Your Ultimate Guide to Soundproofing Materials
While pure silence may seem like a fairy tale in our modern, chaotic world, it’s really more of a matter of material than magic. Many different spaces—commercial, residential, and otherwise—use noise-containing construction materials and proper building techniques to keep sound completely enclosed.
If you’re trying to make a room’s roar completely imperceptible from the outside, learning about soundproofing materials and their applications can keep unwanted sound locked up for good. And, if you’re unsure of what soundproofing materials to use to get the job done, we can help.
This guide highlights the most popular and effective soundproof materials to use for the floors, walls, and other parts of a silent space. Get your blueprints and tools ready, because we’re building a soundproof sanctuary from the ground up.
Soundproof vs Sound-absorbing: A Deciballic Distinction
Before jumping into your shopping list, it’s important to distinguish between two similar terms in the acoustical materials world: soundproofing vs sound absorbing. While both types of materials can elevate the sound quality in a room and prevent unwanted noise leakage to other spaces, they function differently:1
- Soundproof – Soundproofing materials can help block sound transmission through a room’s walls, floor, and ceiling by reflecting it back toward the source. As you’re selecting materials for soundproofing, keep in mind that the three main components needed to block sound are mass, isolation, and an airtight seal.
- Sound absorbing – Sound absorbing materials are used to reduce the amount of echo within a space and improve its sound quality. Usually, they are porous, foamy materials—such as sound-absorbing panels mounted to an existing wall.
If you’re trying to keep sound completely enclosed, sound-absorbing materials just won’t cut it. Hence, it’s important to distinguish between what materials are soundproof and which are only sound absorbing. Luckily, we’ve done the research for you.
Underlaid Floors: The Key to Reducing Impact Noise
To build a soundproof space from the ground up, we need to start with the ground—or, more accurately, with the floor.
A building’s floors are the genesis point for the majority of impact noise—the sound made from the collision of two masses and the resulting vibrations.2 In general, this impact is the sound of footfalls on a business’s floor. Without proper building techniques, they can reverberate far and wide.
The solution to excess impact noise is floor underlayments. Underlayments are sound-blocking layers made of a soft material such as rubber that goes between a floor’s finished surface and the concrete base. They can be installed in one of two ways:
- Directly between the concrete and final surface – With the proper adhesive, underlay can be affixed directly to a building’s concrete foundation. Then, surface materials such as wooden planks can be secured to the underlay in the same fashion.
- With a subfloor – Subfloors elevate a finished floor off of the foundation below, creating a gap between the concrete base and the surface people walk on. This pocket of airspace helps lessen direct vibrational transfers due to less surface contact. However, the key component needed to mitigate and/or eliminate vibrational or impact noise is isolation since there’s no way to ‘float a floor’ over your structure. For example, if you drive over a pothole, you won’t feel the full effect of the bump because the shocks in your car absorb a majority of the impact.
Underlaid floors are of particular importance to businesses within large complexes that not only have neighbors on each side, but beneath them as well.
Many of us have lived in apartment buildings with lead-footed stompers above us and know how annoying steps on the ceiling can be. Now, multiply that by dozens of people scurrying around a business all day long, and you’ll understand why soundproof floors are integral.
Prevent Sound Seepage with Double Walls
After a building’s floors are down, the next logical step is to erect the walls. Much like those noisy overhead neighbors, apartment-dwellers often complain of hearing their neighbors through the paper-thin walls between them. Businesses are no different, and a noisy adjacent establishment can ruin the ambiance its neighbors strive to create.
To keep unwanted noise walled in, consider doubling up on the fortifications surrounding your space. Double walls are framed so that a cavity separates two layers of drywall (or a layer of drywall and an exterior wall). They take up more space than their single-walled counterparts, but offer multiple other benefits as well:
- The cavity reduces noise transfer – Just like with subfloors, the space between the two surfaces helps dampen airborne noise. Sound carries energy, and the more obstacles you place in its way, the more you reduce that energy. Double walls break up the path sounds travel through, zapping their life force until it eventually dissipates as heat.3
- You can apply an additional sound-reducing medium – Deeper cavities assist with lessening sound transfer, but you want to install an absorbing material inside these cavities to lessen reverb or noise amplification. Fluffy batt insulation such as our Cellulose or Denim insulations are great options to lessen the reverb inside the walls and lessen what can transfer inbetween. If the walls are currently unfinished, a layer of Mass Loaded Vinyl will add more mass to the wall assembly and lessen airborne transfer through the wall, too.
- You can install sound isolation clips – Sound isolation clips decouple different areas of a building and allow them to vibrate independently. So if you (or your neighbor) make things shaky from time to time, it won’t cause a stir on the other side of the wall.
On top of their soundproofing capabilities, double walls also offer better insulating properties than single-walled surfaces, meaning a reduction in your heating and cooling bills.4 And, with the money you save, you can invest in soundproof ceilings.
Seal Sound In with a Drop Ceiling
After your walls are up, a ceiling is the crowning piece to top off your business’s structure. Just like the other parts of the room, a soundproof ceiling relies on empty space to stop noise from escaping.
Drop ceilings suspend from overhead (hence their other name, suspended ceilings) and leave a gap between their surface and the building’s structure. In the mainstays of office buildings and schools worldwide, drop ceilings are effective at reducing noise transfer for a couple of reasons:
- The cavity – Cavities are a common theme in acoustically airtight rooms. Just like double walls and subfloors, drop ceilings reduce sound’s energy as it tries to infiltrate through surfaces and into adjacent spaces.
- Their materials are effective soundproofers – Soundproof ceiling tiles, like soundproofing flooring underlays, can be affixed directly to a building’s structure. They’re more effective in tandem with drop ceilings, however.
Now that your ceiling is atop your floor and walls, your soundproof structure is complete. That is, if you never want to enter and exit, look out the window, or enjoy the air conditioning.
Soundproofing a Room’s Features
Doors, windows, and ventilation are all major weak points in your soundproof space. They are the highways through which noise travels to neighboring rooms. Luckily, like real highways, their traffic can be brought to a standstill.
Some soundproofing solutions for your space’s features include:
- Sound-rated windows – Whether you’re creating a studio, conference room, or corner office, soundproof interior windows preserve privacy while permitting visual access to other areas of your business.
- Soundproof doors – Soundproof doors are immensely more thick and heavy than their standard, non-soundproof counterparts. Thus, along with pure sound isolation, they provide increased security over more basic models.
- Louvers, liners, and HVAC silencers – Air conditioners and heaters generate a lot more noise than you may think. Acoustical louvers bordered with a high-grade acoustic sealant dampen sound as it attempts to make its way through ventilation (which, by the way, should be lined to further minimize the spread of noise). Silencers are installed in line with ductwork to quell the persistent banging of fans and other equipment.
In a best-case scenario, a contractor building from the ground up would employ every one of these materials to ensure a fully soundproof structure. The reality is, however, owners often find a pre-existing space to operate in, rather than constructing their ideal business from scratch.
Not every place will let you build subfloors, add in walls, or install new windows. So, how can businesses make the quietest possible space when they’re not at liberty to make structural changes?
Exterior Panels: Sound Reduction Without Deconstruction
If you can’t open up the walls of your current building, using exterior noise control products is a salient solution to keep unwanted sound to a minimum. Materials such as sound-reducing panels and absorbers present several advantages when used indoors:
- Their heavy-duty construction means they will last an exceptionally long time.
- Being rated for outdoor use ensures they can mitigate boisterous noises and cacophonous echoes.
- They’re easy to mount and even easier to clean, as they’re usually exposed at all times.
While not as soundproof as a structure built to fully enclose noise, acoustic paneling is a savvy solution for those who can’t do in-depth renovations or build from scratch. The absolute best way to minimize noise transfer in any space, however, is by getting an expert opinion about your unique soundproofing needs.
Now that you’re familiar with different types of soundproofing materials, consider reading up on the different types of sound absorbent materials.
Optimally Soundproof Your Space with Acoustical Surfaces
Every business has different kinds of spaces and sounds echoing through them. If you’re looking for the optimal soundproofing solutions for your business, consult the trusted soundproofing professionals at Acoustical Surfaces. From learning how to block sound between rooms to managing sound control in buildings, we’re here to help.
Businesses can house anything from machinery to rowdy customers to excited animals that all make noise at various frequencies. They also come in different dimensions and proximities to their neighbors.
To find the best solution for your unique soundproofing issues, we can do a video assessment of your space and recommend the optimal products to suit your needs.
Don’t live and work with noise spillage and annoyed neighbors—contact us to get started on your quiet future.
- Acoustical Surfaces. Soundproofing vs Sound Absorbing. https://www.acousticalsurfaces.com/
- University of Northern Colorado. Using Smartphone Apps to Measure Impact Noise. https://digscholarship.unco.edu/
- University of Calgary. Sound. https://energyeducation.ca/
- United States Department of Energy. Double-Stud Wall Framing. https://basc.pnnl.gov/