Help me block the noises from my terrible neighbor!
March 7, 2021 7:29 PM   Subscribe

I have an incredibly noisy neighbor. How can I soundproof my apartment quickly, easily, and cheaply? Or at least two of those three wishes?

So if you read my last question, the guy in the apartment next to me is incredibly noisy. I'm leaving the apartment in about three months but until then, I have to find some way to block the noise. My white noise machines make me feel like I'm living on the underside of a jet plane. Please dont tell me to just deal with it because three months is not that long. Trust me, it's an eternity!

He's not blasting music or anything that I could reasonably complain to our landlord about. He's just... living his life, as noisily as possible. We share a wall and I'd like to soundproof it somehow. There are a billion noise canceling panels online - like this. Can anyone recommend a good brand/site that worked for you?

Once I get the stuff... then what? I can't risk jeopardizing my security deposit so I can't do anything that will damage the wall. I am not handy. I"m not getting Sheetrock and building another wall or something. Somehow I have to... affix this stuff to my wall without hurting the paint. I am so lost!

So the question is A. what do I get and B. how do I put it on the wall. I would spend up to $250 on this I guess. Help, I'm losing my mind. He has guests over right now and they're having a sprightly debate about who spilled beer on the couch first.
posted by silverstatue to Home & Garden (36 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Unfortunately, soundproofing isn't cheap, or easy. Don't spend any money on those foam panels. Foam only helps to reduce reflections in the room you're in. It doesn't keep sound out. The only thing that really works is mass, or an air gap. But like you said, you're not going to put up a second layer of drywall, or build a room within a room.

Do you share a wall with the neighbor? About the only thing that might work would be shipping blankets. You'd have to hang them on the shared wall. Can you screw a few eye hooks into the studs in the ceiling or high up on the wall. Shipping blankets are heavy, so they'd need to be big eye hooks, And then you'd need to attach something to the blankets to hang them. If your walls and ceiling are white, you could spackle them before you leave and the landlord might not notice.
posted by jonathanhughes at 7:43 PM on March 7, 2021 [5 favorites]

I had a roommate who had sleep apnea and had to use a machine. And was a light sleeper. So he had construction-quality headphones, which apparently blocked all noise. He said we could make as much noise as we wanted (we lived right below him) and he wouldn't hear a thing.

So if you don't have roommates you need to talk to, construction-quality headphones might be an easy answer. Bonus: you can take them with you when you leave.
posted by aniola at 7:45 PM on March 7, 2021 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Not to thread sit, but yes we share a wall. This was originally one big apartment, and the landlord divided it into two. So the wall between us sucks, to say the least. There is also a door in the wall that has been painted shut, poorly. So sound is escaping through that. Added difficulty - the wall we share has the bathroom and kitchen on it. So... it's not like a nice smooth rectangle I can easily cover with one swatch of something.

I can't wear headphones 24 hours a day, unfortunately. I want to be able to watch TV, do yoga, talk on the phone, work, etc. My only hope is to deaden the noise coming through the wall somehow.
posted by silverstatue at 7:48 PM on March 7, 2021

That really sucks. The other issue is that even if you somehow cover the wall with lots of mass, sound can be passed through the floor and ceiling, so I'd hate to see you spend much money on this when the likelihood of success is pretty low.

I know you said you don't like the white noise machine, but have you tried brown noise? Brown noise is lower in frequency, and the noises coming through the wall are going to be lower frequency sounds, so the higher frequencies in white noise probably aren't providing much value. You might be able to tolerate it more than white noise (I find it a lot easier to listen to at night), and it should be less noticeable than white noise.
posted by jonathanhughes at 7:59 PM on March 7, 2021 [6 favorites]

Do you have any shelves filled with books that you could move against the shared wall? Or friends who need to store some books? A big chunk of mass like that might help block some of the sound. Foam won’t do anything on your end, unfortunately.
posted by corey flood at 7:59 PM on March 7, 2021 [6 favorites]

If you like animals, you might consider petsitting for someone else temporarily to have a break from this. I think I can give you a discount code for Trusted Housesitters...I use it pretty frequently because my own apartment has issues with neighbors.
posted by pinochiette at 8:06 PM on March 7, 2021 [3 favorites]

My parents had an old rowhouse with party walls on both sides. The wall that had our stairs also shared stairs with the building next door, which had been divided into apartments with elephants as tenants who clumped up and down the stairs frequently at all hours, often shouting to each other and slamming doors.

They bought stick-on cork tiles about an inch thick and attached them to the party wall. We rarely heard from our neighbors after that. I don't know how you could stick them in an apartment without causing damage to the paint, but if you can figure out a way this could work.

Good luck from someone who needs total dark and silence to sleep well. This is a curse, actually. I wish I could sleep anywhere and with the TV blaring - sadly, I'm not one of those people.
posted by citygirl at 8:14 PM on March 7, 2021

Moving blankets are often used by the musicians I know to dampen sound, usually to stop it getting out and bothering other people but they could work in your case. They don't have holes but are easy enough to pop grommets into if you're handy. Hanging them with strong command hooks At least hanging them over the door and door frame area might help. Thick curtains even can help or specialist sound blocking drapes. I've seen them hung on walls using curtain rods, but that would probably leave holes in the walls.

Checking for gaps and sealing air leaks and cracks can also block a surprising amount of sound, check the noise isn't being transmitted via shared plumbing or air vents
posted by wwax at 8:15 PM on March 7, 2021

Definitely focus on the door, covering that will help.
posted by freethefeet at 9:15 PM on March 7, 2021 [1 favorite]

Soundproofing can be hit and miss with lots of setups, but I have had some friends have success with heavier vinyl sheeting like this stuff. It's not the cheapest solution, but it's far from the most expensive. They ended up hanging them onto curtain rods (kinda burley ones). Not perfect, but might be worth exploring.
posted by furnace.heart at 9:21 PM on March 7, 2021

I had to soundproof a law office once for reasons of confidentiality and the rule of thumb I learned then was if air can get in, sound can get in. The elaborate solution we used would not work for you but I just mention this to recommend that you address any big air gaps first (e.g., the door).
posted by HotToddy at 9:29 PM on March 7, 2021 [4 favorites]

+1 heavy blanket over the door. If you mount/nail just above the doorframe it will be invisible without a ladder.

I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how well my inexpensive Bluetooth earbuds block noise - there are also noise cancelling versions that may help more. It’s not an all the time thing, but it’s an additional incremental improvement and you can watch tv and talk on the phone through them.

I also prefer brown noise to white. Putting on a YouTube ambience video with a fire or rain or coffee shop sounds can provide variety when you can’t take any more white noise. There are also apps that let you make custom background noise. Play music. Keep switching up your sounds when one gets grating.

Get out of the apartment as much as you can. When the noise is just too much, go for a walk/ride/drive.

Reframing the noise also helps some - try to at least think neutrally about it, it’s just the neighbor living their life vs. getting angry about it.
posted by momus_window at 9:40 PM on March 7, 2021

Use nano tape to hang things like cork boards. Won't ruin paint.
posted by AugustWest at 9:55 PM on March 7, 2021

I've heard of people using egg cartons to block the sound - and supposedly, it works like a hot damn.
If you can get a hold of a lot of them, say from a restaurant that goes through flats of them every day - then you could staple or glue them all to each other, and just push pin them in to the wall at strategic points. Just a thought. Cheap, and as good as buying all those foamies!
posted by itsflyable at 10:23 PM on March 7, 2021

Ok, so it's been a long time since I looked into this for myself, and I never actually did it... so I looked it up and found an article saying that egg cartons possibly aren't as good as all that... but he did recommend soundproofing curtains, or filling the egg cartons on one side with rags or foam if you're really keen, and putting a blanket or something over the wall and/or over the cartons as well. I wonder, could you just soundproofing curtains on the wall? Just secure a curtain rod at the top of the wall? Or curtains over the cartons? I hope this isn't sounding too crazy now.
posted by itsflyable at 10:34 PM on March 7, 2021

I've heard of people using egg cartons to block the sound - and supposedly, it works like a hot damn.

This is a very common myth and I say this not to pick on anyone personally, but cardboard egg cartons are nowhere near dense enough to absorb any significant amount of sound. They can deflect some echoes if you’re in the room making the sound but otherwise they won’t help. Also, adding a layer of flammable material, like cardboard or packing foam (please, please do not use packing foam!), to your walls is a major fire hazard. If you’re going to use blankets or foam you will need something flame retardant that is made for this purpose.
posted by corey flood at 10:43 PM on March 7, 2021 [10 favorites]

As a former resident of a band house totally covered in egg cartons, they do not stop noise coming in or going out at all. They only provide a small deadening of sound bounce.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 10:46 PM on March 7, 2021 [3 favorites]

I'm not sure how practical this is, but:
If you've ever stood next to a haystack, it's as though there's something wrong with the world. Hay, or straw, eats sound. Next to it there's an area so quiet that it's disturbing. I've been on one side of a stack of bales and have seen someone through an opening, but been unable to yell loud enough for them to hear.
I can't imagine living in a room with a wall made from straw, and I'm sure it's a huge fire hazard. That said, if there's an opening you want to block, or you need to deal with this for a short time before you lose your sanity, small square bales - I just checked - range from $3 to $10. Home Depot lists them but doesn't have a price.
They stack neatly, so you don't have to put holes in the walls, and when you're finished with them they make good mulch or compost.
Admittedly a very long shot and a bizarre idea, but in a pinch ...
posted by AugustusCrunch at 10:54 PM on March 7, 2021 [1 favorite]

Jumping on the straw idea - you might be able to purchase actual bales of straw much more cheaply than that - even if you're in a city, there ought to be some sort of pet or feed store, so check prices that way, too. Generally much cheaper. A big bale shouldn't cost more than $4-5 each. Just make sure it's straw and not hay. (I'd be tempted myself to purchase actual full-size bales of straw and just stack them in front of the door, if it were me.) And then maybe lay the moving blanket over that, lol.

I'm not sure how well it would work, but a giant pocket - or tubes? - stuffed with straw might have a similar effect, though it wouldn't be nearly so dense as baled straw. A duvet cover? Body pillow size pillowcases?

Heck, duct-taped cardboard tubes stuffed tight with straw and taped or command-stripped to the wall...
posted by stormyteal at 11:59 PM on March 7, 2021

No, don't put straw in your house, it's a fire hazard and will attract all sorts of pests.
Like several say above: focus on the door. Use a heavy curtain or two layers of heavy curtains, and use a lot of material, so it folds, at least three times the width of the door. For aesthetics and also best effect, hang them from the ceiling.
Or, put up a bookshelf or cupboard in front of the door. I've done that in a similar situation, and even though the shelves don't cover the offending wall completely, they help a lot.
posted by mumimor at 1:19 AM on March 8, 2021 [11 favorites]

AugustusCrunch is onto something there. There's a fire-resistant building panel that uses wood shavings and cement - wood wool. A record shop of my youth was entirely lined in it - that space had a muffled dead acoustic feel that I've seldom felt in a building.

You're in NY, might be able to find demolition wood wool maybe.

To hang things without attaching to the wall - there's a San Francisco company who was making a kind of lightweight Acrow Prop (I can't find the company now though) - a pole to support construction work - like this, you can hang anything from these things, IDK if they're available second-hand, but in a big city they are sometimes findable.

Less practical ideas in short timeframes:
Aerated cement blocks aka Hebel have enough mass without adding a lot of weight to the floor, they have useful acoustic damping

Egg cartons alone won't cut the mustard but spraying them in cement / lightweight concrete would help - mass >=20Kg/m² and a disrupted surface are helpful.
posted by unearthed at 1:38 AM on March 8, 2021

I've lived in a place that shared a wall and a locked door with someone who made noises I did not want to hear. The door was recessed, as doors tend to be; it was also vaguely single-mattress sized. I found an old foam mattress, placed it in the door frame against the door, and found a way to keep it there (in this case, four screws and some wire). It helped a great deal.
So if your door is similarly recessed, that might be a no-budget option. It looks like crap, so I'd still hang some kind of textile over it; the thicker, the better, for added insulation.
posted by Too-Ticky at 2:03 AM on March 8, 2021 [1 favorite]

or filling the egg cartons on one side with rags or foam if you're really keen, and putting a blanket or something over the wall and/or over the cartons as well

I'm guessing that one of the very few things worse than having to live in a noisy apartment would be having to live in a noisy apartment that's at least four times as likely to catch fire. Don't bother with the egg cartons.

Wall treatments you apply will be effective to the extent that they're both dense and floppy. Two millimetre lead sheeting with an airgap back to the wall is the canonical soundproofing material for this reason but you probably don't want to turn your apartment into an EPA cleanup site either.

By far your cheapest option is to let the sound into your apartment but keep it out of your ears; noise cancelling ear buds will let you pipe phone sound, TV sound, Zoom sound and music through them while keeping your neighbour firmly out. If you're not able to wear those then what you need to apply to your walls is the heaviest, floppiest sheet material you can lay your hands on, but it will cost you a lot more than a decent pair of canceller buds and work nowhere near as well.
posted by flabdablet at 2:44 AM on March 8, 2021 [1 favorite]

I can't wear headphones 24 hours a day, unfortunately. I want to be able to watch TV, do yoga, talk on the phone, work, etc.

I've got endless, super-loud construction noise, loud street noise, and sometimes loud neighbors. I also like to have my windows open, so even if it were possible to affordably insulate my place, it wouldn't solve the problem.

So I wear ear plugs much of the time - often when watching TV too; they don't actually block out all sound, just dampen it and get rid of background sounds, so the volume doesn't have to be that high either, at least for me. (I can actually have a conversation with a person standing near me while wearing ear plugs.) For things like talking on the phone, doing work meetings, or listening to music, I use good earphones that block some noise.

It can be annoying to have stuff in my ears all the time, but it's not that big a deal and it does help in the grand project of preserving my sanity. It did take a few tries to find ear plugs and earphones that were both comfortable and effective.
posted by trig at 3:05 AM on March 8, 2021 [1 favorite]

There's a fire-resistant building panel that uses wood shavings and cement - wood wool. A record shop of my youth was entirely lined in it - that space had a muffled dead acoustic feel that I've seldom felt in a building.
Wood wool is a lovely material, but it doesn't protect against outside noise, it muffles noise within a space. It's also a bit of a hassle to work with. It could be effective if you can get airspace between the wall and your wood wool, so the sound is muffled in that space. Build a frame that creates a distance from the parting wall of a couple of inches and then mount the wood wool panels on that. It could be enough to do it around the door. It's probably not more expensive than good curtains, but many people won't find it as attractive.
In the same vein: if you use books as mufflers, you want the spines of the books to be flush with the front of the shelves, so you create a complex geometry behind the books, that geometry is what does the job. It looks more orderly too.
posted by mumimor at 3:45 AM on March 8, 2021 [1 favorite]

This product is what we specify for sound control in new construction: dbsoundcontrol.

Go to "sound control for walls". It's designed to have a layer of drywall on top of it, bit you may be able to live with it as is. Use heavy duty staples to install it. The stuff is heavy and awkward to install, so plan to have a helper. I've spoken with their tech guru and several years ago, they're pretty open to questions, too.
posted by mightshould at 4:34 AM on March 8, 2021 [1 favorite]

Get some rope caulk and jam it into the crack all the way around that door, and make sure there's no gap at the bottom. You say it's poorly painted shut; this will help. Rope caulk is like putty and you don't need a caulk gun to apply it and you can just peel it up and throw it away when you move. You can also run it along the baseboard of that entire wall if there's any kind of gap at the floor.

I recently got an exterior door replaced - going from the 100-year old door with gaps so big around the sides that I could see daylight to a well-sealed door has made the house SO QUIET. I always assumed the street noise was coming through the windows and walls but sound really does like to find those air gaps and if you can fill them, it may help more than you think. Rope caulk is certainly cheap enough that it's worth a shot.

Another option might be these felt wall tiles or similar. I assume they are more for dampening sound within a room, not noise coming from elsewhere, but they come in pretty colors so you could at least make that wall nice to look at - and take them with you when you move.
posted by misskaz at 4:39 AM on March 8, 2021 [2 favorites]

Emphasizing corey flood's point: if you have bookshelves, move them onto the shared wall. I'd also cover the door with a heavy mover's blanket (I agree that putting nails just above the door frame would be hidden, and also spackle-able if needed). Do that, and cover the rest of the wall with bookshelves
posted by gideonfrog at 5:09 AM on March 8, 2021 [2 favorites]

(In college one year we lived in an oooold building, and the walls were suuuper thin. The room next to ours was a single, and when that person had sex our bunked beds would sway. Afterwards we could smell their cigarette smoke coming through the poorly-built divider wall. It was like a bad joke except that we lived there -- so I feel your pain.)

Filling gaps will help: can you hang heavy fabric or a mover's blanket over the door?

Using something heavy to serve as a "mass damper" should also help muffle the noise being propagated through the wall.
posted by wenestvedt at 6:45 AM on March 8, 2021

Response by poster: Thanks everyone! I picked up a mover's blanket today and will get some of that rope caulk to run around the edges of the door.

The shared wall is in the kitchen and bathroom so unfortunately can't put a bookcase/books against it. But I'm hopeful about trying the rest of the suggestions. Something here has to work!
posted by silverstatue at 11:02 AM on March 8, 2021 [1 favorite]

My INSANELY picky audio engineer ex absolutely swears by these Sony noise-cancelling earbuds. He says they're very comfortable to wear for long periods, they sound GREAT (I can't believe he said this about earbuds), and that the built-in noise cancellation software is AMAZING and he can't hear loud construction right next to him once it kicks in.

Given that soundproofing is nigh on impossible, if it were me, I'd resign myself to living in super-nice earbuds for my movies, yoga, music, phone, etc. for awhile. Not sure if the noise cancelling works when there's nothing playing?
posted by nosila at 1:25 PM on March 8, 2021 [4 favorites]

Try brown noise or deep red noise instead of white noise. Personally I've found those lower pitches to be much better at blocking out noise from neighbors. There are 8+ hour long tracks on YouTube.
posted by Jacqueline at 8:42 PM on March 8, 2021

I can't wear headphones 24 hours a day, unfortunately. I want to be able to watch TV, do yoga, talk on the phone, work, etc

I own these bluetooth hearing protection headphones. Anything that'll send out a Bluetooth signal can communicate with them, so I use them for work meetings (they also have a mic) and to listen to podcasts while washing dishes or mowing the yard. So they may well work for a lot of those uses. (I should've done this years ago, honestly -- cranking up the volume to drown out other noise is bad for your hearing!)

I wonder if the ones that are more in the $60 range might be slightly more comfortable. These squeeze my head a bit tight. You can also find ones that are more of the in-ear style that also provide heading protection and Bluetooth.
posted by slidell at 9:30 PM on March 8, 2021


Can you clarify about those "construction-quality headphones, which apparently blocked all noise"?

I have trouble sleeping and am easily woken by outside noise but haven't found any over-the-ear hearing protection (including construction brands) that works better than in-ear foam earplugs, which are helpful but still let all sorts of noise through.
posted by sindark at 9:29 AM on March 10, 2021

Finally thought of the term! A baffle! Specifically a ceiling baffle.Sounds like what you are looking for. Quick google found these. Pricey but I wonder if a much cheaper alternative would work?
posted by zerobyproxy at 2:20 PM on March 10, 2021

Ceiling baffles, like acoustic foam wall treatments, exist to prevent reverberation within a room, not to block sound coming in from outside it; neither will do squat for the latter.
posted by flabdablet at 3:43 PM on March 10, 2021 [1 favorite]

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