Noisy Neighbors? How to Soundproof Your Apartment

Paper-thin walls are not an ideal setting for maintaining privacy in your apartment, so let’s be honest — you’ve heard some things you wish you hadn’t. But unless you want to make a huge investment (or try to convince your landlord it’s a good idea), you probably won’t be able to completely soundproof your humble abode.

However, there are some helpful DIY techniques you can try out for yourself that will help absorb some of the sound created in your living space.

Understanding Sound

First, it’s important to understand what exactly it is you’re trying to block or mitigate.   Sound is made up of audible waves that move through the water, air and glass. The frequency and vibration of the noise source affects the way a sound is heard by our ears, and the “level of loudness” — that is, the part we actually hear — is measured in decibels. For example, a household generally measures about 50 decibels, whereas a loud rock concert is up towards the 110-decibel mark.

So, if you’re living in an apartment complex, the normal average of 50 decibels in a single-family home will be multiplied by the number of residents living in your building, resulting in higher noise levels. Urban areas are naturally louder environments, but you can help block some of this sound with some easy tips and tricks.

Begin by Measuring the Sound Levels in Your Apartment

You can’t know if you’ve succeeded in reducing the sound in your home unless you first measure what the initial levels are. One of the easiest ways to do that is to download mobile apps. The iOS app store just saw the release of a new app called Decibel 10th, which turns your iPhone into a professional sound meter.

You can either take these readings to your landlord to encourage some serious overhauls.  Or,  you can use them to identify the areas that could use some DIY soundproofing.

Do You Need Soundproofing or Sound Absorption?

Soundproofing and sound absorption are not quite the same thing. When you soundproof an area, it means you’re creating an environment where there is no noise entering or leaving the space. Specific rooms are designed with soundproofing in mind, and include features like special insulation or carpeting. In spaces like recording studios, materials are generally applied to walls, floors and ceilings.

Sound absorption, on the other hand, helps reduce the sounds in a room, rather than blocking noise from the inside and outside entirely. Different sounds absorbers can come in the form of acoustic tiles or foam, which catch the sound waves that are moving and bouncing off the walls and ceiling.

Try out DIY Techniques for Soundproofing

You can look into materials made specifically for sound reduction, which can be industrial-grade or used underneath tiles or hardwood, or even applied over doors and windows. For materials that are exposed, you can dress them up to match your home’s décor by simply covering them in fabric, or you can get creative with object placement.

You can even take your pick of materials according to their soundproofing capabilities. (This is another reason why measuring the decibel levels in your home is so important.)

Blocking noise through windows, for example, can be as simple (and expensive) as upgrading to tripled-paned glass. For smaller budgets, you can simply purchase drapes or window treatments designed with a thickness to insulate and help block sound. Checking and fixing seals around your windows will also help with noise reduction.

Ceilings and walls can be tackled by the simple additions of carpet and rugs to the floor, adding hanging fabric or quilts to the walls.  Even filling the space with new furniture, likes bookshelves, will help reduce and contain the noise. Problems coming from overhead may need to be addressed by your landlord or the neighbors living above you, which could involve fixing the floor or the joists.

More DIY Tips for Sound Absorption in Your Home

If you’ve done all you can to reduce the noise coming into your home, there are some other DIYs you can consider to help lower your own decibel levels. One is to concentrate on the types of materials that you use, like foam, felt or cotton.

These are all sound-absorbent, and can play double-duty in both soundproofing and sound reduction when applied directly to your walls or ceiling. You can also be more conscious of the types of furniture you buy. Or,  place the same sound-absorbing material directly on your bookcases, dressers and doors.

Keep in mind that sound has a higher decibel level in an empty room.  The waves will bounce off hard surfaces, thereby increasing their strength. Adding more soft surfaces like the furniture, curtains and fabric are easy ways to both block and reduce sound.

For other more extensive renovations where sound reduction is desired, you may need to speak with either your landlord or your neighbors.

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Sarah Landrum

After graduating from Penn State with degrees in Marketing and PR, Sarah moved to Harrisburg to start her career as a Digital Media Specialist and a writer. She later founded Punched Clocks, a site dedicated to helping young professionals navigate the work world and find happiness and success in their careers.