How to Soundproof a Wall

How to Soundproof a Wall

There’s nothing worse than sitting down to watch your favorite show after a long day, only to hear your kids practicing their instruments from their bedroom or your husband firing up the power tools in the garage–even though you’ve got three or four walls between you and the source of all that noise!

Unfortunately, because of how our homes are built – especially for our interior walls – that nightmare scenario is all too often a reality for most of us.

Wouldn’t it be nice, though, to effectively soundproof a wall (or half a dozen of them) so that you never had to worry about that again?

Wouldn’t it be great to muffle all of those sounds completely? Getting a little more peace and quiet, insulating sound to a handful of rooms, and guaranteeing that you (and the neighbors) don’t have to worry about it any longer?

Well, you’re in luck!

Throughout the rest of this detailed guide we are going to break down exactly how to soundproof a wall, taking two distinct approaches.

We are going to show you how to peel back layers of your walls and rebuild them from scratch (all from a sound insulating standpoint first and foremost).

But then we are also going to show you how to build up layers of sound deadening and dampening solutions if you don’t feel like taking your walls apart.

No matter what, by the time you finish this guide, you’ll have a great idea of how to get the peace you’re after without a lot of headache or hassle moving forward.

Ready to jump right in?

Let’s do this!

Tools and Materials You’ll Need to Soundproof a Wall

Before we get into the nuts and bolts of actually soundproofing your walls, it’s important to go over some of the tools and materials you’re going to need when you tackle this kind of project.

On the tool side of things, it’s a good idea to have the following on hand:

  • Measuring tape
  • Hammer
  • Reciprocating saw
  • Drywall saw
  • Razor knives
  • Drywall finishing/taping tools
  • Cordless screw gun
  • Caulk gun
  • Dust masks
  • Garbage bags
  • Good gloves

As far as materials are concerned, whether or not your opening walls to rebuild them or just building out your sound dampening layers on top of existing construction, you’ll want:

  • Half-inch plywood materials
  • Half-inch to 5/8 inch drywall material
  • Sound dampening panels
  • Mass loaded vinyl materials
  • Sound dampening curtains or blankets
  • Sound dampening caulk/adhesives
  • Cellulose insulation or recycled fabric insulation
  • Fiberglas insulation
  • Sound resilient channels
  • Door and window gaskets
  • Joint compound and drywall tape

Those are plenty of materials to give you a nearly soundproof wall, whether you’re working on the interior or the exterior walls of your property.

You may not need all of those tools or all of those materials (depending on how you’re going to move forward). But it’s not a bad idea to have as many on hand as possible to get the results you are looking for.

Now that we’ve squared all of that away, let’s get into actually soundproofing your home!

  1. Finding Your Sound “Leaks”
  2. Strip and Fill or Patch and Build Out?
  3. Filling Space
  4. Sealing Gaps
  5. Installing Acoustic Paneling
  6. Finishing Walls
  7. Tackling Windows and Doors

Step One: Finding Your Sound “Leaks”

wall whole

Before you do absolutely anything, it’s mission critical that you really understand the “lay of the land” in your space to know where the most disruptive noises are coming from and where they are leaking out into other spaces.

There’s a world of difference between trying to block ambient noise (like conversations in a living room, for example) and trying to block out super loud sounds like music from instruments, sound from entertainment systems, or the sounds of power tools being used in the garage.

Ambient noise, for example, is almost always going to generate mid to high frequencies that travel through the air really efficiently.

Those kinds of frequencies can be nullified with a more minimalist approach to soundproofing, compared to “impact noise” that has the potential to move through your windows, your walls, and your doors at extremely low or extremely high frequencies.

Those extreme frequencies generate really active vibrations, and they can be a beast to get a handle on.

Finding the most common source of the sound you’re looking to eliminate or insulate is a gigantic piece of the puzzle.

Only after you have a good handle on that will you know whether or not you need to deaden vibrations moving through the air or if you have to do something a little more drastic. Sometimes it takes some extreme measures- to cut down on vibrations moving aggressively through the sound pathways of your home.

Step Two: Strip and Fill or Patch and Build Out?

insulate wall 1 1

The next thing you’re going to need to settle on is whether or not you are going to strip your walls down to the studs to build them back up with sound dampening materials or just add sound dampening solutions to your already finished walls.

Stripping things “down to the bones” can provide a more complete and consistent result, but it’s inevitably going to be a more expensive approach for sure.

It’s also a lot more time-consuming and will require some special skills and some special tools.

The odds are pretty good you’ll also uncover issues that have nothing to do with sound dampening that you’ll want (or need) to resolve once you peel drywall or plaster off of your walls.

On the flip side of things, adding sound dampening material to your walls without starting from scratch will take less time, usually take less money, and will often solve most of your issues – but then again, it might not.

You might only get 75% of the sound blocking results you were hoping for while spending a decent amount of money and time on results that you aren’t crazy over.

It all comes down to your specific situation. Only you will know whether or not you have the time or inclination to do some serious demolition and renovation yourself or hand the project off to qualified professionals that will knock it out for you.

For now, though, let’s assume that you have decided to peel back your walls down to the studs and are going to build out soundproof solutions from there.

We’ll tackle adding sound dampening solutions to your walls without touching them in just a little.

Step Three: Filling Space

fill wall 1 1

After peeling back the layers of drywall or plaster on your walls and getting down to the studs, it’s time to start filling up some space, regardless of whether or not you’re looking at exterior or interior walls.

If your home is of modern construction, the odds are pretty good that your exterior walls are already filled with fiberglass insulation.

That’s good news! It’ll help speed up the sound suppression project from now on for sure.

If your home is a little older, though, you might deal with “blown in” insulation – or no insulation!

In those situations, you’re going to want to add cellulose insulation, recycled fabric insulation, or some sort of fiberglass insulation throughout the framing bays.

This is a pretty straightforward process that anyone can do without a lot of experience, and it’s (generally) a pretty inexpensive project as well.

If you’re dealing with interior walls, though, the odds are that there’s absolutely no insulation in between these bays. That’s totally normal – but those are gaps you’ll want to fill, too.

The idea here is to eliminate the space that sound vibrations can travel through efficiently. By putting a bit of extra mass in these gaps you’re lowering the transmission of vibrations, deadening and dampening sounds at the same time.

It will not be enough to kill sound transmission completely, but it’s going to make a world of difference all the same.

Step Four: Sealing Gaps

acoustic caulk

The next thing you want to do is get your hands on a high-quality sound dampening or acoustic caulk material that you can use to fill in any gaps between your insulation and the framing itself.

Some people like expanding foam insulation because it produces a solid barrier that also has pretty decent insulative properties.

But you have to be a little careful with this stuff – especially if you don’t have a lot of experience using it under your belt already.

Sure, expanding foam can fill a space pretty quickly (especially interior walls). But it’s also going to expand a lot faster than you might expect, and for a lot longer than you expect as well.

The last thing you want to do is spray all the bays of your interior walls with expanding foam only to seal them up with a bit of drywall before the foam has finished expanding – just to have the foam pop your drywall off or blow holes in your walls a day or two later.

It’s a better idea to use some other type of insulative material first and then go back and with a bit of caulk or sound dampening foam to fill in the gaps.

A bit goes a long way, that’s for sure!

Step Five: Installing Acoustic Paneling

Acoustic Panels

The last thing you’re going to want to do before closing up your walls is to add acoustic paneling against the insulative material, especially if you’re working on your interior walls.

These materials should be left out of exterior walls (only because you really need the insulation to do its primary job of keeping your home warm in the winter and cool in the summer with exterior walls). But interior walls can have acoustic paneling components cut and fit to run through the bays before the walls are drywalled with no ill effects, though.

You’re simply adding even more mass that sound vibrations have to move forward with this approach.

And because you are doing it on inside of your walls you can leave a space pretty “untouched” to the naked eye while still getting amazing soundproofing results at the same time.

That’s a big bonus when you go to sell a property, that’s for sure!

Step Six: Finishing Walls

drywall

The overwhelming majority of folks soundproofing their walls are going to want to drywall out everything after they’ve gone through the steps above.

Before you tackle this work, though, you’ll need to decide how you’re going to drywall things and whether or not you should be adding to layers of drywall to get even better soundproofing results.

Some folks are going to be able to get away with using 5/8 inch drywall on top of all the sound deadening solutions we highlighted above.

Others, though, might want to go with two layers of quarter inch drywall or half-inch drywall to really lock and those sound eliminating benefits.

At the end of the day, you’re going to want to add at least one solid layer of drywall on top of everything else you have put into your walls to cut down on noise transmission.

With exterior walls, adding thicker layers of drywall can add some insulative properties that help with energy efficiency throughout your home. Not a bad little side benefit, that’s for sure.

With interior walls, though, you can get away with thinner drywall – though it’s not a bad idea to think about which walls are connecting which rooms and how you want to deaden sound in one area or another.

For example, use thicker drywall to surround a home theater room or the family room to make sure that sound doesn’t leak out from those spaces into bedrooms or other common spaces.

Other rooms can have thinner sheets of drywall used, slowing down noise transmission but not blocking it completely. Rooms like bedrooms and bathrooms that aren’t going to have a lot of noise coming out of them (generally) are good candidates for this less expensive approach.

A lot of this comes down to good old-fashioned common sense and just sort of thinking through what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and how you can best move forward.

Anyway, after the walls have all been drywalled you can go back through with your taping tools to finish things out.

Truth be told, if you have ripped out a lot of walls and need to do a lot of taping it’s not a bad idea to hire this kind of work out.

Finishing walls isn’t a lot of fun and does require a bit of an expert touch to make everything look seamless.

You could spend hours and hours trying to knock this project out on your own – taping, sanding, and taping some more – or you could spend a bit of money and have real professionals knock it out for you and record time (and with better results).

It all depends on what kind of budget you’re working with and your taping skills, though!

Step Seven: Tackling Windows and Doors

window

The last thing you’ll want to do to really eliminate sound leakage in your home is buffer your windows and your doors.

Sound dampening gaskets can be attached to your door, sealing it in place when it is closed. This will do a lot to prevent any sound transmission through the gaps that are necessary to allow the door to operate.

These gaskets attach directly to the outside edges of your doors, making for a really easy install. You don’t have to worry about replacing doors or adding anything permanently. The gaskets basically slide on and off while still offering a lot of protection against sound leakage.

As for your windows, some sound dampening curtains or acoustic tiles that are cut custom to fit over the windows can also be applied if you really need to eliminate all sound leakage completely.

Truth be told, though, if you’re looking to have natural light in a space and sound dampening at the same time you’ll either need to invest in “soundproof” windows (that cost a small fortune) or learn to live with the tiny bit of sound transmission.

Sound tiles cut to fit the window openings will give you halfway decent results. Just know that putting them up and taking them down every time you want to use them becomes annoying in a hurry.

Soundproofing Walls Without Demolition

wall

If you don’t want to demo your walls, bringing them down to the studs, and then rebuild them back with soundproofing materials inside, you’ll still have a couple of options to get significant results all the same.

Obviously, you’ll get a little more sound transmission with these solutions than you would start from scratch all over again.

But most of these options are a lot more cost effective, a lot easier to DIY, and can often give you 80% or more of the same results without as much disruption to your permanent structures.

Let’s jump right in.

Blown In Insulation

Blown In Insulation

Blown in insulation is (typically) used in older homes, mostly homes that were built before traditional insulation was made available and have a lot of energy leakage through exterior walls.

The process for having blown in insulation installed is simple and straightforward, though it’s something that you are (likely) going to want to contract out to real experts.

First, small holes are cut into the exterior walls of your home – holes big enough to fit hoses that will blow in the insulation to begin with.

These holes are going to be cut to each framing bay, at the top of each bay, and material will then be pumped into the walls until the bay completely filled.

After that, the holes are covered up with a bit of wood or siding material and made to look like they weren’t even made in the first place.

Most of the time, this insulation is of the cellulose or blown fiberglass varieties.

These materials aren’t necessarily the best at insulating sound (they are designed with energy and temperature control in mind, after all) but they’ll do a great job compared to hollow walls that transmit sound vibrations easily.

Of course, if you have the budget you can also spring for more dense insulation materials – like recycled denim, for example – to get both thermal and energy control benefits as well as significantly better sound dampening results.

Again, this is really something you need to talk to your contractor about.

They may or may not even be able to get their hands on this kind of insulation for you. It’s always a good idea to ask!

You might also want to request that they blow in insulation in a handful of your interior walls, too.

The process is the same as with exterior walls, though this time they’ll be cutting through drywall and not your exterior siding. That’ll make the patching process a lot easier.

This can get expensive in a hurry, though, which is why you want to be sure that you are only blowing insulation into strategically located interior walls that maximize the sound dampening effects.

Extra Layers of Drywall

drywall layer 1

Another route you can go with that works particularly well to eliminate sound transmission is simply add extra layers of drywall to walls that have already been finished.

An extra half inch layer of drywall isn’t going to break your bank account the way that completely ripping things down and rebuilding them will.

It can add a tremendous amount of extra mass to dampen and deaden sound transmission, though.

There are really two different approaches to add extra layers of drywall to your existing walls when sound dampening is the main focus.

You can simply layer over on top of the existing drywall with a bit of decent glue and some drywall screws or nails – sticking the new panels directly to the old ones.

Or, if you want to improve the soundproofing effectiveness a little more, you can add furring strips to the existing walls to bump out the new drywall just a little.

Then run acoustic mats, mass loaded vinyl materials (MLV), or a bit of acoustic caulk between the furring strips and then drywall over the last.

Now you’re rocking and rolling!

That approach creates a bit of a “dead zone” between the two layers of drywall (the previous layer and the new one), trapping sound vibrations and killing them quite effectively at the same time.

Sound Deadening Paint

paint

Sound deadening paint is a little “controversial” when it comes to soundproofing spaces.

Some people feel like it makes a world of difference, dramatically reducing the amount of sound transmission into and out of spaces that have been painted with this material.

Other folks, though, feel like it only treats mid-level frequencies and allows lows and highs to transmit freely – and a lot of the science behind the chemistry in sound dampening paint backs that up.

At the same time, most sound dampening paints are (relatively) affordable and easy to apply. They aren’t ever going to hurt your quest to soundproof a wall, that’s for sure, and will always add at least some sound proofing to your space.

If you are going to use this material, though, it’s important that you follow these specific tips and tricks:

For starters, it’s never a bad idea to “texture” your wall before you start to apply this paint.

Take a drywall knife and just start adding drywall compound to your wall, adding texture and mass directly to the drywall itself. Randomized patterns work best, especially those that stay a little “sharp” to redirect and breakup sound vibrations as they hit the wall itself.

Sound dampening paint has a bit of texture to it as well, producing a speckled or raised surface. Combine that with the textured wall that you are painting in the first place, and you’ll be able to neutralize a lot more sound than you would have been able to otherwise.

Secondly, make sure that you are applying multiple coats – heavy coats – of sound dampening paint to your walls.

You want to roll things on very thick, give the paint plenty of time to dry and cure, and then you want to rollout at least two or three other layers – rinsing and repeating the process deliberately.

The more coats you apply the more substantial the impact will be, with three coats really be recommended “minimum”.

Finally, it’s important that you do not try to tent your sound dampening paint with darker colors.

Because of the hyperpigmentation content of the paint itself you’ll end up messing with the underlying chemistry that actually creates the sound dampening results you are after if you add extra pigmentation into the mix.

Lighter colors (including pastel colors) can be experimented with as long as you keep overall pigmentation levels low.

The darker you go (and the more pigment you add), the worse your sound dampening results are going to be with this kind of paint.

Exterior Acoustic Paneling

Acoustic foam

Exterior acoustic paneling (those foam blocks you’ve probably seen on every picture of a professional music studio ever taken) can make a world of difference when you’re looking to soundproof a space without tearing down your walls and rebuilding them from scratch.

Specifically designed to absorb sound as much as possible, acoustic paneling was conceived down as a way to eliminate every bit of ambient sound from a recording space as possible – leaving only the direct sound from vocals or instrumentation to a microphone untouched.

After a little bit of experimentation, though, experts discovered that acoustic paneling was so effective at absorbing sound that it could “deaden” a space completely. This ended up creating a space that was kind of uncomfortable to be and, truth be told.

Today, acoustic paneling is designed to absorb quite a bit of sound but it’s also designed to diffuse and deflect sound as well.

Companies that make acoustic paneling options recommend a mixture of sound deadening and sound diffusing panels. Many of them even offer custom design services that help you mix and match the right panels – in the right spaces – to get the exact results you are looking for.

The right acoustic treatments with these panels can totally transform how sound is transmitted inside of a space.

If you want to absorb all sound completely, there are options to do that for sure (essentially creating a “silent space” with no – or almost no – sound transmission beyond its borders), though most decide to do at least a little diffusion and deflection as well.

Installing acoustic panels is super simple. Most of the time it’s just like hanging a picture, with mounting hardware included.

Hanging Soundproof Curtains or Blankets

Soundprrof curtain

Another temporary way to eliminate a lot of sound transmission in a space is to get your hands on quality soundproofing curtains or blankets. Just hang them from the ceiling and run them down the length of your walls, creating that extra buffer zone.

Soundproof curtains really aren’t “soundproof”, but instead are sound absorbing options that work similarly to the acoustic panels we mentioned a moment ago.

Made out of very heavy, very dense, and incredibly textured materials – usually with pleating, panels, and all kinds of surface angles to kill sound vibrations the second that they hit the panel itself – the beauty of using these to quiet down a room is that they are very inexpensive, easy to use, and easy to take down when needed.

Most people choose to mount these on shower rod-like hanging brackets, allowing for them to be deployed as necessary and then pulled into one corner of a space or another when you don’t need them.

These curtains and blankets won’t cut down on all sound transmission completely, but they will definitely quiet spaces far more effectively than a lot of the other temporary solutions you might choose when you don’t want to knock down your walls.

One of the other enormous benefits of these blankets and curtains is that they are available in so many colors and styles.

You won’t have any trouble finding options that fit the look you are after, options that go with pretty much any aesthetic you are shooting for, and options that class up a space rather than detract from the overall look of your room.

You can even customize the look of these blankets and curtains if you’d like. You’ll need some sewing skills (as well as some equipment and fabric), but throwing a cover over either of these two options that customize at their look won’t compromise the effectiveness of their sound dampening capabilities at all.

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