Noise pollution can be a problem in many modern homes because of the materials used to construct them. Whilst drywall is inexpensive, it also leads to much more noise pollution than brick and mortar walls. Thus, soundproofing a room on the cheap in North American homes, is a challenge.
Many people find it necessary to find soundproofing solutions to cut out pollution from traffic, neighbors, and other rooms in the same house.
The issue with soundproofing is that it can become very expensive if you want the job done well. Permanent soundproofing solutions aren’t cheap, and when you also factor in installation costs too, it can be too much for some people.
However, there are in fact some DIY options for those looking to soundproof a room on a budget. This article covers some of the most effective and inexpensive soundproofing solutions that you can install yourself.
What is Soundproofing?
There is a lot of incorrect and misunderstood information about soundproofing, and one of the biggest mistakes people make is to confuse it with sound absorption.
Sound absorption is about reducing the amount sound travels in a space, and also lessening the echo, whereas soundproofing is about blocking a sound from entering a room.
The biggest difference between the two is that soundproofing requires mass.
There are four main elements to consider when soundproofing a room, and they are:
Mass is the most important thing to consider when soundproofing a room. The more mass a structure has (walls, furniture, etc.), the less sound is able to enter the space. Almost every other element is based on adding more mass to a space.
Decoupling refers to the process of separating the two sides of a wall to make it harder for sound to pass through. Once the two sides have been separated, they can then be insulated (mass again) to further improve the soundproofing.
Read my article on decoupling methods which explain this in detail.
As mentioned above, sound absorption is about reducing echo and the distance a sound can travel within a space, not blocking it completely.
Recording studios use sound absorption equipment to improve the acoustics. Sound-absorbing materials are usually light and fluffy, and therefore don’t contain enough mass to block a sound.
Damping a sound is about reducing its resonance, usually via constrained layer damping. The damping material also converts the kinetic energy of sound waves to heat energy which helps in soundproofing.
How to Soundproof a Room – Cheap DIY Methods
Two commonly suggested methods of soundproofing a room on the cheap are insulation foam and egg boxes. However, NEITHER of these are effective at blocking sound because they don’t add enough mass to the space.
One of the most important things to remember is that the more soundproofing you want in a room, the more expensive it’ll get. There are inexpensive options available, but even the cost of these will add up if you decide to use them all.
This list gives you some cheap soundproofing options for blocking the amount of sound that enters a room, and they’re listed from cheapest to more expensive.
- Use furniture you already own.
- Put down carpet and rugs on the floor.
- Add door seals.
- Acoustic sealant for windows and walls.
- Weatherstripping for doors and windows.
- Soundproof curtains.
Which ones you choose to use will really depend on the source of the noise pollution, however using all of them will result in a good overall reduction of sound. Now let’s look at each of the listed methods in detail.
1. Use Furniture
This is arguably the cheapest method because you should already own furniture. Arranging all of the heaviest pieces in one room adds a great deal of mass to the space, which in turn greatly improves soundproofing.
If you’ve ever moved house you’ll have probably seen the reverse of this happening. As you empty a room sounds echo more, and you might have noticed things sound louder. When you apply the opposite thinking, filling a room up with furniture will help in blocking sound.
If you’re going with this option, make sure you pick the heaviest pieces of furniture you own. There’s little point in using lightweight, flat-pack pieces as these are usually made of cheap materials that don’t have much mass. However, if you only own this type of furniture then it’ll be better than nothing.
The best pieces of furniture to use when soundproofing a room are:
- Sofas and armchairs – the softer and squishier the better
- Wardrobes, armoires, and dressers
- Bookcases – books are a great source of sound-absorbing mass
- Tables – these will help with soundproofing the floor and stop sounds from echoing
Using furniture as a cheap method of soundproofing is ideal because it covers several of the main elements of soundproofing.
Not only does the furniture add mass to a room, it also helps to dampen and absorb sounds, therefore stopping echoes and reverberations.
2. Put Down Carpets and Rugs on the Floor
If you live in an apartment building or condo complex, soundproofing the floor is just as important as soundproofing walls. That said, it can be a useful method to employ in any room, particularly if echoing is an issue.
Floors made of concrete will be poor choices for soundproofing because concrete is a very good transmitter of sound.
Noise that travels through the floor is often noise as impact noise, and is one of the most common sources of noise pollution. It can be anything from people walking around, a neighbor’s television, elevators, water pipes, or building work.
Whilst many of these just become background noise, they can get annoying and be a particular issue for light sleepers.
Putting down heavy carpets or rugs is another inexpensive option because they are easy to buy if you’re working on a budget.
Not only do heavy carpets help with soundproofing, they also improve the heat insulation of a room, so are well worth the financial investment. Also, it’s quite easy to install a carpet yourself, and all you need to do with a rug is lay it on the floor.
Carpets and rugs help to reduce impact noise, both from your room and rooms below. This is because the materials used, such as wool or synthetic fibers, have excellent sound absorption qualities when woven together. Of course, much as with furniture, the heavier a carpet is, the better job it’ll do at reducing sound pollution.
Rugs might be a better option in some situations because they offer a less permanent alternative to laying a carpet. This can be helpful if you live in a rented apartment because you won’t have to get your landlord’s permission, and can you can take the rug with you when you leave.
Regardless of whether you choose to lay carpet or rugs, adding underlay underneath can make a big difference to an already effective solution.
Underlay is designed to improve heat insulation mainly, but because it adds more mass between to the floor it also improves soundproofing.
Underlay is very cheap and easy to get hold of, so add more than one layer if you have enough money. The most cost effective solution is cork underlay which has been described in my article here.
3. Door Seals
A common source of sound leakages is under doors. Often doors don’t fit properly into their frames, and it may be that the door was fitted when the room had carpet that has now been removed.
Whatever the reason, the gap underneath a door allows quite a lot of noise pollution both in and out of the room.
There are a couple of different options available for soundproofing a door. The least permanent and most inexpensive option is to use an acoustic sealant tape (Amazon link). This is basically a roll of tape with a rubber seal on it that can be stuck onto a door.
Sealant tape is ideal for blocking small gaps, and you can use it on the bottom, sides, and top of the door. Most brands of sealant tape are quite cheap, and some are designed to mold themselves into the gap surrounding a door, although will usually only fill gaps of around 3mm.
A slightly more expensive and permanent solution is to install a mounted seal around the door. They are attached directly to the door and usually have a drop down seal that can be adjusted to fit the gap on the door.
Door seals are usually made out of metal and rubber, and so provide mass and a level of sound absorption.
The quality and efficacy will depend entirely on how much money you’re willing to spend. Obviously this has been suggested as a cheap method, so you won’t be paying loads even for a high quality door seal.
It’s worth shopping around for the best model to fit your door and requirements because there are many different models available.
When choosing the right door seal, consider the following things:
- Will the door seal completely fill the gap between door and frame? If not, then there’s little point buying it.
- Will the door still be able to function as normal? You can buy door seal specifically for use with carpet and hardwood floors, so bear this in mind.
- Is it just the bottom of the door you need to seal? Seeing as you’re trying to soundproof the door, check the rest of the frame. You might as well work to fill every gap to make it as effective as possible.
Another thing to consider while you’re soundproofing the door is whether you can add more mass while you’re here. If you’re soundproofing on a budget this might not be an option, but switching the door for a heavier one will also help to reduce noise pollution.
Also read my article on how to soundproof a door effectively.
4. Acoustic Sealant for Windows and Walls
Along with doors, windows are another common source of noise pollution.
Even if you have modern double-glazed windows that are actually very good at keeping noise out, the bigger issue is with the seals around the windows. This is the same for possible gaps around door frames, cracks in walls, and seams around any possible DIY works done in the room.
On its own, acoustic sealant (like this one found on Amazon) isn’t the most effective method, but it’s very helpful when used alongside a number of other methods.
Essentially it’s the final touch to a larger soundproofing project. Although you might be tempted to buy ordinary caulk because it’s cheaper, don’t. Acoustic sealant is specifically designed to help soundproof a room.
So how is acoustic sealant different from ordinary caulk? Acoustic sealant is designed to stay permanently flexible and rubbery.
Normal caulk hardens over time and therefore can shrink and crack, both of which will reduce its soundproofing properties.
The fact that acoustic sealant remains flexible means it can move with the building, and will always have a tight seal on any cracks it covers.
Once you’ve got hold of some acoustic sealant, make sure to apply it anywhere there’s a gap or seam between two building materials.
Even if the joins around windows look fine, go over them with the sealant as this will only make them more soundproof.
It’s worthwhile applying the sealant around electric fixtures and lighting too because even these small gaps can be a source of noise pollution.
There are several things to think about when choosing the right acoustic sealant, such as:
- Water-based sealants are easier to use and generally smell less. They’re also less likely to have an impact on the surfaces they’re applied to.
- The chemicals used in some sealants might damage surfaces, so look into this before choosing a brand. This will be most noticeable on wood, PVC, and light-colored walls.
- If you’re applying the sealant around areas where it’s going to be seen, such as window frames and electrical fixtures, pick a type of sealant that can be painted over.
Acoustic sealant helps for a number of reasons based on the four elements of soundproofing. Applying the sealant around fixtures helps to dampen sound vibrations between objects, and it adds overall mass to a structure. As mentioned, this is a great finishing touch for other soundproofing methods.
5. Weather Stripping for Doors and Windows
Weather stripping is actually designed to stop drafts and air leaks, but much of the same science applies to blocking noise pollution.
After all, air is a particularly good carrier of sound, and so if you’re able to reduce the amount of air that leaks into or out of a room, then you’re also helping to soundproof it.
Like door seals mentioned earlier, weather stripping comes in a variety of different forms, some of which are inexpensive, but others will cost a bit more money. How much you spend will depend on how permanent you want it to be, and the material the stripping is made from.
Many newer external doors will already have weather stripping installed, but it can be helpful to install it on interior doors too if you’re looking to soundproof a room.
It’s also one of the more time-consuming methods of soundproofing, and will require a bit more DIY knowledge than some other options. However, weather stripping still isn’t that hard to install.
The most common materials used in weather stripping are EPDM rubber, a thermoplastic mix of plastic and rubber, or a polymer and filler blend. All of these are effective at blocking sound because they’re dense materials with quite a bit of mass. Considering they’re designed to block air leakage, they’re all also effective at blocking sound.
If you’re looking to install weather stripping on a budget then choose one of the self-adhesive strip brands. These are very similar to the door seals mentioned earlier, but they fit on the door differently.
Rather than sitting on the exterior edge of a door, they essentially sit between the door and the frame. Their job is to just fill in the gap to stop air escaping.
For this method to be most effective, it’s important to install weather stripping on doors and windows in the room you’re trying to soundproof. Much like the other methods suggested, it’s important to cover all possible sources of airborne sound leakage.
Most windows should have weather stripping already fitted, as it’s often part of building regulations, but this can become worn out over time and will need replacing.
In order to do the best job when installing the weather stripping, make sure you familiarize yourself with the product, and watch some installation tutorials online. The actual product isn’t difficult to fit, but what can be difficult is fitting it so that it does a good job of soundproofing the seal.
Although it might be tempting to hire a professional to install it, this will obviously add to the cost, which isn’t what you want when soundproofing on a budget.
6. Heavy Curtains or Drapes
There are many types of soundproof curtains available online, but their effectiveness is highly debatable. Many are essentially just heavy curtains, and might contain some insulation foam, but they are often an excuse to slap an expensive price tag on an already good soundproofing method.
Windows are a known weak spot when it comes to soundproofing. Unlike walls, which usually have a reasonable amount of mass and can be added to, there’s little you can do with windows.
Apart from sealing the joins around window frames, the only other option you have for soundproofing a window is to use curtains.
Just as with carpets, the heavier the curtains are, the more effective they’ll be at soundproofing a window. Blackout curtains are usually quite heavy duty in order to block out light, so they can often be a good place to start.
If possible, look for curtains or drapes that are made from several layers of material, as this will add even more mass in front of the window.
Obviously, based on this advice, don’t bother using blinds or thin summer curtains because these will do basically nothing.
The other thing to bear in mind is that heavy curtains will be very good at insulating a room too, which can be a blessing if you live in a cold climate, but might not be as helpful if you live somewhere warm.
Although heavy-duty drapes are possibly the most expensive option suggested on this list, there are ways to cut the cost. Firstly, try looking for second hand drapes.
Old fashioned curtains were designed specifically to help with insulation because houses only had single-glazed windows, and so these will do a great job at damping and absorbing any sound pollution that leaks through the window panes.
Another way to get inexpensive heavy drapes is to make them yourself. If you or someone you know is particularly handy with a sewing machine then why not make your own. If you start with a normal set of curtains, it’s very easy to sew on extra layers of insulation.
Materials such as velvet or velour are a good place to start, and although these aren’t cheap, they are some of the heaviest fabrics you can buy. Then simply sew on some layers of heavy cotton and you’ve got instant noise reduction.
If you’d like more information on soundproof curtains and a helpful buying guide, read my article here.
How Do These Cheap DIY Methods to Soundproof a Room Help?
These methods provided above put emphasis on sealing gaps and blocking possible air leakages. Because these are all inexpensive methods they’re not the most effective ways of soundproofing a room, but if you’re looking to do it on a budget then they’ll definitely help.
The most important thing to remember when soundproofing a room is to add mass to the space. As mentioned earlier in the article, most of the elements of soundproofing a space rely on adding mass to it. How you do this will obviously depend on your budget, but it’s quite easy to combine several of these methods without spending too much money.
That said, if you’re looking to soundproof a space as much as possible then you would have to spend a bit more money, and possibly do more extensive DIY work. If this isn’t an option for you, then use as many of these methods as possible, and just remember that the point is to identify and seal any small gaps through which sound can enter.
Many online guides that talk about soundproofing on a budget mention hanging curtains or blankets on the wall. However, this isn’t really worth it because it’s difficult to hang the blankets on a wall, and they really don’t add enough mass.
In order for this to be an effective method you would have to hang some very heavy rugs or blankets, and this would be too much of a challenge.
Similarly, foam and egg cartons are a pointless exercise. Not only do they look very unattractive when put up on the walls, they really do very little to soundproof a room.
Both products help to reduce echo and reverberation, which is more to do with the quality of a noise than blocking it altogether.
If you’re looking to make your walls soundproof, then consider a more permanent (but ultimately more expensive) option.
More Effective Methods of Soundproofing a Room
If you’re considering a more in-depth soundproofing project then you might have to look at more expensive methods.
That said, it’s still possible to effectively soundproof a room on a budget, but you will have to spend much more money than if you were to just seal some gaps around the windows and doors.
Here are the most effective (but much less cheap) methods of soundproofing a room.
If you’re reasonably handy around the house, and there’s no issue with you installing a more permanent solution, then adding another layer of drywall to the walls and ceiling is a great place to start.
As with every other method suggested, this involves simply adding more mass to the existing structure. It’s even more effective if you leave a cavity between the two layers of drywall because this creates an extra space for sound to travel through.
Drywall is an inexpensive material, and is quite easy to install. Obviously this will effectively make the room smaller, but the difference will hardly be noticeable.
The real difficulty lies in extending and modifying electrical outlets so they once again sit flush with the wall. If this isn’t something you feel confident doing, then consider hiring a professional at least for this bit.
Add Drywall and Green Glue
This suggestion is basically just an addition to the method above, but involves adding an extra layer of damping compound. Green Glue is a widely available product that’s designed to help damp sound. Read my article on Green Glue to know why it is so effective.
It’s recommended that you apply as much as possible to the reverse side of the drywall you’re installing, and the more you apply the better a job it’ll do.
Green Glue is a specially designed product that has a unique chemical formula. It converts mechanical energy from sound pollution into heat. This makes it a very effective method of damping sound, and is an inexpensive addition if you’re already installing a new layer of drywall.
Install Staggered Stud or Double Drywall
Normal wall is made with strips of lumber that are attached to top and bottom plates. These strips all sit in a line onto which the drywall is mounted, thereby building the wall. Although this does result in a cavity, it’s not usually a very big one, and so sound can travel through it quite easily.
Staggered stud wall differs because (as it says in the name) the strips are staggered. This means that they are placed alternately on one side and then the other, effectively leading to a cavity between the walls of around 12 inches. This will make quite a difference when it comes to soundproofing the room.
Another effective solution is to use a double wall construction. This is a very simple concept that works on the basis of using two sets of strips instead of one. This means each side of drywall is installed on its own set of studs, therefore almost completely separating the two walls.
Both methods work on the principle of reducing the amount of sound that can travel through the wall via vibrations. Separating the two sides of drywall means it’s much harder for sound to travel between them, and it effectively adds another layer of decoupling by reducing the contact points between walls.
Read my detailed staggered stud vs double wall comparison.
Staggered stud is made even more effective if you install insulation between the two walls. This will provide sound damping, and add even more mass.
The thing to remember with this method is that it’s the most expensive suggested on this list, and will mean having to build a wall from scratch.
That said, if you’re undertaking major DIY work around the house then it’s a great way to drastically reduce the noise pollution entering or escaping a room.
Soundproofing a room on a budget is perfectly possible, it just means you have to be slightly more creative with your methods.
The suggestions on this list are all inexpensive and will provide some level of soundproofing, however if you want to do a more effective job then you will have to spend more money.
When it comes to soundproofing a room, remember the following tips:
- Always bear in mind the four elements of soundproofing – mass, absorption, decoupling, and damping.
- Mass is the most important, and usually the easiest one to manage. It can be as simple as using your furniture wisely, or as complicated as installing more drywall.
- Acoustic sealant and other damping products can make a big difference, but should only really be used along with other, more effective methods. Sealing should really only be done once you’re finished with the rest of your soundproofing projects.
- Avoid insulation foam and egg boxes. These have built up a name in soundproofing because they’re what people recognize from recording studios, although they’re not designed to block sound.
The final thought is that although these methods are cheap on their own, the cost will build up if you combine several.
The best way to go about soundproofing a room is to identify the areas of weakness, start with them, and then work your way around the room. Eventually you should end up with an effectively soundproofed room.
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