Would cheap egg crate foam help with noise from above?
January 4, 2019 7:08 AM   Subscribe

I live in a very old 3-unit apartment building on the first floor and am looking for solutions to muffle noise from above.

The interiors of the units have been rehabbed, but they only refinished and did not replace the original hardwood floors. There is ZERO sound or other insulation between the floors. I'm fairly certain it's just ceiling drywall | joists | maybe a sub floor | hardwood.

As a result, we can not only hear every footfall from above, but the 100+ year old floors are creaky as hell. And the creaks are SO LOUD.

To make matters worse, the tenant in the upstairs unit who sleeps in the bedroom above ours has weird hours, or insomnia, or something, and is regularly walking around in her room at all hours of the night. The creaks are loud enough to wake us up from a deep sleep, and then keep us up until she settles back down 30+ minutes later. This happens multiple times a night.

What I'm wondering is if we bought some cheap egg crate foam mattress toppers or rolls of egg crate foam and stapled it to our ceiling, would it make any difference? At this point I don't care how it looks or if it slightly damages the ceiling (we can fill staple holes when we move out). Have you done anything like this for a wall or ceiling and found it worked? Any tips for sourcing foam cheaply, as we're obviously moving out at the end of our lease in 5 months or so and don't want to spend a ton? If we did this, should we point the egg crate side down towards us or up against the ceiling?

[Please note: We have already tried or are currently employing other things to mitigate the noise. We already sleep with earplugs in and a fan for white noise every night. The other bedrooms in the apartment are too small to fit our queen sized bed so we can't sleep in a different room. We have talked to the neighbors and the property management company and both basically shrugged. The neighbors refuse to get rugs and there's nothing in the lease requiring them. The property manager sympathized and asked the building owner if he'd front for some cheap rugs to put down, but he refused. (The building was for sale until he took it off the market for winter, so he gives zero fucks.) I'm not looking for alternatives, only to find out if anyone has tried anything similar, or if there are other physical things we can do within our bedroom to muffle the creaky floors above.]
posted by misskaz to Home & Garden (10 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
The foam would do very little. It'll make the room you're in deader (less reverberant) but will do next to nothing to keep the sound from above from coming through. The only thing that will help with that is mass, and you're probably not going to be able to put another of drywall on your ceiling.
posted by jonathanhughes at 7:26 AM on January 4, 2019 [7 favorites]

My professional English is not very good, so I'll try to describe it in lay terms.
You need to make a lowered ceiling in your bedroom. on top of the new ceiling you can add the egg-crate foam, but then you need a 2-3 inch airspace between the existing ceiling and the foam for it to work. It's not that difficult to make, or expensive. If you can imagine what I mean from these words.
You probably need your landlord's approval, and your new ceiling height must respect the local regulations.
posted by mumimor at 7:39 AM on January 4, 2019 [3 favorites]

Yup, foam might make a little impact but acoustic insulation requires mass. A layer of Roxul or Corning 703 would make a much bigger difference, but where you really need it is inside the ceiling between you and the floor.

As mumimor suggests, if you've got a high enough ceiling this will be much more effective with a "drop ceiling" and a bit of an air gap, which would help acoustically decouple your ceiling from the floor above. Picture the white ceiling tiles in an office building - those are fiber insulation with an air gap above them, and they drastically reduce sound (and heat) transference between floors.
posted by aspersioncast at 8:11 AM on January 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

To add to the drop suggestion above, your modifications may need to be approved by the landlord and the fire inspector.

I suddenly understand why Peggy was putting a drop ceiling in her ground floor owner apartment in her building on Mad Men.
posted by tilde at 8:32 AM on January 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

What I'm wondering is if we bought some cheap egg crate foam mattress toppers or rolls of egg crate foam and stapled it to our ceiling,

This is a really bad idea.

AcousticsFirst.com: "Myth: Bedding or packing foam make a good acoustical wall treatment.

Reality:No. Bedding or packing foams are typically flammable and do not meet fire code regulations for use as an exposed finish for walls and ceilings."
(bolding mine)

The Station nightclub fire: "which ignited plastic foam used as sound insulation in the walls and ceilings surrounding the stage. The blaze reached flashover within one minute, causing all combustible materials to burn. Intense black smoke engulfed the club in 5½ minutes. Video footage of the fire shows its ignition, rapid growth, the billowing smoke that quickly made escape impossible, and blocked egress that further hindered evacuation. The toxic smoke, heat, and the resulting human crush toward the main exit killed 100; 230 were injured
posted by soundguy99 at 8:39 AM on January 4, 2019 [6 favorites]

A lowered ceiling will only work if you are using specialized tracks made for soundproofing. The noise vibrations are carried through the joists and other supports, so you need to stop the soundwaves from continuing down into your space.

I did this is a co-op I owned and it was worth every single penny. It completely eliminated footstep, TV, and phone call noise. I only lost about 2 inches of ceiling height. The cost wasn't exorbitant, but it wasn't cheap either. Perhaps you can convince your landlord to make the investment? They should be able to write off the cost as a capital improvement on their taxes. Or maybe if you're there for the long term, you'd be willing to share or cover the cost entirely.

Your upstairs neighbor can help by putting down rugs with padding, not wearing shoes in the house, and doing her midnight pacing in another part of the apartment. Previously buildings I've lived in had these kinds of house rules that everyone agreed to abide by when they signed a lease (no loud parties after a certain hour, letting exterminators in, carpets on hardwood floors, etc.. You might also talk to the landlord and other current tenants about coming up with some reasonable house rules.
posted by brookeb at 8:49 AM on January 4, 2019 [7 favorites]

I don't know that this will be enough of an acoustic screen, but try getting a real white noise machine (this is one of the two I use, and it's cheap enough but big enough to do a decent proof of concept test) and put it as high as you can in your bedroom (it doesn't have any screw holes on the bottom but it only weighs maybe 14 ounces so you could probably rig something with Command hooks, if you don't have a tall shelf).

Bounce the sound off the ceiling, position it maybe near the foot of your bed or midpoint of the room, but you might also want to move it closer toward your heads but not blaring directly in your ears. You want to build ceiling padding out of sound, basically, between you and the noise, and you want it quite loud but loud over there rather than loud right in your face.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:54 AM on January 4, 2019

I have read that talc (talcum powder) acts as a dry lubricant for squeaky floors. Apply, sweep in. I have not tried this. If is not healthy to breathe.

Rugs, esp. with padding, would help. Can you offer to buy the upstairs neighbor a large rug?

When I had a 2 family house, I required rugs for quiet and to keep the floors in okay shape.
posted by theora55 at 11:26 AM on January 4, 2019


We recently did this at our log-cabin-converted-into-office. They laid down expensive rockwool (there are a variety of grades) really tightly into reverse troughs they built into the ceiling. It helped a little.

Then they added in two layers of drywall and painted it. It helped a lot, but we can still shout messages at each other between the first floor and second floor offices, but footsteps were really attenuated - but the vibration still transfers through the joists/walls. Much less annoying, but it's still there.

What you'd ideally want is to lay down mass loaded vinyl under the hardwood floors upstairs (and have carpet over that), and maybe even supplement the rockwool on the first floor with additional MLV.
posted by porpoise at 3:08 PM on January 4, 2019

This is probably not something you can do in a rental, but for future reference, there are resilient clips will help you to decouple the drywall ceiling from the joists. You would take down the existing drywall ceiling, add these clips to the joists, add "hat channel" (available at any home depot) that snaps into these clips, and then screw the new drywall to the hat channel.


Best part is that you only loose about an inch of space.
posted by kamelhoecker at 8:51 AM on March 9, 2019

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