How To Sound-Proof a Room?
May 2, 2007 1:15 AM   Subscribe

How can I regain my privacy wrt telephone conversations in a shared house?

I share a house with two other people. All in all we get along well. However, occasionally I need privacy on the telephone when talking to my family.

In these instances I usually retire to my room and shut the door firmly. I thought this was working till one person made three very distinct comments that made me realise he could hear my conversations.

The house is a typical UK semi-detached house with three bedrooms on the upper floor. I have the "box-room" so one wall is a partition wall between my room and another. The other wall points into the common area. The last two walls are outward-bound. The walls are thin. I can hear them having muffled conversations in their room.

The door is sturdy hardwood. My phone hardware is a normal telephone handset.

I do my best in terms of keeping my voice down but this is obviously not enough. Other things I considered were going outside (impractical in the winter), going downstairs (impractical when others are downstairs) or making the call when they aren't home (impractical as I'm at work too). These calls can sometimes last upto one hour and are usually twice a week or so.

Short of jumping into the bed and putting the duvet on my head I can't think of anything else I can do. I'm looking for suggestions to make the room more sound-proof without any drastic changes as the landlord would never allow that. Any hardware , eg super-sensitive phones is also good.

Failing that I guess I'd have to move out.
posted by gadha to Grab Bag (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Work on a bit of recorded audio quiet enough to let you listen to your family but loud and acoustically desruptive enough to mask your talking. Maybe you play some other talking, like this? And start looking for a new place to live regardless -- even if you work out a perfect solution for the problem you describe, these don't sound like people you want to spend part of your life living with.
posted by gum at 1:27 AM on May 2, 2007

TV on in the background has (hopefully) worked for me in similar situations. A bookcase or other furnishing up against that wall should help muffle sound a little. Is initiating the phone call in your room just as your roommates sit down to start watching a show or movie in some room not adjacent to yours an option? I guess you wouldn't be asking if you felt comfortable asking them something like this, but it would be cool if you bring it up with them---something like how you hate that the house has thin walls and feel like you can't really have a private phone call because of this...if they agree, or you guys become open enough about it, maybe they could play music in that room next door while you're talking? Sorry if that sounds ridiculous but I can imagine it working with people who can really talk to each other about stuff.
posted by PY at 1:39 AM on May 2, 2007

i remember reading an article somewhere that said the best way to cancel out your voice is with the sound of your own voice... so make a recording of yourself reading something and loop it. i don't know how well this actually works, but it seemed like a good idea when i read about it.
posted by hummercash at 2:51 AM on May 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

Sounds like your flatmate making comments is a bit of an eejit - if someone's not raising their voice in a typical UK house (i.e. plasterboard walls), you do have to kind of strain to hear things, i.e. use a cup, stand close to your door.

I'd move out.
posted by Happy Dave at 3:00 AM on May 2, 2007

Figure out where they are when they can hear you... is the common area a living room type space, or is it just a hallway? Often the door is the weak point when it comes to sound proofing, and if the common area is a place where people hang out then you can get a lot of mileage by stuffing a towel under the door. Another weak spot may be windows, if you leave yours even cracked and they have theirs open the sound goes right out and around and back in. If you're sure it's straight through the walls, though, wall hangings are good, see this previous question. Also this and this... Remember to do a test run by recording yourself and then playing it back while you stand outside, especially if you have a low pitched voice, it's amazing how sound carries.

Anyway, they may not be jerks, they may just be unsure of how to tell you that your audible phone sex or family argument private conversation is bothering them....and currently they're in the "hinting" stage. (Which is admittedly not the best way to approach it, but...see previous questions about how to tell room mates that their private behavior is not so private, and be glad they haven't started banging on the door.)
posted by anaelith at 3:07 AM on May 2, 2007

An effective answer may be simpler than you think. All handset type telephones inject a certian amount of sidetone, and telephone users perceive inadequate sidetone as a subconcious cue to speak louder. Some handsets, especially electronic ones (including cordless ones), include "volume" controls that allow you to increase the apparent levels of sound you get from the phone, to accomodate noisy room conditions, etc. Try a louder setting, and you may find you are unconciously speaking much more quietly, as your ear is getting more than enough sidetone of your own voice.

Also, if you are using telephones with short form factors, or cell phones with small body dimensions, be sure your normal way of holding the phone doesn't impede the tiny holes for the microphone. You may find that a headset is worth the money, too, simply for doing a better job of picking up your voice at quieter speech levels.
posted by paulsc at 5:45 AM on May 2, 2007

is the problem that they're overhearing stuff you wish they wouldn't, or that they're annoyed at hearing your conversation?

in living with others people are bound to overhear things they shouldn't. most people are polite enough to pretend they didn't hear it.

you have a right to have a normal-toned conversation in the privacy of your own room. the flatmate who made it clear they a) not only could hear you, but also b) were actively listening is beyond rude.

i don't think you're obligated to carry on conversations under the duvet just for someone else's benefit.

i have no suggestions for phones, but i'd consider getting better-mannered flatmates.
posted by wayward vagabond at 6:38 AM on May 2, 2007

put a cheap fan right by the door and turn it on when you are on the phone. It adds just enough dissonance to make anything inbetween unintelligible and it won't affect your conversation.
posted by any major dude at 7:23 AM on May 2, 2007

Soundproofing is really hard to do effectively. I wouldn't even bother.

Putting on background noise is the most effective solution, especially voices (ie Eastenders). You should also be aware of the direction you're facing when talking—simply turning around while talking, maybe facing the window rather than a wall, can make a difference.

Making calls while sitting under a duvet?
posted by humblepigeon at 7:26 AM on May 2, 2007

You can get white noise CDs that are for relaxation that should do very well to add generic interference.
posted by Rhomboid at 11:45 AM on May 2, 2007

after doing a little research i found the article i was talking about here.

also check out this site for more info.
posted by hummercash at 12:24 PM on May 2, 2007

As humblepigeon stated, effectively soundproofing a room is really hard.

You could try burnining a CD of white or pink noise and looping that while you're on the phone.

There is also the Revenge CD, which is rather amusing, though you'd probably want to be careful which track you played while on the phone.
posted by jjb at 3:36 PM on May 2, 2007

If you have vents, close them for the duration of your call, or set something on them. When I was a teenager, my mom's bed was on the same wall as her bedroom vent, and my late-night calls bothered her. She moved her bed to another wall, problem solved.
posted by IndigoRain at 9:27 PM on May 3, 2007

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