How to Block Out Drilling Noise in an Apartment

My neighbors were recently doing some DIY in their home and it got me wondering how to block out drilling noise. If you’ve experienced the same problem, there are a few options.

The best ways to block out drilling noise are getting noise cancelling headphones, masking the noise with white noise, wearing earplugs and insulating windows.

How to Block Out Drilling Noise

I’ll go into these in more detail below. But first I’ll talk about the specific problems you face when trying to block out drilling noise.

Also read: How To Block Freeway Noise From Entering Your Home

Why are Drills so Annoying?

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Drilling is a loud – and often annoying – process. We probably all know that the process of drilling is defined as mechanically boring a hole into an object, often with a power tool.

The process creates a lot of noise as a waste product. Creating a hole in the material, particularly something like masonry or stone, requires large amounts of rotational energy, and much of this is lost as sound and heat.

While the process itself is noisy, it’s made worse by the material being drilled. For example, wood is fairly soft and so can be drilled easily. Masonry, stone, and metal, however, are hard and the process is much louder.

For these harder materials, you have to use a hammer drill. This uses the standard rotational movement but combines it with rapid forwards/backwards movement to gradually chip away at the material.

The result is a lot more vibrational energy, which becomes sound waves. If someone is drilling into a brick wall, for example, these sound waves can radiate out in all directions as the drill’s waste energy vibrates through the building’s structure.

This means that you can hear the sound of a drill from quite far away in a building, particularly the lower frequencies. Of course, the closer you are to the source, the louder and more annoying this’ll be.

It’s no secret that the sound of drilling can be annoying, particularly if you’re trying to relax at home or if you’re trying to concentrate on work.

But the one saving grace of drilling noise is that, for the most part, it’s temporary. Even if you live next to a construction site, it’s going to end at some time.

The only situation where this won’t be the case is if you live near a factory, in which case you’ll want to consider soundproofing your home as you would against any other sort of noise pollution.

When it comes to blocking out the sound of drilling, the methods I suggest below are all designed to be temporary.

Therefore there’s very little in the way of DIY and construction, as this would generally be a waste of your time and money. It’s fair to assume that any drilling project would last days, or weeks at most.

If your drilling issue is going to last longer, consider something a bit more permanent.

How to Block Out Drilling Noise

When it comes to blocking out drilling noise, your main concern will be its proximity to your location. A closer noise source will be louder, and so will be harder to block out completely.

Also, the vibrational energy traveling through your building will be difficult to block out completely unless you plan on insulating your home with concrete or something similar.

These suggestions are all designed to be temporary and not too invasive, meaning they should be quick and easy to put in place whenever the drilling starts.

1. Buy some Noise Cancelling Headphones 

noise cancelling headphones

The first suggestion is to try and block out the noise for yourself, rather than soundproofing the environment around you.

For this, it’s worth giving noise cancelling headphones (Amazon link) a go.

They’re different from standard noise isolating headphones (or noise reducing) because they rely on active technology, rather than passive.

By this, I mean that noise reducing headphones don’t have any extra components, whereas noise cancelling headphones do.

Noise reducing headphones will usually just have padded ear covers to reduce the amount of noise that makes it through.

On the other hand, noise cancelling headphones have built-in microphones.

These detect low-frequency noise pollution (such as drilling noise) and “cancel” it before it reaches your ear.

They do this by emitting a sound that’s phase inverted by 180 degrees.

In simple terms, a sound wave is just that: a wave. It has peaks and valleys (compression and rarefaction).

The active noise cancelling technology produces a sound wave with the same amplitude but with opposite peaks and valleys.

Together, these form a new wave, officially known as destructive interference.

Noise cancelling headphones should be fairly useful against the sound of drilling, but they might not completely eliminate it.

That said, they should provide you with enough peace to relax or get some work done.

2. Mask the drilling noise with white noise

Rather than block out the drilling noise, another option is to mask it. This should be possible with a white noise machine (Amazon link).

White noise is simply defined as a constant noise that masks unwanted or jarring noise pollution.

It’s basically the audio version of TV static. While a drill will produce sounds at certain frequencies, white noise covers every frequency that’s audible to the human ear.

A suitable alternative for blocking out drilling noise would be a pink noise machine (Amazon link).

Pink noise, in simple terms, is white noise but with the higher frequencies turned down. It focuses more on low frequency sounds, which would be applicable here.

It’s designed for people with tinnitus who might need to block out low frequency noises, but would be suitable in this situation.

Bear in mind, using a white (or pink) noise machine won’t completely block out drilling noise. But providing your machine goes loud enough, it should do a good job of covering up the major annoyance of someone using a drill.

3. Wear earplugs

Generally speaking, earplugs shouldn’t be your first option when it comes to blocking out noise. More than anything, they can damage your ears if you wear them for too long.

But for something like blocking out drilling noise, earplugs can be worth a go. It’s likely you’ll only have to wear them for a few hours at a time, so damage shouldn’t be a concern.

For this purpose I’d recommend going for earplugs designed for shooting or concerts. These molded earplugs (Amazon link) are for use when shooting, so they’re ideal for loud, lower frequency noises.

Much like white noise machines, earplugs aren’t designed to completely block out unwanted noises. Instead, they lessen the intensity to a bearable degree that won’t damage your eardrums.

4. Insulate your windows

Insulate your windows

If the drilling noise is coming from outside, rather than in your building, insulating your windows will be a good option.

Of course, double-glazed windows are a must. They’re much more effective at reducing unwanted noise because of the air cavity between the glass panes.

But it’s not worth replacing your windows completely just to block out some drilling noise.

One option is to add plexiglass window sheets. These are clear sheets of plastic that can be stuck to your existing windows to add mass and make them thicker.

Adding a few sheets of Perspex should make a reasonable difference to the level of noise transfer through the window, but will be more effective for sounds that are farther away.

Another option is to build a window plug. This is basically a mass rich box that you fit over the window to reduce sound transmission.

The benefit is that you can fit it whenever needed without using invasive methods.

But the downside is that it’ll completely block out light when it’s in place, although this is a small price to pay for reduced noise pollution.

To build a window plug you’ll need the following:

It’s fairly easy to build a window plug. Follow these steps:

  1. Measure the hole that your window sits in, not the window itself.
  2. Make sure you get an accurate measurement for the height, width, and depth.
  3. Cut a piece of wood the size of the hole’s height and width, and 4 pieces the same width as the hole’s depth. These will be the sides of your plug.
  4. Cut out some mass loaded vinyl and acoustic foam the same size as the largest piece of wood.
  5. Fix the 4 sides to the back piece so you have an open box design. Seal all the gaps with Green Glue.
  6. Stick down the layer of mass loaded vinyl. You can add more than one if you want.
  7. Stick a layer of acoustic foam over the top.
  8. Fit into the window frame with the soundproofing materials facing the window.

Fitting one of these plugs on each of your windows will make a considerable difference to the amount of noise that can transfer through them.

Some Final Thoughts

Hopefully, this guide has given you some tips on how to block out drilling noise.

The most important thing to remember is that they only need to be temporary fixes, as drilling noise won’t last that long.

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