Complete Guide to Soundproofing & Treating Floors
When it comes to implementing soundproofing solutions to create a serene, noise-free environment, the first elements that tend to come to mind are typically the walls and the ceiling. Heavy curtains, noise-absorbing wall panels, and double-glazed windows are just a few of the recommended “soundproofing” methods to limit external sounds.
However, an often overlooked noise conduit is the floor. Soundproofing floors can significantly reduce noise levels, enhancing the sound quality within any space.
But what does soundproofing flooring and treatment entail?
In this guide, we’ll explore the importance of soundproof flooring materials, how they work, and how you can implement them into your space.
Why Do Floors Matter When it Comes to Sound?
When most people search for the source of unwanted noise, they forget that sound travels in all directions, not just horizontally. This means that noise can penetrate the barriers between floors just as easily as it can seep through the partition walls.
If you’ve ever found yourself sandwiched between a downstairs neighbor who’s honing their DJ skills and an upstairs neighbor who, to your ears, must be a tap dancer practicing their routine, you know all too well the unique challenges that untreated floors present. These experiences underscore the significance of including floors in any sound control strategy.
Put simply, every room with its six primary surfaces—floor, ceiling, and four walls—can absorb, reflect, transmit, or reverberate sound. This means that a successful soundproof room depends on accurately identifying sound paths and frequencies, selecting suitable products, and executing the proper installation.
Understanding the Differences Between Sound Proofing and Sound Absorbing
Before we delve any further, it’s important to first define our terms.
Soundproofing and sound absorption—while seemingly similar—are not interchangeable. So, what is the difference between soundproofing vs sound absorbing? Yes, both methodologies can enhance the acoustic quality of a room; however, they approach the problem from different angles. As a minor caveat, throughout this article, the term ‘soundproofing’ is loosely used to refer to both activities.
Essentially, what you need to keep in mind is that sound is just energy. As such, it can either be absorbed, reflected, or blocked, with each approach having its own limitations:
- Soundproofing – This is akin to constructing a dam to halt the flow of water—it blocks sound from bleeding from one area into another. Soundproof flooring material, being denser and heavier, are integrated within or under surfaces to either add mass to the flooring, decouple the floor surfaces, or dampen vibrations between surfaces.
- Sound absorption – Sound absorption refines the sound experience within a space by minimizing echo and reverberation. The materials used tend to be softer and lighter, like a sponge, in order to absorb sound wave energy. As a result, they’re typically affixed to surfaces or suspended in a room to dissipate sound.
In the context of noise reduction flooring, both soundproofing and sound-absorbing materials can play significant roles in improving the audio quality of a space.
Understanding Various Noise Types
When it comes to floor soundproofing, it’s also important to understand the two types of noises you need to plan for: impact noise and airborne noise.
Also known as structure-borne noise, impact noise is created by the collision of two objects; typically, the floor and something else. Think footsteps, dragging furniture, or dropping heavy items like weights. In any case, the impact creates vibrations that then resonate through the materials into the structure itself.
Naturally, floors are the primary source of impact noise due to the steady traffic of people going about their day-to-day activities.
Soundproofing measures applied to floors can help reduce the transfer of impact noise both upstairs and downstairs. Meanwhile, sound absorption can mitigate the echo and reverberation created by impact noise within the room itself
This is the noise we hear most often. It could be the sound of voices, the TV, or of dogs barking. Typically, the airborne sound will pass through the open air through both building assemblies, as well as voids in the materials.
Soundproofing solutions can keep this noise within your room so as to not disturb neighbors or housemates below. Soundproofing flooring solutions can also prevent noise from entering your room from below.
On the other hand, sound absorption techniques would help prevent these sounds from reverberating loudly within the space.
Factors to Consider Before Sound Proofing and Treating Floors
Although it may seem like noise bleeding through flooring would be a problem most commonly associated with older homes, that’s not necessarily the case. For example, if a builder of a new home used low-quality materials, cut corners, or skimped on the intra-floor insulation, even a brand-new home could be in dire need of soundproofing.
That said, there are an array of options available for soundproofing floors. However, these depend largely on three factors, the first two being:
- Is the space a home or a commercial building?
- Do you have access to the subfloor?
If you’re in the initial stages of constructing a building, you’ll have a wider range of options to consider. However, if you’re dealing with an existing structure, the choices might be more limited, unless a remodel is a possibility.
From there, you’ll also have to consider the surface of the ground floor. The types of sounds the floors are susceptible to and potential treatment options in response will differ depending on the floor materials. For instance:
- Concrete floor – Because they tend to be a dense and heavy mass, a concrete floor is inherently good at soundproofing against airborne noise. However, they’re not nearly as efficient at preventing impact noise.
- Wood floor – Timber floors often have spaces and cavities beneath them that make it easy for both airborne and impact sound to penetrate and reverberate.
Considering these elements will help you choose the most effective soundproofing approach for your specific scenario, enabling you to create the most acoustically pleasing environment possible.
General Soundproofing Solutions
With this in mind, here are some conventional solutions you can deploy to improve the sound quality of your space.
Sound Proofing Solutions
These aim to prevent sound from passing through a floor to the room below or vice versa, either by adding mass, dampening, or decoupling the materials. Potential soundproofing options include:
- Acoustic flooring underlays – Typically, a dense and durable material like rubber is positioned between the subfloor and the top layer of exterior grade plywood to reduce impact noise, dampen vibrations, and prevent noise transmission to other spaces. Moreover, it enhances comfort and improves thermal insulation.
- Acoustic mats – Like underlays, acoustic mats are typically made from heavy, dense, and flexible rubber designed for soundproofing. Although mats are more commonly used in walls and ceilings, these sheets or panels can also be placed between the exterior plywood and the final floor to provide sound insulation and reduce impact noise transmission.
- Mass Loaded Vinyl (MLV) – These are typically made of a dense, flexible, and limp vinyl sheet that contains heavy additives, such as barium sulfate or calcium carbonate, to increase its weight and improve sound insulation properties. MLV can be incorporated into flooring applications as a form of underlayment, used as a layer between the subfloor and floating floor, or used to treat floor joists in situations when impact noise is transmitted directly through the structure.
- Green Glue Compound – This popular noise-proofing compound is typically applied between layers of flooring materials to help dampen vibrations and reduce sound transmission.
Sound Absorption in Flooring
Lighter, less dense sound absorption materials are designed to reduce echo and improve the quality of sound within a room. Some examples include:
- Foam or felt underlayment – A soundproof floor underlayment can provide both soundproofing and sound absorption benefits. When placed beneath hardwood flooring or laminate, they help to absorb impact noise.
- Carpets and rugs – Carpets and rugs aren’t just for aesthetics and comfort. They’re often the front-line solution for absorbing sound, preventing an echo, and minimizing both impact and airborne noise.
- Floor sound insulation – Another possibility is to add a soundproofing layer with Rockwool, into the space between the floor joists and the top of the subfloor. This fluffy soundproofing material is a fantastic sound absorber, especially for impact noise.
- Vinyl flooring with sound-absorbing backing – Certain types of vinyl flooring may come with an integrated sound-absorbing layer that can help to reduce echo in a room.
Soundproof and Treat Your Floors with Acoustical Surfaces
To properly soundproof a room, you need to think beyond the four walls. By implementing soundproofing and sound absorbing solutions for your finished floor, you can effectively reduce noise transmission and minimize echoes, creating a more peaceful and comfortable environment.
But where do you even begin—especially if your room’s already finished?
At Acoustical Surfaces, we provide both soundproofing and sound absorbing solutions for your floors, as well as strategic guidance to help you navigate the installation process. Our range of products includes mass-loaded vinyl (MLV) underlayments, acoustic mats and underlays, and other specialized materials designed to enhance the acoustics of your space.
If you’re ready to soundproof your floors to achieve the peaceful, serene environment you’ve been searching for, reach out to speak to one of our acoustic professionals today.
- Science World. Science of Sound. https://www.scienceworld.ca/resource/sound/
- Science Direct. Airborne Noise. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/earth-and-planetary-sciences/airborne-noise