I’m always the first person to list the advantages of soundproofing your living space, regardless of what you’re going to be using the room for. However, one of the biggest issues with soundproofing is that many of the methods result in you losing room space.
Because this is a particular issue many people will face, particularly those living in newer properties or apartments, I decided to look into the ways you can soundproof without losing room space. The main thing I found is that you need to be much more intelligent with your planning.
Below are my top tips for soundproofing a room without losing too much space. If you’ve got a large room and don’t mind losing a few inches off the walls, I’d suggest sticking to more traditional methods. The options listed below are specifically intended for those who don’t have much living space to begin with. Read on to find out more.
How to soundproof without losing room space
The issue with most traditional soundproofing solutions is that they rely on adding mass, which generally means losing space in the room.
The following are my top tricks for soundproofing without losing room space:
- Strip the original wall back and refinish
- Use mass loaded vinyl (minimal loss of room space)
- Soundproof empty spaces between the walls
- Use vehicle sound deadening mats
- Install thin acoustic panels on the wall
- Replace the wall with sound deadening drywall
- Decouple the room wall
These are my 7 simple tips, but below I discuss them in more detail. Read on to find out more information. Similarly, I’d recommend trying more than one if you can, and some options are much more budget-friendly than others.
1. Strip the original wall back and refinish
To be clear: this option isn’t necessarily going to soundproof the wall. However, through my various experiments, I found how much of a difference it makes to be able to strip a wall back before trying any soundproofing methods.
This realistically won’t work on a stud wall, but is designed for walls made from bricks and mortar that have then been plastered. If you start by stripping the old plaster or render of the walls, you’ll be able to free up a significant amount of space in the room.
For example, when I tried this in an old room in my house, I stripped off wallpaper, paint, and plaster. This actually freed up nearly 3 inches of space in the room, which was an excellent place to start for my soundproofing.
The other major advantage of doing this is that once you’ve thrown some soundproofing materials on the wall, you won’t even see the original plaster of the wall. Therefore there’s no reason why you shouldn’t start by stripping it back.
Of course, this method won’t work in every room, and if you don’t have that much experience with such a major DIY project then I’d recommend calling in a professional to do the heavy labor. If you explain your methods then they should have little problem assisting you.
Once you’ve fitted your soundproofing solutions, whatever they may be, you can then refinish the wall with a new layer of plaster if needed. The major advantage of stripping everything back, especially if you live in an old house, is that there’s likely to be plenty of layers of plaster that don’t need to be there.
In fact, you’d probably be amazed how much free space you can get in the room by stripping the walls. Be sure to check for any structural impact before you start taking walls apart, and this is another reason why it might be worth at least getting advice from a professional first.
2. Use mass loaded vinyl (minimal loss of room space)
This is one of the methods I recommend in my article on how to soundproof a room without removing drywall. If you haven’t already, I recommend you read it.
Any of you that have read my articles before will probably know how much I love mass loaded vinyl (link to Amazon). I’d say it’s probably my favorite soundproofing material because it’s just so versatile and easy to work with. Again, it’s pretty much ideal for this exact problem.
The reason for this is down to the material’s very composition. Mass loaded vinyl is designed to be very dense, but isn’t very thick, so makes a big difference to noise pollution levels without taking up too much space.
Mass loaded vinyl is what’s known as limp mass. This basically means that it has zero elasticity, but also isn’t very rigid. As a result, sound waves don’t even really bounce off it, they just stop. Therefore it’s an excellent product for soundproofing a living space.
A standard roll of mass loaded vinyl will cover around 100 square foot, which is probably enough for almost any room, particularly as this guide is designed for those with limited space. While it might not appear particularly cheap, mass loaded vinyl is usually pretty good value for money.
However, it’s worth bearing in mind that this solution will still result in a small loss of space in your room.
Mass loaded vinyl has a standard thickness of around 1/8 inch, or 3mm. So if you cover all 4 walls of the room in mass loaded vinyl, you’ll lose around half an inch of space.
Personally, I think losing this much space is almost negligible in all but the smallest rooms. Considering how effective mass loaded vinyl is at soundproofing, I also think it’s a worthwhile sacrifice. If you use this product you shouldn’t need to try anything else either.
My final reason for liking mass loaded vinyl is that it’s really easy to work with. Usually I’d recommend mounting it on a board and fixing this to the wall, but because we’re limited on space I’d say just fix it directly to the wall. A few nails, fencing staples, or screws will be enough to hold it in place.
3. Soundproof empty spaces between the walls
Much like my first tip was intended for solid walls, this one is best for interior stud or partition walls. Considering these walls are hollow, what’s the point in adding mass to the outside when you’ve got all that free space to work with inside?
A stud wall contains a large air cavity between the two sheets of drywall, and this is an ideal space for sound waves to bounce around in, which amplifies them. Therefore, filling the air cavity not only tackles much of the problem, but it also means you won’t lose any space in the room.
However, it’s worth bearing in mind that this is one of the most invasive options on this list because it’ll mean ripping down at least one side of the wall. After all, you’ll need to access the wall cavity. I’d only recommend this option if you’re handy with tools and actually have permission (if needed) to make structural changes.
You’ve got a couple of options for what you can do with the wall cavity, including:
Fill it with insulation. You can either use normal cavity wall insulation or something like Rockwool, which is acoustic insulation. Filling the air cavity with mass makes it harder for the sound waves to reverberate, and the dense material helps to absorb any that still make it into the air cavity.
Decouple the walls. This basically means isolating each side of the wall so that vibrations can’t pass through it. A properly decoupled wall will be twice as thick as a normal stud wall, so consider an option like staggered joists because this takes up less space.
Seal any gaps. While you’re in there, seal any gaps with acoustic sealant, like Green Glue. Sound waves work like heat, and can escape through even the smallest gaps. It’s worth addressing these while you’re ripping the wall down.
For more details, read my article on how to soundproof a stud wall.
4. Use vehicle sound deadening mats
Although they’re designed for use in vehicle interiors, sound deadening mats are also a great solution for soundproofing when you don’t want to lose too much space in your room. After all, vehicle interiors aren’t the roomiest spaces.
The top brands to look for are Dynamat and FatMat (Amazon links), both of which are made from butyl rubber. This acts much like mass loaded vinyl, in that they’re both very dense and not very thick materials.
Vehicle sound deadening mats are also really easy to work with because they have a self-adhesive backing. Usually I’d advise against sticking them directly onto the wall, but this is the best way to not lose too much space.
The standard thickness for vehicle sound deadening mats varies, but you can find some that are less than half an inch thick. Some, however, can be over 3 inches thick, so avoid these because you’ll lose too much space in your room.
The only real disadvantage with this option is that you’ll probably have to try and apply something over the mats because they have a foil finish, which isn’t the most attractive thing in the world. A quick solution would simply be to staple some fabric over them.
5. Install thin acoustic panels on the wall
I’m always skeptical about suggesting people use acoustic panels for soundproofing, as they’re not actually designed to block noise. Instead, they treat acoustics by reducing echo and reverberation. However, this can still be helpful in a number of applications.
The reason I’m suggesting it on this list is because acoustic panels are very easy to install and don’t take up too much space. Look for acoustic panels that have an open cellular structure, as this traps sound waves and stops them from bouncing off flat surfaces, which is a major cause of echo.
Even reducing echo will make a noticeable difference to the amount of noise pollution in the room. It should indirectly reduce sound transfer, simply because there isn’t the same level of sound waves bouncing around the room. However, if you want a true soundproofing solution, try something else.
What’s more, acoustic panels will only really work if you’re looking to reduce the amount of noise that escapes a room rather than enters it. Acoustic panels would be almost useless at reducing noise pollution coming into the room because they treat echo rather than impact noise.
That said, acoustic panels can be a useful option if you’re looking to save on space. A typical thickness for an acoustic panel is around 2 inches, but you won’t need to put them all over your walls. Acoustic panels only need to be located in echo zones, which are easy to find.
I’d start by probably putting an acoustic panel in each corner and seeing if this makes a difference. If you still have a problem with echo, put in some more, but don’t feel the need to cover the walls. If you do, you’ll lose around 8 inches of space from your room, which is too much for most people.
6. Replace the wall with sound deadening drywall
This is another option that’ll require a bit of DIY knowledge, and is particularly good when combined with stud wall insulation. The main reason for this is that you’ll be ripping down the existing wall, so you might as well replace it with a soundproof alternative.
Soundproof drywall is simply normal drywall with a range of extra features. These might be something like a layer of viscoelastic polymer, which deadens sound waves, or simply extra layers of dense material. The exact methods use will vary by brand.
The major thing to bear in mind with this option is that soundproof drywall isn’t exactly cheap. What’s more, it’s also much thicker than drywall (it does have all those extra layers after all). Therefore, while I would usually advise just fitting it on top of the existing drywall, in this case I’d recommend removing it first.
Soundproof drywall will typically be half an inch thick or thicker, so you may end up losing a small amount of space in you room. However, if you’re replacing drywall on a stud wall, you might have the option to fit it further back into the wall cavity. As I said above, take advantage of that free space if you’ve got it.
Aside from the extra thickness, soundproof drywall can be used exactly the same as normal drywall. This makes it a pretty versatile, albeit slightly expensive, option for soundproofing without losing too much space.
If you decide to go for this option, I’d recommend shopping around to find the best brand for your needs. Some are thicker than others, and may come with extra features like mold or fire resistance, or EMF radiation protection.
7. Decouple the room wall
I mentioned decoupling the wall above, but thought it would be worth explaining it in a bit more detail. Decoupling is possibly one of the most effective solutions for eliminating impact noise travelling through a stud wall.
This is because it isolates both sides of the wall, meaning there’s no way for sound waves to travel from one side to the other. If your major issue is sound transfer from another room in the house then this solution would be ideal.
The two decoupling methods that would be most useful for not losing too much space would be staggered joists or using resilient clips and a hat channel. Staggered joists do take up more room than a normal wall, so your best choice might be the hat channel option.
A hat channel is basically a strip of metal on which you mount the sheet of drywall. Combining this with some resilient clips, like these from Green Glue, will essentially do the job of decoupling without you having to completely rebuild the wall.
Although the hat channel and resilient clips are both made from metal, the purpose of them is to flex and absorb sound vibrations passing through the wall joists. While this option isn’t as effective as proper decoupling, it makes a massive difference to noise pollution entering and exiting the room.
Much like I suggested with the insulation option above, it’s always worth combining these two solutions. Aside from the practicality of having access to the wall cavity, the insulation helps dampen the vibrations by adding mass to the space in which they vibrate.
I’d also recommend filling any gaps with acoustic sealant, as this will help to improve the overall flex of the structure. However, be aware that decoupling doesn’t really help against low bass frequencies, so if that’s a particular problem for you then consider another option.
Some final thoughts
If you’re looking for ways to soundproof without losing too much space, then as you can probably tell you need to be a bit more intelligent with your solutions. Also, you’ll probably end up spending more money because the most effective options are more expensive.
Whichever option you choose, do plenty of planning first. Work out your available space and see if there’s anything you can do to increase it. Then, work out how much space you’d lose with each option and see which one is best. However, always bear in mind that you’re probably going to lose a small amount of space in the room regardless of which option you pick.
Thanks for reading! Also check out my recommended products for soundproofing.