7 Ways To Soundproofing A Ceiling That Really Work


how to soundproof a ceiling
Stock Photo of Soundproofing A Ceiling

It is almost impossible to have a quiet home when your roof is someone’s floor.

You have to find ways to soundproof that ceiling or else you are asking for more sleepless nights.

Living downstairs in an apartment building or even your own home can become a nightmare when you have noisy neighbors.

Those neighbors could be tenants like yourself or members of your family.

Thankfully, with the emergence of soundproofing, you can choose not to endure this nightmare. Soundproofing is an affordable, effective procedure for keeping the noise out and maintaining the neighborhood peace.

The principle of soundproofing is simple. It works by reducing the ability of sound to travel between point A and point B and is realized by reduction and absorption of noise.

I opted for soundproofing of my ceiling because it solves my problem of noisy neighbors and guarantees that I equally don’t disturb others with my noise.

Types of Noise

The sounds treated by soundproofing a ceiling are impact noise and airborne noise. Other types of noise such as flanking sounds are sourced mostly from the environment and are solved by soundproofing the walls and windows.

Impact Noise

When someone drops a book or stomps their feet, the ensuing sound is called impact noise.

Impact noise makes direct contact with the floor and is transmitted via a vibration pathway of the floor structure.

Other examples of impact noise include footsteps, room and dropping dishes.

Airborne Noise

This type of noise is transmitted through the air by sound waves. It is harder to control or reduce these. Airborne noise includes loud conversations, music, crying, and cars honking.

While impact noise travels via vibration conducted straight through the drywall linked by joists from your neighbor’s floor to your ceiling, airborne noise moves through the space between the setup.

Elements of Soundproofing

To be ready to undertake a project of soundproofing the ceiling, it is necessary to be informed of vital forces that come into play.

Among this information are the elements of soundproofing. The four basic elements of soundproofing encompass the concept of blocking sound. They are;

  • Decoupling
  • Absorption
  • Mass
  • Damping

Decoupling

Literally, decoupling is the act of separating or disengaging one thing from another.

We recall that sound is a vibration of waves and this vibration requires a solid pathway or conductor to follow. In the case of our ceilings that solid path is in the form of joists or studs.

The decoupling element of soundproofing involves separating the framing in the ceiling to break the sound pathway hence reducing noise.

Recommended Read: Sound isolation clips vs resilient channel

 Absorption

soundproof insulation ceiling
Mineral wool insulation in ceiling.

As the name implies, the effect of this element is the soaking in or absorption of sound resulting in the reduction of ensuing noise. For insulation, you fill the space between the joists with an insulating material.

This material will absorb some of the vibrations but not all. Insulating materials include fiberglass, cellulose, recycled cotton, open cell foam and mineral wood.

The idea with insulation is not to fill your ceiling or compress the material but to keep the density low. It is quite specific to reducing airborne noise.

Read about my top recommendations for insulation.

 Mass

This is an essential factor of sound blocking. The principle here is to make the wall as heavy as possible because a massive wall presents more difficulty for airborne noise to penetrate.

It is however not so useful for impact noises which are transmitted through the structure. Drywall, mass loaded vinyl, plywood, OSB, cement board are examples of materials with high mass.

 Damping

Damping is accomplished using damping compounds. Damping compounds have the unique ability to convert sound to heat energy hence stopping it in its tracks.

Read all about my top recommended damping compound here.

In practice, the four basic elements are best used together. Using one or two of them cannot effectively block or reduce noise.

Hence, for a complete soundproof home or ceiling, the four elements should be used together. You can install them one at a time considering cost and opportunity.

Types of Ceilings

The next important knowledge you should have is the type of ceiling. The type of ceiling in your home determines the method, process, time and also cost of soundproofing.

The basic types of ceilings are drywall and suspended ceilings. Although different trends have led to changes in the appearance or structure of these ceilings, it is usually still one or the other.

Drywall Ceiling

Drywall is a panel made of gypsum and encased in paper. It is very different from other boards such as plywood, fiberboard, and hardboard because of its unique properties.

It also has a sound isolating property and is quite easy to remove. You can also fix them yourself.

Drywall ceilings are also the best for soundproofing. They are easy and affordable to install changes.

Suspended or Drop Ceilings

Drop ceilings are famous for their aesthetic quality. They hang from the main structural ceiling and can also be removed. Drop ceilings are designed in such a way that they offer already built-in decoupling.

However, other features such as the presence of ductwork, light fixtures, and other mechanical systems provide a pathway for sound. Insulation in a drop ceiling is not very effective.

Using other techniques makes it possible to soundproof your drop ceiling but still not as effective as you would soundproof drywall.

7   Ways To Soundproof a Ceiling

The following methods are applicable to soundproof your ceiling efficiently. But they need to be combined in different setups for a useful result.

  1. Single layer drywall.
  2. Double layer drywall.
  3. Damping compound.
  4. Hat channels and resilient soundproof clips.
  5. Floating joists.
  6. Soundproofing the floor above.
  7. Adding Underlayment to the floor above.

We will begin with the least active options and climb to the best. Please note that the STC values have been obtained from Soundproofing Company website.

Single Layer of Drywall – STC 36

A single layer of drywall is ineffective in blocking or reducing sound. The panel is light and easy for noise to vibrate through. Hence, noise transmits from the drywall to the studs, to the air cavity in the ceiling.

The option of soundproof drywall is feasible and useful. Soundproof drywalls are thick and have better soundproof quality than ordinary drywall. The downside is the cost of these walls is fairly expensive.

A sheet of drywall costs around $10 while that of a soundproof drywall cost as much as $40. This high cost makes soundproof drywalls not so popular for entire soundproofing homes.

To improve or soundproof an ordinary drywall ceiling, you can fill the ceiling space with a suitable insulating or sound-absorbent material such as fiberglass. Owen Corning R19 fiberglass is suitable or mineral wool and rockwool.

Some insulating materials like open cell Cellulose are preferably used on walls because of the application procedure. You would need a professional to use this in your ceiling.

The material is best used when it is not compressed or packed. The STC value utilizing this matrix of fiberglass and a single layer of 5/8″ drywall is 36 STC.

This method reduces airborne sound but hardly does anything for impact noise.

Double Layer of Drywall – STC 38

At 38STC this matrix is denser and does more for airborne noise. The setup is fiberglass with two layers of  5\8″ drywall.

It makes the ceiling thicker, hence creates more mass than ordinary drywall. The thicker drywall also reduces impact noise. 

Double Layer of Drywall and Green Glue Damping – 49 STC

To improve on the matrix above you can introduce Green glue damping compounds. A layer of Green Glue between the double drywall can stop airborne sound effectively. It even has more capability to reduce impact noise.

In this method, there’s hardly any need to remove the existing drywall. But, if you have not added the insulation, then you have to remove the existing drywall.

Apply the damping compound (Green Glue) according to the manufacturer’s instructions on the drywall. Next, install the second drywall over the first and screw it to the underside of the ceiling.

Caulk the perimeter with Acoustical caulk to complete the sealing process (STC value is 49STC). If you are not entirely satisfied with the effects of this, you can add third drywall for more mass and better sound reduction. Here, the STC value is 52STC.

A third drywall would mean two layers of Green Glue damping. Follow the same instructions as double drywall and one layer Green Glue above. It is highly effective and gives a sturdier ceiling

Decoupled Ceiling – 66 STC

decoupling ceiling
Decoupling with whisper clips and hat channel. Image source: greengluecompany.com

This option includes an insulated ceiling with a double layer of 5/8″ drywall and one layer of Green Glue. Decoupling is added in the form of hat channels and resilient sound clips.

First, remove the drywall from the existing ceiling. You do not fix the hat channels directly to the joists because that will impede their ability to work properly.

Use soundproofing clips to clasp the hat channels apart from the joists and drywall. Fasten them using small screws and at 10 inches apart.

Measure the joists to determine how much hat channels the ceiling would require. Next, divide the pieces using a strong cutter like a hacksaw.

Place the hat channels with the smaller flange pointing towards the roof, into the joists. The larger flange will point downwards, onto the floor.

Attach the hat channels with the soundproof clips to avoid a transfer of vibration through screws or other fasteners.

Start the process from one end of the ceiling and move forward. When you encounter a light fixture, lift the hat channel into place over it. After the decoupling procedure, fix the already prepared double layer drywall.

This matrix isolates impact noise and is a more efficient soundproofing option.

Also, note how this method contains all four elements of soundproofing. It has an effective value of 66STC.

Soundproofing the Floor Above Also – 72 STC

Here, we build on the matrix of insulation, double layer of drywall, a single layer of damping and decoupling. The changes are now effected on the floor above the ceiling.

soundproof ceilings
Image source: greengluecompany.com

First remove the drywall to expose the subflooring, on the floor above, then remove the subflooring. Apply damping compound on an installed layer of drywall (72STC).

You can improve this method by applying another layer of damping compound and a final layer of drywall. Then replace the subflooring (76STC).

Install the double layer of drywall with one layer of damping compound in between, to the ceiling below. Decouple using hat channels as explained above.

This method will ensure a completely soundproof ceiling and even less flanking noise.

Floating Ceiling Joists

Floating ceiling joists are a decoupling technique effective for reducing impact noise. This method is most feasible for drywall ceiling and not suspended because it requires your ceiling not to be filled with ductwork.

The procedure is to install a new joist between each pair of existing ceiling joist. Extend the new joists 2inches below the original joists.

Next, install insulation material in between the sets of joists. Remember not to compress or pack the insulating material as this will also be negative for the newly fixed joist.

The complete setup is effective against impact and airborne noise.

Adding Underlayment to the Floor Above

Rather than having to go through the chore of tearing out your ceiling and installing various materials, you could make simple changes to the floor above.

Discuss with your neighbor if it is not your home. Simply remove the existing floor to expose the subflooring below, install underlayment such as acoustic underlayment and acoustic mat to deaden sound from the roots.  Replace the existing floor and also caulk the perimeter if you please.

This is highly economical and equally effective.

Mass Loaded Vinyl

Mass Loaded Vinyl is a material capable of blocking sound. It serves as a damping technique and can be used in place of Green Glue. It is composed of vinyl and barium sulfate.

It is non-toxic, has a high relative density that makes it effective in blocking sound. Mass loaded vinyl can also be used as a carpet underlayment. It is tough and dense and serves for blocking mostly airborne sounds.

It also gives extra padding to floors or ceilings. It is multipurpose and highly effective. However, Green Glue compound is much cheaper and equally effective.

Mass loaded vinyl also known as the vinyl barrier can be placed in between drywalls or on the subflooring. 

Tips and Precautions

  • Ductwork can conduct noise between floors, especially in drop ceilings. You can replace a rigid duct with a flex duct or install a duct liner which is cheaper and achieves a curved path.
  • Always follow building codes and use the right screws to attach drywall to the track.
  • The STC values are helpful in giving you an estimated value of soundproofing effectiveness. However, note that this rating does not take into account very high frequencies or very low frequencies.
  • Always seek professional help and advice, before during and after the project.
  • Budget considerations. Most soundproofing methods are affordable but to get the best you will have to spend a little more. Consider your budget and which methods work for you.
  • Remember you can soundproof an already existing ceiling or tear it out to make the necessary changes. Whichever option is more comfortable and suitable be sure to contact the owner of the building if you are a tenant.

The Benefits of Soundproofing Your Ceiling

Soundproofing your ceiling has various benefits aside from the apparent peace you long to have. So if you need some extra convincing on fortifying your ceilings, here are some hidden benefits.

  • Soundproof ceilings hide those pipes and wires that would otherwise have been a cluster of embarrassment in your basement. So, when you invite friends over for a visit or a party, your home looks organized.
  • Soundproof ceilings allow you the freedom of hosting parties or listening to your loud favorite music. You won’t be disturbing the neighbor above you with any sounds.
  • Soundproof ceilings are easier to remodel or freestyle with to get that beautiful roof over your head.
  • Do you notice how often you cringe at loud sounds from the bathroom? Sounds, like someone drying their hair or dropping the toilet seat. A soundproof bathroom-ceiling will keep those sounds in.
  • No more noise from your neighbor above, so you can have a grudge-free friendly relationship.
  • You also get to have a more solid and multipurpose ceiling.

Final Thoughts

Noise is an almost inescapable phenomenon. It is everywhere not just with your bothersome neighbor alone. It is in the streets outside, in your workplace, school or family home.

Some people would consider the singing of birds as noise as long as it disturbs or distracts them. I can relate to how frustrating it is to endure all that horrible and draining noise, only to return home to even more unwarranted noise.

Soundproofing is a recent innovation here to save the day. You can now fit your homes, fortify your walls, ceilings, floors to living in an ambiance of peace. Soundproofing is affordable for any budget and flexible to most requirements.

You can take it up personally or hire professional assistance. You can also get the whole family to participate and make it a fun, learning and quick, practical experience.

Soundproofing a ceiling is no small undertaking, but it’s one that’s worth it in the end. Peace of mind in your own home is priceless.

All the methods listed are affordable and doable. Some are more effective than others, but it all depends on what suits your home.

So, be sure to take your time to do a survey and plan out the whole project.

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