How to Improve the Sound in Your Home
I have recently been getting quite a few questions from homeowners on how to improve the acoustics within their homes. Unfortunately,though, residential acoustics are a slippery slope. There are very few products out there that will still maintain the look of sheetrock while absorbing a good amount of sound, and even those will have their limitations. If we need to absorb the echo and reverberation in a room, we need to soften up the surfaces in that room which is done by putting product on the walls or the ceiling.
What You Need to Know
Residential acoustics are difficult because of the aesthetic that one needs to maintain. Surfaces that look like sheetrock are generally hard and will reflect sound. Surfaces that are soft and absorb echo almost always require some creative thinking to get them into rooms such as yours while not looking like an acoustical tile. I have included a few products below that will help maintain that look while giving you great acoustics. The products listed below are in order of popularity in similar and previous situations, the top product being the most popular.
What is it going to cost me?
Most home owners don’t have thousands of dollars to invest into a project like this, which is totally understandable! Therefore we need to try to find a solution that people can afford as well as one that looks like it should be there since you will be looking at it all of the time.
The Fabric Wrapped fiberglass panels are going to be the most expensive and absorb the most sound of the four listed above (NRC: 85 = 85%). The price will depend on the overall size and color of each panel, so quantities and dimensions are needed to come up with a cost here. I usually tell people to ballpark at about $7.00 per square foot for the product (not including shipping), but I have seen residential panels with special fabric and labor sell for $15.00 per square foot.
The WallMate system ends up looking just like the fabric wrapped panels but is more costly. The disadvantage here is that it requires the most amount of labor because it is a site-fabricated system. The system uses the Echo Eliminator cotton panels at the core, which makes it a bit more cost effective.
The Sound Silencer panels are a middle-of-the road product when it comes to the cost, but it is also the least absorbent (NRC: .45 = 45%).
The Echo Eliminator is the most cost effective and will absorb nearly the same amount of sound as the fabric wrapped fiberglass panels (NRC: .80 =80%). It looks like felt and the most common issue or complaint is that it is not finished looking enough. This is understandable because that is not the purpose. It is supposed to be a cost effective, yet high-performance “nuts and bolts” type of product. It will typically go for $4.00 per square foot (1″ thickness, #3lb density) and can be put into boxes and shipped via UPS Ground.
How much do I need?
This is ultimately going to be up to you, but my recommendation has worked very well in the past. It is not a guarantee or an absolute, but it is just a starting point to open the conversation. Multiply the height, width and depth of the room to determine the cubic volume of the room. If the ceiling is pitched, average the ceiling height and use that. Then, multiply the cubic volume by .03 (3%). The value that you are left with is the approximate square footage of paneling that you need to install in your room to get you down to a comfortable reverberation time and take out the echo.
Example: If your room is 15′ x 25′ and the walls stop at 9′ and go to 12′ you would use the following equation.
Ceiling: (9 + 12 =21)
(21 / 2 = 10.5)
15 x 25 x 10.5 = 3,937.5
3,937.5 x .03 = 118
This room would need approximately 118 s/f of paneling somewhere in the room.
Location is totally up to you, so depending on which product you are looking to install, the location of that product is an aesthetic call. The placement of the product is not dictated by acoustical performance. As long as the sound can hit the panels, they are able to do their job. I would not suggest putting the panels behind a cabinet or entertainment center or even behind artwork. The sound needs to be able to hit the panel and be absorbed.
There are many more options out there, but these are the most popular ones that I have seen. Do you have a solution that has worked for you?