Calling all window experts for a soundproofing question
March 11, 2014 5:33 PM   Subscribe

The pallet-dropping saga continues. After talking with various government employees, I finally got in touch with a person in code enforcement who stoically informed me that, since the business is zoned for agricultural, they are allowed to work 24 hours a day and do whatever they well please and there's not a thing we can do about it.

I then called a lawyer whose consultation fee is $400/hour, which is a whole lot of money for pursuing a case I'm not even sure I have. I'm not even sure if he was the right kind of lawyer I'm looking for, as searching "nuisance lawyer" on yelp does nothing.

So while I'm still researching that, we have been looking for soundproofing options and had a contractor come and look at our windows, get measurements, etc. He confidently informed us that if we got dual pane, 1/8"+3/16", the noise would be greatly decreased. The windows would be vinyl with argon gas. Another plus would be heat reduction in the summer, which we badly need since we don't have AC.

Coincidentally, shortly after he left, we ran into our neighbor, who has the 1/4"+3/16" and insisted that we should get it too, and that it is the only kind that will work.

We emailed the contractor, who said that we actually want the thinner 1/8" because having more space between the two panes of glass is what will decrease the sound.

I do trust my neighbor, because he has not led us astray in other home improvement matters and because he is familiar with the noise, but then the contractor is the professional in this matter.

So I would love to get some opinions on what has worked for your dual pane thickness.

Thank you.
posted by massofintuition to Home & Garden (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
What brand of windows was he selling, out of curiousity? I've worked around hurricane windows salespersons in the past, but I've forgotten most of what I know and I'm on the wrong side of the country from you. :P

However, the information on this site about windows and sound proofing seems pretty accurate. I've never worked with those windows, but the company I used to do the stuff for doesn't have anything on their site about soundproofness, specifically.

I'd say call up another window sales person, talk to them about your problem, and what their solution is, and after you get that, ask them about the two differences in window thickness vs thinness. Not sure why the neighbor is recommending the thinner glass than the thicker (or the reverse in the case of the sales person) other than price.

This test results PDF is for specialized windows used in recording booths, but if I'm reading it correctly then it seems there is minimal difference on 1/4 vs 1/8 thickness sound wise.

Some of it depends on the make up of the building; other things to consider is that this will be a "retro" build so the price you are quoted should include the extra materials required for that (and find out if the building needs to be repainted inside or outside after if that is included).

Additionally, the sales person probably did a rough opening measurement; there will be a final measurement either by the sales person again or the installer to make sure the right sized windows are ordered to be fitted.

Finally, whatever you end up with, make sure you get the warranty and certification (if needed - we always needed it when pulling permits) in writing, and that the windows are appropriate for your area (high salt areas might want aluminum or vinyl rather than wood - again, it's been forever since I had to think about this and even then I was only peripherally around the sales persons.

Don't know the age of the building but make sure you also keep an eye on lead paint issues. Does your building have it? Are you required to re mediate around it? Is this contractor certified to deal with it, and so on.
posted by tilde at 6:08 PM on March 11, 2014

STC is something you should be keeping in mind, and you can include it as a criteria in your shopping journeys. There is also triple-paned glass and DIY magnet-seal, though I'm not sure how either of these compare. I've also heard, but not read any science, about how the sound is being transmitted matters, that certain techniques work well for straight-on sound, while others are better for sound that hits the building/window at an angle. Still others will be necessary if the sound is transmitted through the foundation/ground.
posted by rhizome at 6:19 PM on March 11, 2014

Having lived in a variety of places with cheap double pane windows, more expensive ones, middle of the road ones, wood frame double panes, etc there's only three things that really seem to matter, in this order:

1. The actual wall around the window, and how soundproof that is
2. Was the window properly installed? if it was just mashed into a not-square wall and is slightly "twisted" there will be gaps around the slidey bit that let noise/cold or hot air in and also sound
3. how good the actual window is constructed, and how tightly the pieces of it seal together.

What i'm getting at, is i'd rather live in a place that had insulated thick walls than a place with super soundproof windows, and that windows being installed correctly also tends to matter more than how soundproof the windows themselves are.

As a final note, if you REALLY want to kill this noise dead the solution might be to just get picture windows on that side if you can live with that. Places with windows that don't open(or open in one area and not in the other so you can compare) have by far been the most soundproof in my experience.

Also, it sounds like you're mostly trying to kill the relatively high frequency "SLAP" noise of the pallets hitting the ground. I know the sound you mean. Most windows seem to be rated to block out road noise and such, and not high frequency stuff like this besides white noise tires on pavement stuff. You might want to address that with whoever is selling them to you to be clear what you want out of them, and also test out your neighbors first.

Basically, don't just blow a bunch of money on windows without figuring out if that's your real problem. I've lived in places that had brand new windows put in but were still loud as fuck because the walls transmitted sound like they were made of cardboard even if they didn't look like it.
posted by emptythought at 6:25 PM on March 11, 2014

Have you thought about a temporary fix first? Maybe try some cheap foam insulation on the inside of the windows in question. Try this for a week and see if it makes a difference. If it does the windows might be the fix - if not you may saved yourself a lot of money.

Another thing to try might be to order a window insulation kit (basically a sheet shrink wrap plastic + some double sided tape) - this might help and at a considerably reduced cost...of course this means you cannot open the windows in question which might make this solution impossible..

Finally I'm not an expert, but I would think heavy curtains might also help considerably with sound transmitted by the windows - at least this could help at night...
posted by NoDef at 6:56 PM on March 11, 2014

Maybe try some cheap foam insulation on the inside of the windows in question.

In a more fleshed-out form this is called a window plug.
posted by rhizome at 7:33 PM on March 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

I haven't seen in either this or the previous thread that the sound is actually coming through the windows. You are sure that is how the sound is getting in?
posted by MonsieurBon at 10:09 PM on March 11, 2014

Well, the contractor said that's how it's getting in, since our windows are ridiculously thin and single pane. He said the walls look all right. Our neighbor has the same walls and says he is happy with the noise reduction after installing his double pane windows.

I must say, though, that we can hear their dog barking very occasionally through the wall, so I'm thinking the walls aren't super insulated, as I hear is the case with most buildings in California.

Tilde ~ (lol) the company makes their own windows, supposedly far superior to Milgard, which he took great pains to demonstrate to us.
posted by massofintuition at 11:04 PM on March 11, 2014

Oh yeah. The sound is most probably coming through the thin single-pane windows. The sound from the outside is vibrating your windows, which will then re-vibrate and transmit the sound into your space, like the membrane of a drum. Having a second pane, and a connecting sealant between the two panes that dampens the transfer of that vibration is what isolates the sound from the inside and the outside. Your walls already have a cavity filled with insulation that also dampens the sound.

Your contractor's right in that the airspace between the single-pane is important, but the glass thickness and the distance between the panes aren't necessarily related. You really want to look at the STC (Sound Transmission Class) ratings of the window - the higher the better. STC is the only way to really determine which window will perform better in terms of isolating sound. It looks like this page and this page will provide a pretty good primer. (I have no experience with that company.)

I'd suggest asking if the company has STC information about their windows. If not, I'd suggest going with a company that has taken the time/energy/effort to professionally test their windows and give you STC ratings; that way, you know at least what you're paying for.

Lastly, most sound isolation techniques will block the higher frequencies more easily than they will the lower ones; think of the way in which the thumping bass of someone's sound system is more easily heard through walls than the higher-pitched sounds of vocals or instruments. Only mass - insulation, mass damped vinyl, etc will bring down the lower frequencies. So if the pallet dropping sound is higher-pitched, then you're probably in luck.
posted by suedehead at 11:59 PM on March 11, 2014

No, no, I'm tilde ... ~ is apparently my not so evil twin.

Nothing wrong with them fabricating their own windows; the group I was with also made their own. If you do go with theirs (and I know some people may be going huh? with a contractor selling windows that are custom fabricated - but that's not so uncommon) check out the business making the windows, their BBB rating, ask to talk to other customers or see their testimonial book, etc etc. Ask them what other brands of windows they sell besides their brand-made ones.

For what you're doing, if you are not in an extreme application (doesn't seem you are, you're not a light house or a coastal storm station) there should be little to no difference to you* (again with the warranties and certifications for the things they claim on them like temperature and sound reduction) between the windows they fabricate and the windows they sell on the behalf of other companies. The differences will be in time in most cases (they may be able to fab quicker than order) and in cost (to them) so their profit will be higher. That might play out in the ability to give you a bit more of a discount than they would if they sold you some brand name that didn't happen to have a dealer or consumer rebate at that time.

Finally, in addition to the STC stuff that suedehead recommended (thanks, suedehead - it was so long ago and I never got into the STC bit of things - today I learned!), talk to your insurance company. Depending on your area, you might be able to get a discount for windows that are new, especially if some of their properties make them harder to break (reduce break ins for ground floor or easy to reach secondary floors).

*think of the difference between a very nice brand name something - like an armani suit vs a nicely tailored suit. Both will do what you need and look good for what you're doing, one is just made more locally.
posted by tilde at 4:28 AM on March 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Check out Indow Windows, and watch their video demonstration—seems like it works very well, and they're also removable if needed.
posted by three_red_balloons at 8:21 AM on March 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Also check out mass loaded vinyl.
posted by the big lizard at 12:51 AM on March 13, 2014

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