How to soundproof a closet?
March 19, 2009 1:41 PM   Subscribe

Help me soundproof my closet so I can sing opera without driving my neighbor insane!

Background info: I picked my apartment with the goal of having a place to sing that would annoy as few people as possible. Thus, I succeeded in landing a place where only one neighbor has any chance of being disturbed: the guy who lives directly below me. But I would still like to spare him as much pain as possible (and spare myself embarrassment). My apartment has an enormous closet in which I have set up my keyboard. Two of the closet's walls are exterior walls, so no worries there. On the other side of the third wall is my clothes closet which should supply enough added insulation to negate the need for an additional barrier there. So my primary concerns are reinforcing the fourth wall and floor, and sealing the door so that my arias don't drift down to the dude trying to watch his TV in peace below.

What I know: I've done enough research on Google and AskMeFi to know that I need mass or dead air in order to stop the sound. Since adding additional walls or raising the floor is out of the question, it seems the best barrier to get would be mass loaded vinyl. But since it's so heavy, shipping costs are exorbitant. So...

Does anyone know where I can find MLV locally in St. Louis, MO?
Do you have any tips for how I should apply it in order to make it maximally effective?
Any suggestions for how to seal the door?
Or any tips on other, less expensive/less difficult materials to use?

(Keep in mind that I am a soprano, so I'm most worried about stopping the transmission of high frequencies. This is quite a different problem from blocking the low-bass rumblings that many sound-proofing materials are designed for.)

Oh, and I'm moving in a year, so everything must be able to come down without causing me to lose my security desposit, if at all possible. ;-)
posted by philotes to Grab Bag (11 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Have you spoken to your downstairs neighbor? I live below a musician and we had a chat after I had moved in and set up ground rules. She was really clear that if it ever bothered me, to keep the lines of communication open. I really appreciated that.
posted by spec80 at 1:49 PM on March 19, 2009

Stopping high frequencies is actually easier in a lot of circumstances than stopping low frequencies. On the other hand we're talking about operatic soprano, which is probably the only thing more piercing than what I play (trumpet).

One thing that can help is to try to eliminate echoes in your space -- if you can hang drapes on the walls, or do something to kick the walls or floor/ceiling out of parallel by a little, you can keep the room resonance down and perhaps keep the level down a bit that way too.

If it's just a closet I'd honestly just start with some egg-crate foam on the walls and see if that does the trick. The shape kills reverb, the material should soak up a lot of what you're putting out, and it's not hideously expensive.

Oh, and do what spec80 says -- I've practiced trumpet, loudly, in apartments for 10 years and have never had a problem. I do what she says: talk with neighbor, propose hours, and give them my cell phone number in case I'm practicing when they're home with a migraine.
posted by range at 2:14 PM on March 19, 2009

I know this does not answer your question directly, but I would second what spec80 has said. As a double bassist, I frequently disturb those around me. Rather than attempting to sound-proof, which can be a pain in an apartment, I have used the communication route.
posted by sundri at 2:18 PM on March 19, 2009

Yeah, first things first -- talk to the neighbor. With appropriate ground rules that were adhered to, I wouldn't mind someone practicing opera next door.

Also, where is your intended space relative to his general living space? Your closet might not be the best place (although it probably is). But if your closet is directly over his living room, that will suck more than, say, if your living room were over his bathroom.

And this sounds pretty simple. I bet you could do it all with a bunch of well-placed heavy blankets and egg crate foam.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:21 PM on March 19, 2009

Raising the floor is not out of the question if you consider that you wouldn't have to raise the existing floor, but could add a new, raised floor to the closet. Like a step-up thing. MLV in StL should be findable by calling flooring places in the yellow pages (or Google Shopping).
posted by rhizome at 3:03 PM on March 19, 2009

A lot of good advice here.

I turned a closets into a reasonably decent sound studio by installing some cheap curtain rods and hanging some heavy blankets/rugs. I'd so that before the eggeshell foam, it's much more expensive. You're going to be singing towards the walls in general, and it will absorb the sound pretty well. Maybe even hang a rug from the ceiling. The more sound absorbed from every surface of the room the less there is to be transmitted downstairs.

A few layers of carpet remnants on the floor would help dampen the sound without too much problem.

2nding a visit to your neighbor (quite possibly with a small gift) and tell them what you want to do and what quadrant of the house you're going to do it in, and ask them what times of day would be the best.

And give them your phone number and make it very clear they are encouraged to use it if they're every unhappy.
posted by Ookseer at 5:12 PM on March 19, 2009

Home Depot sells 2" insulation foam board that cuts easily but messily with a circular saw (and less easily and more messily with a razor blade). Use it on the walls and on the floor. It's a great sound killer -- better than the egg crate foam we all used in the '80s to deaden our heavy metal guitars. You can fill in any cracks with expanding spray foam, which comes in a aerosol can. Don't overdo it with the spray -- it REALLY expands and is very sticky until it dries.

It's only like $10-15 for a 4' x 8' sheet of foam and $8 for a can of spray foam.
posted by coolguymichael at 5:12 PM on March 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

I have used MLV to varying degrees of success. You must be careful to seal it very well, and make sure that what you are getting is definitely mlv, as there are some similar products around that regular (meaning those not specializing in soundproofing) flooring stores will try to sell you.
I have recently used for the first time a product called "Green Glue". It is used by caulking between two smooth surfaces (either layers of drywall, or in my case two layers of plywood in the floor). It acts by becoming very rigid and preventing the sound vibrations from traveling through it from the first layer of substrate to the second.
I think it goes for about $8 a tube (you will need the larger sized caulking gun to apply it), and it's pretty easy to use. You would use anywhere from 1-3 tubes per 4'x8' area. This will also need to be sealed well, and don't let anyone tell you that caulk will do the same thing, caulk remains flexible and easily transmits the sound vibrations.
If you do decide to add a layer or two to your floor using this method, I would suggest using one layer of strand board, and then one of plywood. The strand board has varying degrees of density and more mass than the plywood, and the different densities will reduce different wavelengths. If you already have a basic subfloor, you can just top with green glue, add strandboard, then cover with whatever flooring you would want to use. You could even add the MVL on top of the strand board if you're going to be putting down carpeting or slat wood floors. That should be overkill.
You were right when you said mass is the noise blocker. Generally speaking, the foams, eggcrates, etc, deaden sound (making it less echo-y), not stop it. You need mass, either via MLV, or more layers of floor or wall.
If you are thinking air gap for sound proofing, this works as well, but be careful if you are dealing with smaller sized gaps-when you get around 2" or less, it stops being an inhibitor and acts more as an amplifier instead.
posted by newpotato at 6:47 PM on March 19, 2009

Something else you might want to watch out for is what is going on behind your walls. You can soundproof your floor all you want, but if behind the existing walls are runways for plumbing or electrical lines, or any holes that are open between your floor and the downstairs for any reason, any noise or vibrations that hit your walls will find an open passageway direct to your downstairs neighbors walls.

The easiest way to guard against this happening without opening up the walls is to make sure that your walls are soundproofed well enough so that no sound can get behind them.
posted by newpotato at 6:52 PM on March 19, 2009

Read your entire post. Except for the last line. Oops.
So perhaps a more appropriate solution would be acoustical soundproofing curtains, over the fourth wall and in front of the (preferable solid core) door.
I would still recommend a second (temporary) layer to your floor. Skip the Green Glue. Cut MLV to size, taping pieces together with the lead tape if nec., then put a layer of strandboard or plywood on top. Carpet on top of that.
posted by newpotato at 7:03 PM on March 19, 2009

Wow! Thank you guys for all the awesome ideas. I guess my first stop will be downstairs to my neighbor with a plate of homemade cookies. I've been avoiding this mostly out of embarrassment: I just started singing a year ago, and while my instructor seems to think I'm good enough to justify pushing me towards grad school, I'm still very insecure. I know not all of the sounds coming from my practice room will be pretty, and I'm going to have to apologize in advance for that. But you are all right; there's no way around it.

Then it's off to the hardware, flooring, and fabric stores. I'll let you know how it goes!
posted by philotes at 7:53 AM on March 20, 2009

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