How do I soundproof a ceiling without ripping it up?
September 8, 2009 10:00 AM   Subscribe

I live in a rental apartment and would like to block out noise from the apartment above me. I have a ceiling fan, ear plugs, etc., but would prefer not to have to use those things. Is there some kind of insulation or paneling that I can glue or tack on without having to rip up the ceiling? (Please don't respond with suggestions about talking to my neighbors. I'm specifically looking for information about soundproofing the ceiling.)
posted by zembla3 to Home & Garden (12 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
What kind of noise? Talking? Stomping?
posted by Sys Rq at 10:03 AM on September 8, 2009

You can check out Dynamat, though it was not really made for this purpose. Also, trying to cover the entire ceiling may prove cost-prohibitive.
posted by nineRED at 10:08 AM on September 8, 2009

Not sure about the legitimacy of the site, but even though it primarily has to do with specific products this looks pretty thorough.
posted by setanor at 10:13 AM on September 8, 2009

Before you check into this, take a quick look on your lease to see what you are permitted to do vis-a-vis "construction". You're already looking to just glue or tack something on, but that'd suck if your lease says you can't even do that is all.

That said, an old trick used to be putting a rug on the ceiling.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:13 AM on September 8, 2009

Of course always check your lease, but i've never seen a lease that said "don't hang things from the ceiling" or "don't tack things to the ceiling". More likely your lease says that you'll return your apartment to the state in which you received it, so keep that in mind, no matter what you choose.

I know people who have used moving blankets and egg-carton foam to soundproof an apartment in which they wanted to record. But the thing is, while soundproofing the walls are easy - you can make wall-sized boards to tack everything onto and then just lean everything up against the wall when it's time to go - you need to find a way to do that on the ceiling and duct tape or velcro WILL NOT WORK. you'd need to be able to screw some bolts into the ceiling and hang whatever from it. The people I knew just nailed everything into the ceiling during the day when the neighbors were gone, and realized they'd have to deal with the repair of the ceiling once they moved out. But this was one small room, not an entire apartment.

You could try talking to your landlord to see if they have any ideas, making sure s/he understands that you are willing to pay for any soundproofing, which would ensure you had a landlord-approved solution, might get you some help with installation, AND would also let your landlord know that you have a noisy upstairs neighbor.
posted by micawber at 10:24 AM on September 8, 2009

Usually the problem is lower frequency noises, from stepping, thumping, bass from speakers, etc. If that is the case, there isn't really much you can do easily. The ceiling is actually moving and acting like a big speaker, radiating the noise. Acoustic foams, paneling, and other "fuzz" absorb sound that is already in the room, but don't do much to stop the noise from getting there in the first place. Worse, they usually aren't terribly effective at low frequencies.

Installing a drop ceiling (like in office buildings) can help quite a bit, but probably isn't an option in an apartment. Bass traps might do something, but the cost to benefit ratio is likely not good. There is specialty drywall for blocking sound transmission, but that involves tearing into the ceiling, or at least putting another layer over the top. The best solutions to preventing this kind of transmission are adding weight and / or another layer. Some good products are listed here.

If the problem is higher frequencies, there is probably an air leak between the floors. Even a small hole generally passes much more high frequency sound than transmission and re-radiation through the floor / ceiling. Find it and plug it.
posted by cjemmott at 10:30 AM on September 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

Even if you were to soundproof the ceiling surface (which would be darn near impossible without some real construction), the sound is still going to vibrate through the structure of the apartment into the walls as well, so there really is no way to eliminate the problem completely without ripping up the floor of the apartment above you and floating it on acoustic padding.
posted by markblasco at 10:34 AM on September 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

I know people who have used moving blankets and egg-carton foam to soundproof an apartment in which they wanted to record. But the thing is, while soundproofing the walls are easy

This isn't how sound treatment works. Blankets and egg-cartons don't make a room any quieter to noises from outside the room, they just reduce the frequencies inside of the room which makes recording troublesome.

The basic principle of soundproofing is that you need an air gap. Basically, to properly soundproof a ceiling (if you don't have access to the upstairs room) you need to build a second, false ceiling immediately below your existing ceiling.

There isn't much else you can do that doesn't involve construction, aside from buying your upstairs neighbours some specially-designed soundproofing mats/carpets.
posted by Jairus at 10:46 AM on September 8, 2009 [2 favorites]

Long time renter - I specifically use thumbtacks with metal ends - aluminum Push-Pins. These allow for a long enough pin to go through something like a thin pad of cloth or carpet as well as having a metal end that allows you to whack the thing in with a hammer. But yeah, a lot of leases will specifically say "do NOT hang anything from the ceiling." I was also not looking to put anything over an entire ceiling, so one or two push pin marks didn't catch any notice. (Especially when I was careful to spackle over the tiny holes before moving.) Many such push pins did work well to hang quilts and blankets on walls shared with noisy neighbors (though I was also hanging them up to keep down a nasty draft as well) - perhaps hanging similarly thick cloth on the ceiling could work? Also I think there are some kinds of carpeting that comes in small squares - those might be thin enough to hang with push pins. (Though Jarius is on the money here - to do this properly I think you need that air gap.)

I specifically bought a thick carpet for my living room when a downstairs elderly neighbor complained that I was walking too much at night - and was happy to do so, though I wish he hadn't been so grouchy about it. I had NO idea he could hear me walking around. Part of the problem for me was the age of the building and the wood floors - there was always going to be some noise if you moved at all over the surface.
posted by batgrlHG at 11:37 AM on September 8, 2009

Response by poster: Sys Rq - it's talking/lovemaking noises. I only need to put soundproofing material on my bedroom ceiling.
posted by zembla3 at 1:06 PM on September 8, 2009

FYI, old-school popcorn ceilings can contain asbestos, which is fine if left alone, but potentially a hazard if disturbed.
posted by trevyn at 3:51 PM on September 8, 2009

In a practical sense, no, there is no way you, a renter, can soundproof your bedroom from the bedroom above you. If you can hear them talking up there, the building you're living in is of very poor construction and you can't change that. I think your only hope is to move to a different apartment (or wait until the upstairs folks move out and hope the new renters are quieter).
posted by exphysicist345 at 5:33 PM on September 8, 2009

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