soundproofing a wall with a door in it
July 28, 2012 8:29 PM   Subscribe

I share a wall with my roommate, which isn't as acoustically opaque as I would like (I'm occasionally woken up by late-night activities). What's the best/cheapest way to soundproof it?

Possible solutions include acoustic tiles (Too annoying to hang?), egg-carton foam (Does it work? Where can I buy it cheaply?), or other products that I'm not aware of. I'm not really concerned about aesthetics in my room too much, and have a preference for economical solutions that won't damage the wall. Also, I'm not very handy, so it's important that his be dead simple to implement (I'm willing to pay extra for this).

It's worth pointing out (for those who haven't clicked the link) that the wall has a door in it that we never, ever open. Will this need to be treated in any special way?

I'm looking for recommendations on specific products, preferably sold online, but I can do the brick and mortar thing if I absolutely have to. I live in San Francisco, in case that's relevant.
posted by Dr. Eigenvariable to Home & Garden (26 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Foam earplugs. Buy them in bulk at a Home Depot, not four at a time at a drug store.

Everything else is a waste of time.
posted by mhoye at 8:34 PM on July 28, 2012 [12 favorites]

Mass loaded vinyl or sound-resistant drywall. All you have to ask your landlord to spend $800 to $1,000 to buy it and then God knows how much more to install it. Not gonna happen? I didn't think so. I, too, vote for earplugs.
posted by brownrd at 8:37 PM on July 28, 2012

There's a good chance that most of the sound is coming through that door. Foam where the door meets the jamb and a towel at the bottom might help a lot.
Things like egg carton foam tend to work a lot better on the side where the noise is coming from.
posted by gally99 at 8:40 PM on July 28, 2012

Egg-carton foam isn't for soundproofing between rooms; it's for making the inside of one room less echoey. So that's out.

Really, anything short of a whole new soundproof wall (and getting rid of that door while you're at it) won't do much.

Have you tried asking your roommate to shut up?
posted by Sys Rq at 8:43 PM on July 28, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks all for the suggestions so far. Earplugs in general are out of the question; I find them tremendously uncomfortable. Asking my roommate to "shut up" is also out of the question, since the problematic sounds are of a more... personal nature, and I wouldn't want to ask her to be celibate anymore than I would want her to ask me to be. The problem isn't the roommate (who I get along with well), but the wall, and yes, probably the door.

I just tried gally99's suggestion of stuffing at towel in the bottom of the door, and that seems to help, but there's still lots of space along the sides and top of that door that sound is leaking through.

Any more suggestions would be much appreciated.
posted by Dr. Eigenvariable at 9:13 PM on July 28, 2012

Wall hanging that covers the door, like a tapestry or rug or quilt. Or a really heavy curtain.
posted by supercres at 9:17 PM on July 28, 2012 [4 favorites]

White noise machine, or if that doesn't do the trick, keep low-level background music playing.

If your roommate is so loud that you can hear... things... even with your own music on, you should have a subtle talk with her about this.

I had really severe noise problems in my last apartment and just wore headphones most of the time.
posted by Sara C. at 9:18 PM on July 28, 2012 [5 favorites]

Along the lines of supercres' suggestion, you could put up a sound blanket over the door and then cover that with a nice wall hanging.
posted by Sara C. at 9:20 PM on July 28, 2012

Sorry, meant to link the sound blanket and hit send too soon.
posted by Sara C. at 9:20 PM on July 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

check out your local hardware store in the door section...they'll have a crazy variety of different sticky-backed foam and/or rubber strips for just this purpose (putting up around a doorframe to block air/wind/sound) it's cheap and easy to put up.
if that doesnt work, earplugs. Effectively trying to block sound coming through a solid wall starts around $5000.
posted by sexyrobot at 9:27 PM on July 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Full bookshelves are pretty okay at absorbing sound, FWIW.
posted by nebulawindphone at 9:40 PM on July 28, 2012 [7 favorites]

White noise machine or (in the summer) a window AC unit might do the trick?
posted by AwkwardPause at 9:48 PM on July 28, 2012

i know you are not loving the earplug suggestion, but i promise you that these are comfortable and effective. give it a shot, you will be surprised.
posted by facetious at 9:55 PM on July 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Seconding the Max Lite ear plugs! Comfy with quality sound blockage. But, if you definitely can't do earplugs, I'd move your bed away from that wall (possibly ask roomie to do the same?) and at the very least keep a fan going to mask the noise. I like the bookcase idea, but even some blackout curtains hung on that wall might help.
posted by eralclare at 10:05 PM on July 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

The cheapest way to soundproof it is to address the source of the sound. Most home insulation/soundproofing is "fill voids in wall with insulation," and that's not going to be cheap.

So, sources: Is it a headboard hitting the wall? Put rubber bumpers on the headboard to reduce the noise. Also carpet or padding where the bed meets the floor. Is it vocalizations? Ask the housemate if they can be quieter or schedule happy times for certain times.

Being a housemate is about getting along, and that goes for both sides of the shared wall.
posted by zippy at 10:09 PM on July 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

You don't have to ask your housemate to be celibate, but you can have them go elsewhere for their jollies until this is dealt with. Do they have any ideas, or is it just your problem?
posted by rhizome at 11:15 PM on July 28, 2012

Of course you don't have to ask your houseate to be celibate, but it's not unreasonable or rude to ask them to keep the volume down a little - this is completely normal in shared houses! Aside from that, is her bed against the shared wall, and if so, can she move; can you move your bed to another wall; and wall hangings, bookcases and etc, on possibly both sides might help to take the edge off the noise. I know you don't want to be rude to your housemate, and that's really nice, but if she was aware how much noise is travelling through, she'd probably be horrified, and be glad to keep it down.
posted by woolly pageturner at 11:21 PM on July 28, 2012

sexyrobot writes "Effectively trying to block sound coming through a solid wall starts around $5000."

Maybe true if you needed to completely damp a band practice space or something (and ya, if it's that loud you're boned) but if the attenuation provided by ear plugs (somewhere around 25-35 db) is sufficient then there are several approaches that will cost a good deal less than $5000.

Going by the door I'm going to guess the wall is somewhere around 10' long and of standardish 8' in height. Here's what I'd do if I was going to be staying in this location for a significant length of time:
  1. Frame up a false wall with 2x4s 24" on centre. The wall width should be ~2" narrower than the narrowest part of the existing wall. The height should be ~3" shorter than the height of the existing wall. You need the extra space vertically for the clamping system.
  2. On the bottom plate of your new wall drill a 5/8ths hole thru the plate about 1/3 of the way from each end and one in the middle. On a 10' wall 3' from each end plus one offset slightly from the middle would be about right and would fit nicely between the studs.
  3. Insert a 1/2" T nut into the bottom of each hole (IE: the nut should be outside the framing). You may need to hammer it in.
  4. Thread a 3" hex head bolt (the bolt needs to be the kind that is threaded the whole length) into the T-Nut so that the head is snug against the T-Nut. The threaded part of the bolt should be sticking into the wall cavity. A longer bolt will be better but it needs to be threaded the whole way.
  5. Here's where it gets a bit tricky: Place a length of sill foam on the floor right up against the existing wall. Then run it up the walls at each end and across the ceiling. Hold it in place with masking tape making sure you will be able to remove the tape once your new wall is in place (IE: only tape the non corner side of the sill foam). This will be easier if you buy the 5 1/2" sill foam.
  6. Lay a loose 2x4 on top of the floor sill seal on it's flat.
  7. This step is optional but will result in the best attenuation. Screw gyproc to the backside of your framed up wall making sure it doesn't stick out past the framing. Easiest if you run it vertically and do both ends before the middle. If you make sure the joints are over your studs you won't need to tape/mud.
  8. Place a small square of gyproc in each corner of the wall. This is to space the false wall out from the existing wall when you stand it up (more air gap is better)
  9. Stand your false wall up on top of the loose 2/4 you laid down earlier taking care to not displace the sill seal on the walls/ceiling.
  10. While holding the false wall against the existing wall with equal spacing at each end (a friend will be handy here) use a pair of pliers to screw out the bolts you placed in the bottom plate. (If you have a hack saw or Dremel you can cut a slot in the end of the bolts before installing them and then use a large flat screw driver to crank the bolts down.) You want to compress the foam at the ceiling such that the you can't pull the wall over but not so much that you damage the ceiling.
  11. If you can stick a short length of 2x4 in the gap between the plate and the loose 2x4 at each end of the wall. Or build up a couple layers of gyproc. This will provide a little insurance against your bolts failing in some manner though really once you screw your gyproc to the plate and the loose 2x4 the gyproc will prevent the gap from closing.
  12. Run a bead of Window and Door canned foam in the gap between the ends of your false wall and the sill seal and between the bottom plate of your false wall and the loose 2x4 on the floor. Use just enough foam to seal the gap anything more is just a waste of money. Try not to get the foam on the existing wall at the back of your false wall as it'll be hard to get off which will effect your damage deposit.
  13. Once the foam is dried gyproc over the false wall. It'll be easier to run this gyproc horizontally.
  14. Tape, mud sand and finsh to suit.. Use a quarter round or other subtle moulding to cover the gap where the false wall meets the existing walls/ceiling.
Doing it with the T-nuts and sill foam will result in minimal if any damage to the existing wall meaning when you move out you'll be able to get your damage deposit back (obviously after removing the wall). Be aware though that if both bedrooms don't have exterior windows that door is probably there for fire safety and you'd be risking the life of whomever doesn't have a secondary means of egress.

This wall assembly will typically have a STC rating of ~32 Which is roughly about a 32db attenuation (same as a good set of foam ear plugs). Putting insulation in the false wall sill step it up to ~37db. Using a resilient channel on the finished gyproc wall will also gain additional db reductions. I've seen ideal numbers from manufacturers rate a single stud wood wall with 5/8th gyproc on both sides incorporating dense fibreglass insulation and resilient channels as high as 45 STC.

Also if you were to remove the trim from around the door and then cover the opening (leaving the door in place) with a sheet of gyproc before you put up your false wall you'd have a noticeable effect on sound transmission.

This approach will work best on high frequency sounds like conversation and worst on heavy bass or thumping/pounding noises.

  • 6 studs at $2 each = $12
  • 2 plates and the loose "plate" = $6
  • 6 sheets of gyproc @$15 each = $90
  • Gyproc screws, T-Nuts, Bolts, wood screws for the framing ~=$20
  • Sill Foam I think around $15 a roll
  • Spray foam $15
  • Mud, tape, paint, moulding maybe a $100
  • A couple of weekends of time $0
  • Not "bonding" with your roommate via embarrassing noises = Priceless
PS: if you go the ear plug route be aware that there are all different sizes and shapes (EG: Howard Leight makes 6 different models of foam plugs alone. I find the rubber reusable style are more comfortable though they have lower noise reduction ratings. If you go into an industrial safety supply place they maybe be able to provide you with samples rather than having to risk buying entire boxes.
posted by Mitheral at 11:41 PM on July 28, 2012 [11 favorites]

You didn't mention if you rent, or if one of you owns. This could be a very important point. One doesn't usually drop what could be a substantial amount of money on an attempt to soundproof a room.

Sound blankets can be awesome, but they work differently with lower frequency sound than they do with higher frequency sounds. (What I'm trying to ask in a polite, non-intrusive way is that is it screams, moans, squeaks, or thumps? Because each one is probably going be a different answer. We're all adults here, right?)

I used to hate earplugs until I tried some Hearos (they're pretty cheap on Amazon) I bought at a local pharmacy, they are unusually comfortable, and I'm an incredibly light sleeper and am very susceptible to being awoken by sounds, morning birds especially.

That being said, there is a massive difference between asking someone to be celibate and asking a roomy to please keep it down to a reasonable level while I'm trying to sleep. I mean, we all want to get laid, but you don't have to be ostentatious about it.

Seriously, good luck. From my personal experience, lack of sleep can make you really crazy, and nobody should have to pay for a place where they can't sleep.
posted by Sphinx at 12:30 AM on July 29, 2012

Think of wearing earplugs to sleep as acquiring a valuable skill. I couldn't do it until I was on night shift, but then I realized I would die without them.
Also weatherstripping foam for the door will help.
posted by gingerest at 2:10 AM on July 29, 2012

I know you've written off earplugs, but silicon earplugs are super comfortable.

If you want a cheap, non specialist solution find a wholesaler of crap secondhand books. Build a wall of books from floor to ceiling against your shared wall. It won't dampen all noise but it will make a substantial improvement, can be done cheaply by a non expert, will not damage existing fixtures and can be dismantled easily.
posted by MuffinMan at 3:24 AM on July 29, 2012

there's still lots of space along the sides and top of that door that sound is leaking through.

That part, at least, is easy to fix. Browse the foam weather stripping products at a Lowes / Home Depot / local hardware store for something to fill those gaps. You might even be able to use caulk backer rod, which is a round foam extrusion with no adhesive on it, meant to be jammed into cracks to support a bead of caulk until it dries. This will be harmless, easy and cheap and make a noticeable difference.

Effective soundproofing materials are heavy and limp (remember the lead apron they drape across your body while doing dental x-rays?). If the door itself is a lightweight, hollow-core type then it will transmit sound like a drum head. Try putting your ear to the door and to the wall surface to see whether the door seems louder. If it is, you might get some mileage out of hanging a heavy rug on it.
posted by jon1270 at 3:29 AM on July 29, 2012

Rearrange the room so your bed is as far as possible from the shared wall. Doctor the door as suggested by others in-thread. Then, line the shared wall with bookshelves, including in front of the door. Fill bookshelves with books.

Ikea bookshelves are fine. Craigslist and Ebay are good sources of cheap/free/secondhand Ikea bookshelves.
posted by Pallas Athena at 3:35 AM on July 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you can, the first thing you should try is moving the bed.
posted by amarynth at 8:44 AM on July 29, 2012

Mitheral, did you even READ the OP? They're obviously NOT going to be doing 14 steps of construction work to build a false wall in a rental unit as a first-time construction project with over $300 in materials. Like I said...around $5000 (SF? maybe more) (and $2 studs come from freshly stripped rainforest no matter what they're labelled) And(!), if my roommate started building a WALL of that complexity to block out my sex noises, I would be so mortified I would be moving out within days, and probably wouldn't be able to speak to/make eye contact with them ever again. Overkill!

Look, sound goes through air gaps FIRST and solid objects SECOND. Block off the gap around the door (completely!) (the foam tape i mentioned is the door, tape it around the frame, close the door so it pinches it in place) and then tape it off. If that doesn't work, then try the suggestions of (both you and your roommate) a)moving beds to opposite walls and b)bookshelves, etc on the adjoining walls (and if you can install shelves that go all the way up to the ceiling and can fill them all the way to the top (ideally) and hopefully include clothes in that mix that will help too (i.e. if sound IS coming directly through the wall, then blocking only half the wall will only block half the sound)...if you don't have enough to cover the whole wall, concentrate on the door area, my guess is that's your real culprit...
posted by sexyrobot at 8:53 AM on July 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

in the past, askMe has discussed the benefits, affordability, and ease of use of the material known as homasote or cellutex.
posted by Rube R. Nekker at 12:54 PM on July 29, 2012

« Older Is there a wifi cordless phone?   |   Where can I find a Tiffany's style bubble ring in... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.