails in your walls.
Cover the Walls with Blankets or Curtains
This is a fairly standard recommendation coming from me, but I’m sure you won’t mind. After all, blankets are pretty much my one-stop shop for soundproofing all sorts of areas around the apartment.
In fact, soundproofing with blankets can also be cheap and easy if you want it to be. Here’s what you’ll need to do:
- Collect all of your blankets, preferably thick ones.
- Get some mounting putty — this Tombow Xtreme package can hold up to 13 pounds.
- Put the putty along the edges of the blanket, and place it in the middle of the wall.
- Add more blankets, working toward the corners of the room.
If you’re not worried about damaging the walls, you can also nail the blankets into the wall. Alternately, you can put them up using curtain rails. Or you can simply use thick curtains in the first place.
In addition, other than using any old blankets or curtains you find around your home, you can also purchase soundproofing ones. If you’re interested which moving blankets and soundproof curtains are my favorites, I’ve written all you need to know in previous articles.
Essentially, these products are thicker and heavier versions of regular blankets and curtains, which will add mass to your walls. Also, if you want to get the most out of these materials, you’ll make sure to leave that air gap between them and the wall. As I have mentioned, the air gap is going to allow the sound to disperse.
Use Acoustic Foam Panels
If you’ve read some of my previous pieces about acoustic foam products, you’ll know that they’re not good at blocking sound. In fact, they’re much better at improving the acoustic qualities inside of a room. However, you can also use them to keep some of the noise you’re making from going through the thin walls.
I’m not suggesting that you use regular foam panels like the ones you might see in a music studio. Acoustic panels with wooden frames may be a better idea here.
In the past, I’ve recommended these ATS panels which measure 24×36 inches and are 2 inches thick. However, if you’re more of a hands-on kind of problem solver, you can also make your own acoustic panel. All you’d need are:
- Wooden boards to make the frame
- Some type of soundproof padding such as this Rockwool mineral wool insulation
- Any kind of fabric, preferably one you’d enjoy looking at, to wrap the whole thing up.
If you want to know more about how you can DIY acoustic panels, there’s a video about it in another one of my articles.
Add a Layer or Two of Drywall
One more thing that might make your walls a bit thicker without too much hassle is adding a layer of drywall. If you’d like, you could even make it soundproof drywall, which is made of gypsum, ceramics, and viscoelastics. However, even if you aren’t working with soundproof drywall, you could make any drywall thicker by layering it up.
As you may be aware, in my article on the best way to soundproof a wall I wrote about how you could make a sort of Green Glue sandwich. For those who aren’t aware, Green Glue is a product with soundproofing properties which works best when it’s applied between two hard surfaces. So you can put Green Glue on your existing drywall and put another layer of drywall on top. In fact, you could layer one more layer on top of that if you’d like.
Of course, you should do this in addition to the other steps I’ve mentioned, if you want the best results. Stacking furniture against the wall remains one of the best options.
Finally, you can also put up MLV or even some other rubber−based material over your walls. In fact, if you want to really increase your chances of having some privacy in an apartment with paper thin walls, you can use MLV with any of the other tips I’ve mentioned.
- Have MLV on the wall and foam between the wall and bulky furniture
- Attach it to the wall and cover it with blankets or carpets
- Put up MLV and hang curtains along the wall
- Use it under acoustic foam products
- Place MLV under the Green Glue drywall sandwich
Constructing a Thicker Wall Between Apartments
As you’ve seen, most of my ideas have to do with making the wall thicker. So pretty much the most effective way you can do that is by building an extension of the wall right on top of it. Here’s how I figured you could adapt my tips on the best wall soundproofing to your situation.
You could start by simply nailing a wooden frame, or studs, right on top of your existing wall. If the wall is thin enough to begin with, it may not have studs that are substantial enough to hold everything they need to hold. So you can just build them.
- Get some sawn timber boards and screw or nail them along the ceiling, the floor, and along the sides of the wall.
- Add vertical boards about as wide apart as your insulation is — and you can also add horizontal boards for extra support, though they’re not necessary.
- Stuff them with soundproof insulation like the Rockwool one I’ve previously mentioned
- You can put MLV over it, although it’s not necessary
- Top everything off with drywall or the Green Glue and drywall sandwich
- Use acoustic caulk to plug the gaps between sheets of drywall
Even if you go for most basic route with this advice, it should help immensely. After all, your wall should now be about 2−3 inches thicker and full of soundproof insulation. However, going the extra mile in using MLV, Green Glue, and soundproof drywall should add more protection as well.
Once you implement some of these tips, you won’t believe how much calmer you’ll be! I know how irritated I used to be when I lived in cardboard box apartments. However, as you can see, you don’t really need to spend a dime in order to change things.
If you’re still hearing noises even after you took care of your shared wall (or walls), it could be coming from somewhere else. I’d recommend dealing with the doors and windows first, as they are the places sound travels through the most. Therefore, you might want to install draft stoppers or make a window insert.
On the other hand, if your apartment is beyond all help, you might want to invest in some products that can take your mind off the noise. For example, white noise machines and fans are a tremendous help if you want to mask sounds. Or, you may even get noise−canceling earmuffs or headphones.
Hopefully, you won’t live within paper-thin walls forever. However, even if your situation is temporary, you should still make the most out of it by creating a space you can enjoy.