The Cost of Silence: Why Using Cheap Materials for Soundproofing Can Be a Costly Mistake

Soundproofing your favorite spaces is a simple way to add significant value to your free time. It allows us to enjoy our favorite movies and music without being disturbed by noisy neighbors and it allows us to hang with family and friends without the whole neighborhood hearing our conversations. It’s a wonderful addition to home, office, and studio spaces, but the results will largely depend on the materials you choose. That leaves many wondering, how much does it cost to soundproof a room? It depends on how well you need your soundproofing materials to perform.

Cheap materials for soundproofing are available, but using them often leaves us underwhelmed by the results and wishing we’d taken the time to do it right. They may be okay for the kids’ play room, but won’t cut it for a recording studio. There are a few low end materials that can help round out a comprehensive soundproofing plan, but for the most part using quality materials will yield the best results.

The importance of soundproofing

If you’ve ever owned a good pair of noise canceling headphones, you already understand some of the ways noise reduction can positively impact your life. Noise reduction translates into stress reduction, hearing protection, and uninterrupted recording and listening sessions. Not only are you drowning out unwanted noise, but you’re able to listen to your favorite media at volumes that don’t damage your hearing.

When we soundproof interior spaces, we eliminate the environmental noise that would otherwise seep into the space from outside. It also allows us to enjoy the things that make us happy without disturbing others. As important as soundproofing can be for both our physical and mental health, it’s important to do it effectively. 

Let’s look at the best soundproofing materials on the market, as well as some common soundproofing mistakes to avoid. Let’s begin by quickly covering the basics of soundproofing.

Soundproofing Basics

Whether we’re working with high end or cheap materials for soundproofing, the aim is the same. We want to reduce noise passage from one space to another. There are some basic principles we apply to effectively absorb and eliminate sound waves when tackling any soundproofing project. They include adding mass and volume, decoupling surfaces, sound damping, and sound absorption. Each piece plays an important role in eliminating unwanted noise. 

Adding mass and volume

The first thing we want is a solid defense against sound waves. Nothing stands up to the onslaught of sound like a thick, dense wall. Most sound waves simply do not have enough energy to pass all the way through very thick walls. Whether building from scratch or reinforcing an existing structure, adding mass and volume to walls, floors and ceilings is important. 

Decoupling surfaces

Realistically, not all walls can be as heavy and dense as, say, a cinder block basement wall. Decoupling involves eliminating pathways that allow sound vibrations to pass from one side to the next. Common examples include staggering wall studs, utilizing resilient channels, and using clips to decouple suspended surfaces. Decoupling most often involves a lot of construction, so this is an expensive part of the equation.

Sound damping

Since energy can neither be created nor destroyed, we must transform the vibrational energy created by sound waves if we want to eliminate it. We accomplish this with the help of sound damping materials. 

Sound damping materials transform vibrational energy into heat energy, allowing it to dissipate. The amount of heat created is minimal, but the effect it has on our soundproofing efforts is substantial.

Sound absorption

Another important aspect of soundproofing is sound absorption. Trapping and containing sounds prevents them from creating acoustical issues and gaining strength. The less sound we’re dealing with, the easier it is to contain.

There are a number of acoustical treatments we use for this purpose. From fabric wrapped acoustical panels to acoustic foam, each material delivers different benefits. Understanding what you’re after is key to making the right choice.

Each of these basic elements of soundproofing can be achieved with different types of materials, but some will deliver better than others. Many of them also fall under the DIY category, whether we use cheap or expensive materials. Let’s take a quick walk through the difference between using quality materials and cheap materials for soundproofing.

Why material quality matters

People often attempt to use the most affordable soundproofing materials for simple DIY projects. They figure that something is better than nothing. While that may be true, you’ll get much better results with quality materials. And since DIY projects don’t include labor costs, you won’t spend that much more by opting for higher quality materials that deliver the results you want. Let’s look at some common ways we try to soundproof spaces on a budget, and how those materials stack up against professional products.

Acoustic foam and panels for sound absorption

One of the most common things we do to control sound in spaces is to introduce absorptive materials such as acoustic foam and panels. You’ve got a number of material options here.

Acoustic foam

This is one of those cheap materials for soundproofing that nearly everyone thinks of when they begin this process. It often looks like egg cartons and is affordable enough to cover entire walls with the material. That lower price point comes at the expense of range, however. Acoustic foam is great for reducing high frequency noise, but its absorption benefits stop there.

Acoustic panels

Your next step up is the acoustic panel. This type of sound absorber is available in a range of different material types and color options, and can fit nearly any design scheme. They are sold at a higher price point than acoustic foam, but they also reduce a much broader range of frequencies. This is due to the fact that they are much more dense than acoustic foam. That added density translates into improved absorption and better sound.

Homemade panels

Some people build their own panels in an attempt to save some money. This may be somewhat effective, but you must choose the right materials if you want your homemade panels to perform well.

In order to trap adequate sound, the core material is incredibly important. It must be porous enough to allow sound waves to penetrate, but dense enough to trap them when they enter. If you want it to look good, you’ll also have to wrap it with an acoustically transparent fabric. This will allow sound waves to pass through into the core.

By the time you source the right materials, the cost of your homemade panels may eclipse the cost of professional panels. Not only that, but they won’t perform as well as their professional counterparts. If you keep costs to a minimum by using cheap materials for soundproofing, there’s a good chance they don’t perform the way you want them to.

Insulation options for sound damping

When vibrational energy enters the center of walls, floors, and ceilings, it can become louder. That’s because the sound waves can reemerge in the empty spaces between studs and trusses, creating reverberation that produces even more sound to contend with. A common way to combat this reverberation is with acoustical insulation.

Acoustical insulation

Acoustical insulation acts as a sound damper, meaning the vibrational energy in the sound waves is converted into heat energy when they contact the insulation material. This type of insulation does pull double duty, meaning it will deliver thermal benefits as well as acoustical ones. When it comes to wall, floor, and ceiling soundproofing materials, this is a fantastic option.

Many people use standard, thermal insulation as a cheaper option for tackling the noises coming through the walls or ceiling. As far as alternative soundproofing materials are concerned, this one is ill advised. That’s because it won’t do much, if anything, to help resolve your noise issues.

Once you close up your walls, it’s too late to replace it cheaply. You’ll have to remove the drywall or other facade to access and replace your insulation. Soundproofing ceilings costs a whole lot more when you have to do it a second time. Don’t let using cheap materials for soundproofing now cause an expensive headache down the road. 

Sealing gaps around windows

One of the most likely places for sound passage in any space is the windows and doors. They are weak spots in the facade. You can choose to go with a new set of soundproof windows, but soundproof windows cost a lot. Luckily, these are places where we can deliver an immediate impact by simply sealing the spaces around the edges.

This isn’t exactly the same as adding mass and volume to your walls, but it’s an important step. If air can pass through a space, so can sound. Sealing them correctly will stop that sound passage.

Acoustic caulk vs standard caulk

Sealing your gaps with an acoustical caulk delivers benefits that blow standard caulk out of the water. It’s made of latex, so it will stay flexible for the long haul. Wood-framed homes expand and contract with the changing seasons. Standard, silicone caulk tends to shrink and crack, leaving those gaps open again within a few years. Latex will move with the structure, ensuring those gaps and cracks stay sealed. Spend a little extra now to save yourself time and money down the road.

Sealing gaps around doors

Like windows, doors can let a lot of sound pass in and out of rooms. In order to stop it, many people throw a draft stopper under the door. This low cost solution will allow you to trap some sound waves, but it isn’t enough to seal the room from outside sounds. Going with something more substantial will block a whole lot more sound.

Automatic door sweeps are a much better option. They cost more than the draft stopper, but also block a whole lot more sound. This type of door sweep is held up when the door is open, allowing you to open and close the door without dragging. However, when the door closes, it trips a trigger that pushes the sweep down, flush with the floor. This provides a tight seal that makes your room more energy and sound efficient. 

The problem with using cheap materials for soundproofing

Soundproofing involves a delicate balance of trapping sounds and preventing the passage of vibrational energy from one surface to another. Some materials accomplish these feats better than others. As we’ve seen illustrated in the above examples, choosing cheap materials for soundproofing a room now can lead to expensive alterations later.

Price aside, there are some very basic functions you want your materials to perform. If they can’t, your soundproofing project will not deliver the results you want. Furthermore, in some spaces, you simply won’t be able to get by with low cost solutions. 

If you own a studio, music venue, or club, DIY soundproofing materials for walls will not be enough to keep the sound created inside contained. This will lead to dicey relationships with the neighbors. If you work in an industry that produces a lot of noise due to equipment or machinery, DIY solutions may prove to be a waste of time. When dealing with particularly loud sounds, doing it right with quality materials will save you money in the long run.

Getting your project started

Whether you’re planning a DIY project or want to hire professionals to help, it’s important that you choose the right materials for the job. Using anything less will leave you underwhelmed by the results. Even if you want to tackle this project yourself, working with pros will help you avoid costly mistakes.

We know what works and what doesn’t. We can even help you identify the best materials for soundproofing your space, as well as the proper locations for those materials. Having access to professional knowledge and experience goes a long way, especially when you’re using cheap materials for soundproofing.

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