How to soundproof front door of old rental on a budget?
November 17, 2016 12:20 PM   Subscribe

hello Mefites: I hope you guys can have some tips for hubby and me. We recently moved into a downstairs rental unit in an old apartment building. The unit is lovely, but our next door neighbor, who lives across the front entrance foyer from us, complains to us that she can hear us talking on the phone while we are inside and our dog barks too much.

Now we normally keep our door and windows closed while this neighbor keeps all her windows open at all times. She also stays home all day and doesn't go out. While we can't control what the neighbor does with her windows and her schedule, we would like to increase soundproofing at our unit so we would have privacy and peace. We never had complaints from any previous rentals of our dog barking and we have an anti-bark collar as well. But the fact that she's been eavesdropping on our conversations while we are inside our home makes us feel incredibly violated and vulnerable.

We're planning on put up yoga mats or some type of soundproofing panels up on the walls of our living room, which has a wall that faces the common foyer. But we are not sure what to do with soundproofing our front door. The space between the actual door and door jamb are too small for us to fit weatherproofing strips down there yet there are clear spaces between the door and the door frame. I don't think our landlord is going to change the door for us and we liked the unit otherwise, so we would like to stay in the apartment. What can we do to increase soundproofing for our front door in the meantime? Any tips on soundproofing the rest of the unit is welcome as well.
posted by wcmf to Home & Garden (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Have you considered buying a white noise machine?
posted by corb at 12:42 PM on November 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

Have you yourselves checked to see whether & how much noise actually goes beyond your walls? The fact that you've never had any barking complaints makes me suspicious if she's just a chronic complainer/meddler/busybody.

Meanwhile: don't hold phone conversations in the room(s) closest to her; leave a room, and preferably a closed interior door, between your phone and her.
posted by easily confused at 1:10 PM on November 17, 2016 [3 favorites]

I understand those foam rubber "egg crate" mattress topper pads are great for soundproofing. Soft irregular surfaces stop sound waves from bouncing.
posted by Cranialtorque at 1:28 PM on November 17, 2016

In order to block the massive drafts from my balcony door I hung curtains across the door, which as a side effect does tend to block sound.

I got a sturdy drapery rod from target and blackout curtains. Then I hung the curtains so that when they're closed they cover the door completely. If you need heavier curtains a window treatment store might be able to help you with those options, but just the blackout curtains alone block out a surprising volume of sound for me.
posted by winna at 1:53 PM on November 17, 2016 [7 favorites]

I know absolutely nothing, but I thought sounds waves traveled due to air gaps. I'd focus on weather sealing and a door sweep to eliminate said air gaps. Again though, I'm repeating stuff I've heard and don't actually know from actual experience.
posted by cnc at 2:20 PM on November 17, 2016

Is your front door a solid-core door? It should be because exterior doors should be. But possibly your LL cheaped out and gave you a hollow-core door, which will allow sound through much more easily. Also it'll allow a fist, a boot, a crowbar (etc.) through with ease, so it's a critical security problem if for some reason you have a hollow door there.

If I were you, I'd try recording sound outside your place with the door both open and closed. Get the mic close to her windows or door (when she's away), and test things out with your door open and closed.

Or just have your husband stand out there while you make a phone call in the front room, and then switch places. Though it' sobviously easy to pretend to make a phone call, many people have different voices (volume, enthusiasm, etc.) when on the phone vs. when talking across the room. (I realized this when my niece, then a toddler who could only babble, changed her babble to my sister's timbre while she (niece) pretended to be on the phone.) Make a call to whomever you'd normally be talking to.
posted by Sunburnt at 2:33 PM on November 17, 2016 [3 favorites]

I know ALL about this.

#1 - Check all of your smoke detectors, get a plug-in carbon monoxide alarm for your bedroom, get a hepafilter air purifier for the living room, and get those little fire extinguishers for each room that you can place discreetly. We're going to seal some things and we're going to hang some stuff that's potentially problematic in the remote possibility you ever have any heating or electrical emergencies - so just do that stuff, K?

BTW, the air purifier is because you have a dog and keeping stuff closed gets stuffy, so I don't want you to suffer. Also, a white noise machine might block you from hearing the outside, but it won't necessarily block your neighbors from hearing you. So FYI if you go that route, you may accidentally get louder by default.

- Yes, you can find weather stripping to fit your door + a rubber flashing to go on the bottom of the door. Install these.

- Get rugs. Put them down. These will cut down on sound reverberating.

- Get heavy drapes and sheer curtains for underneath. Double rod, hang above all windows. Close them when you are home to block conversations and the TV noise from being overheard.

- Hang a drapery rod above your front door + a tie-back hook on the wall. Hang a dense fabric drape or curtain you can live with over the front door. Use it when you are home. (This sucks, I know. I'm sorry.)

- Hang pictures and tapestries on your walls. Don't go crazy. You can get pretty frames from IKEA and wrap the inserts with interestingly patterned fabrics. Don't put the glass in, leave the fabric uncovered. Mount the pictures frames with the fabric on the walls. This will absorb tons of sound and keep it from amplifying outside. Done right it will look nice.

And that's it. Soak up the sound waves and block what you can. Enjoy your home.
posted by jbenben at 2:59 PM on November 17, 2016 [8 favorites]

Regarding the air purifier: all those fabrics on the wall, floors, and windows trap a lot of dust. Specifically you want to keep your air healthy :))
posted by jbenben at 3:02 PM on November 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

But the fact that she's been eavesdropping on our conversations while we are inside our home makes us feel incredibly violated and vulnerable.

I lived in a basement where I could hear every word in the rooms directly above us. I wasn't eavesdropping - I was forced to listen to her conversations. For [reasons], I couldn't tell her that I could hear her. So despite my best efforts to ignore and drown her out, I now know much more about her and her therapy clients than I should or want to.

I think you should be glad that your neighbor is complaining instead of listening. If she can hear you, others probably can too.
posted by congen at 4:14 PM on November 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

I would recommend first testing where it seems like the sound leaks the most by talking on the phone while someone else walks around in the hall. If that sound comes mostly through surfaces, rather than gaps (door sill, etc), then focus your work on damping sound transmission through those surfaces.

Mass loaded vinyl is a sound-dampening material that would be good in this application, if the sound is coming through surfaces. You would want to adhere it to apartment side of the door, or at the very least nail a strip of wood along the top to hold it in place. You could then cover it with a nice wall hanging. This option might cost about $50.

Egg crate or other foam is not a very effective sound absorber, so don't spend too much time on that.
posted by MonsieurBon at 11:20 PM on November 17, 2016

posted by artdrectr at 11:27 PM on November 17, 2016

The Dynamat is self-adhesive. It's like the Holy Grail of sound blockers! Wow!!
posted by jbenben at 11:49 PM on November 17, 2016

Gaps between the door and frame are your #1 possible culprit for sound transmission. If those are present, no sound dampening in the world will prevent sound from escaping your apartment. Try closing those up first and see what happens -- it's relatively cheap and easy, and it may solve most of your problems. If it doesn't, then it's time to move on to the more costly sound dampening suggestions others have suggested (like fabric hangings, rugs, dynamat, etc.).

For a door you actively use, try this door seal kit -- it includes foam tape to apply to the sides and top of your door, plus door sweep tape for the bottom. Try not to leave any gaps at all, not even small ones. If you have a door that you are not using (for instance, if it's a set of double doors and you only ever use one half, or if you generally use a side door to enter the house), I've found that Mor-tite is cheap and effective. You can find it at any hardware store for like $3 a box -- it's basically like a roll of poster putty that you press into the gaps in your doors (or window frames, or whatever). Since you can remove it easily without causing damage, it's great for apartments.
posted by ourobouros at 5:44 AM on November 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

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