How to create a Temporary, Sound-Proof "Door"
March 23, 2020 2:06 PM   Subscribe

It looks likely that I will be teaching two of my college courses from home for the rest of the term. How can I create a temporary "door" that is relatively soundproof into our finished basement?

Like many states, it looks likely that we're moving towards a "shelter in place" order for our state. If we go that way, I will obey it, even though it's the case that I can drive to my office and never come within 20 feet of another human (the building is basically abandoned at this point).

So, I'd like to start thinking about how to set up my (finished) basement such that I can teach from there. In many ways, it's an excellent space for it. However, the main issue is that there is no door to the finished basement -- the stairs down just open up into the space.

Sharing my house is my wife and two young kids. I would like a way to at least dampen the noise from upstairs when I'm down there working. Any suggestions on how to do this? Hang a large piece of cloth? Any specific suggestions? Any ideas on how to fasten it so that it covers the rather unusual dimensions of the opening?

I'm willing to spend a little bit of money on this. There is a Home Depot and Walmart easily accessible, along with Amazon (such as it is right now).
posted by Betelgeuse to Home & Garden (7 answers total)
I would go to Home Depot and buy a couple 1/2 inch extruded polystyrene sheets. Cut them and fix them together in an L shape to fit in the space (coming off the wall with the thermostat, up onto the stairs, L shape for the "roof"). Maybe fix them up/down with some of that plastic dual lock velcro--it's VERY strong and polystyrene is pretty light.
posted by phunniemee at 2:24 PM on March 23 [1 favorite]

I like the poly sheet idea above. I've used moving blankets to make makeshift home recording studios to good effect. You can also get special audio blankets but they're expensive, maybe experiment with a quilt or comforter to see if it might work for you. You could hang one or more from hooks or a strong tension rod in the gap.
posted by wwax at 2:33 PM on March 23

The effect that blankets have in recording studios and the like is to deaden reflections, not to attenuate the overall level of noise. They're not very efficient as soundproofing.

The thing you really need to know about soundproofing is that the best soundproofing you can get is two walls with an air gap between them. The less the two walls are touching, the better the soundproofing is. If the walls have solid bars between them, or holes in them, or don't cover floor-to-ceiling, they'll be worse. So when you're thinking about soundproofing your entrance, think about how close to this ideal you can get.

Looking at your photo, building an L-shape to fit the space could work, but it would work much much better if there was a way to build it so it's actually a double-walled L-shape, with an air gap.
posted by Jairus at 3:09 PM on March 23

Soundproofing is a tricky thing.

Ideally, you want to put up as much rockwool as you can afford in the ceiling space. We did this to an log "cabin" that we used as an office and put up plywood+drywall for a hard drop ceiling. Cost a fortune, and you could still hear people walking upstairs in hard soled shoes and if people were shouting/ yelling, but it worked.

As for a "door" - you'll need heavy (heavy) fabric for it to do anything. Think of the super heavy drapes in some old churches. Like, the drapes that were about as heavy as the lead blanket at the dentist's office when they're taking x-rays. Make several layers of that.

Barring that, a full bookshelf (full!) works reasonably well, but it's a full bookcase so not typically very moveable.

There was an old motel that was closing and advertised on Craigslist that everything was free to pick up - I regret making the trip out and getting their old heavy duty drapery/ window coverings.

If you can find it, and can afford it, multiple layers of 'mass loaded vinyl' sheets may work, too.

If you want to give polystyrene a go, look for the thick pink (?) sheets. The heavier and thicker the better. Get a couple of layers. If you're handy, build a frame so there's an air gap between the sheets, or barring that, sandwich a different material between the two high density outer sheets.
posted by porpoise at 3:41 PM on March 23

Is the purpose to prevent background noise when you're teaching online? Or is it to minimize distraction?

For the latter—in addition to whatever else you implement—I suggest a white noise machine and/or a good set of headphones. For the former, I honestly haven't heard much background noise from my colleagues on Zoom, especially if they use headphones. And some of us live in apartments with children. And, well, these are unusual times. If the occasional child shriek makes it through, your students will understand.
posted by the_blizz at 4:28 PM on March 23

It might actually be easier to build a little temporary studio in a corner of the basement than to try to seal that weird entrance.
posted by rockindata at 3:07 AM on March 24

I soundproofed my car, and then I sold the leftover material to a coworker who soundproofed his RV.

Of the materials we used (CLD tiles, melamine foam, and mass loaded vinyl) the mass loaded vinyl (MLV) is what actually blocks outside sound waves. It's a heavy rubber mat, kinda like a yoga mat, that comes in a roll.

In a vehicle you're supposed to isolate the MLV from the vibrating metal of the car with the melamine foam (magic eraser material) so it doesn't transmit high frequencies, but you don't have to worry about that since you're not driving your house down the road. I think if you can hang the MLV sheet across the doorway you should be good to go. My coworker didn't bother with the foam. He just draped a roll of it directly over the engine hump/compartment that's in the middle of the cab of his RV, and he said the difference was incredible.

Ideally you want no gaps, so I glued sheets of it together with rubber cement. It cuts pretty easily if you have some big shears (I bought some carpet shears for the project). Here's the exact roll I used. They make it twice as thick (and twice as heavy), which I would assume works better.

If I had time to kill I'd nail a board over the doorway, nail the roll to the door, and cut/glue it so it covers that weird shape, and glue velcro strips to the edges of the mat. I'd bond velcro strips to another board and nail that to the wall, then cut a slit in the MLV and use velcro there, so it opens like a curtain.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 7:37 AM on March 24

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