Soundproofing Walls and Your Home from External Noise and Stopping Exterior Traffic Noise Affecting Your Home (and Sanity)

Summary: Learn about soundproofing your home from external noise such as traffic noise, industrial noise or late night revellers. It can be the most frustrating thing in the world, but there are some sound insulation fixes that you can do to soundproof your home and stop any external, outside noise from disturbing your sleep, peace and the general harmony of your home. Lean some simple hints and tricks about how to stop external noise from traffic getting in and driving your mad. We will show you some techniques for soundproofing windows, how to deal noise from doors and entry points and how double glazing can drastically reduce troublesome sound from outside.

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It is no consolation to suggest that you will eventually get used to the noise and be able to live with it. Many can, but around half a Million people move home every year citing the primary reason for the move as “Noise”.

Worse still, research in 2007 by the World Health organisation suggested that as many as 3 in every 100 heart disease deaths could actually be cause by noise, or lack of peace and quiet. Read more about this study, reported by the Telegraph here.

If you are reading this, you are probably well aware how of how frustrating it is to have to put up with external noise and you are keen to understand how to stop the noise getting in. Before we get to that it does help to understand how sound “works”. If we can understand it, then we can deal with it!

Understanding How Noise Gets into You Home

Sound cannot travel in a vacuum, period! Sound is a compression wave and it must have something to travel through, most typically air, or it will never reach you.

The source of the sound creates the wave, and then this wave “bumps” the air particles nearest to it so that they bump the ones next to them. These in turn bump the ones next to them and so on, so the sound travels through the air – at the speed of sound. There is a great video of how sounds works, found here on the BBC website..

Anatomy of a sound wave

Anatomy of a sound wave - Image courtesy of bcachemistry.wordpress.com

With each tiny bump a tiny little bit of energy is lost, and as the sound spreads in all directions from the source, it becomes more diluted and therefore weaker.

This is why the sounds becomes less and less the further you are from the source. However, sound can bounce off objects or reverberate, rather than being absorbed where the energy is taken from the wave so that it finally fades out.

Why is this important? Because what you are trying to achieve is to put yourself and your home as far away from the traffic or other noise as possible, without actually moving the house or moving from the house. You want to be where the sound wave has run out of energy and has depleted to the point it can no longer be heard.

Sound travels differently through different materials. Denser thicker materials such as walls are harder to travel through as all the particles are packed much closer together – they can't bounce around as much. This puts more particles between you and the source, which makes it seem like your further away. Some material can absorb more energy than others thereby reducing the “energy” and overall noise levels.

How to Soundproof Against Exterior Noise Like Traffic or Party Goers

With a better understanding on how sound works you can probably already see how we can fight it and develop our own sound proofing solutions. We will build up some solutions to your sound proofing problem, starting with the cheapest and easiest to implement.

Not all these will be suitable or even be a long term solution, so you will have to work up to the solution that will solve your sound issues and the situation as a whole. Budget is always also a big factor.

It may sound a little simplistic but try using a pair of ear plugs. These vary in price, but will be the initial and cheapest solution. We sell a single use type which will be comfortable but if you are looking at something a little more robust or will be required for more than “one night” you might need some this more advanced.

Tapered foam earplugs

Ear Plugs – the first defence against poor soundproofing. Available in our online store here

If ear plugs are not the solution then you could consider another cheap and possibly more permanent solution such as a white noise machine. Find out more about these here. This is a way to drown out the exterior noise with a more pleasant or perhaps more soporific sound.

A more natural stance on this approach would be to try and block noise with fountains, garden water features, or plant ornamental grasses that make a relaxing and masking sound when the wind blows. Again, these may not provide a long term solution for you but could certainly be part of an “overall plan”.

While you're out in the garden you might consider a heavy, solid and tall fence that will shield your property from any noise. It will help, but some noise will always pass over the top. Have a look at our project on close-board fencing to see if this would work for you.

Consider having window boxes made for your windows. They will absorb some of the noise that would otherwise have passed through the window.

You might consider re-arranging your house, so that you bedrooms and or living rooms are away from the source of the noise. If you are disturbed by traffic noise at night, consider moving the bedroom to another, quieter part of the house.

Kitchens and daytime living areas can be moved to more noisy parts of the home, as the noise will not disturb you quite so much. At least you'll get a better night's sleep and have a little more patience to deal the noise problem.

Most other solutions will involve blocking the sound with a more dense material than that it is currently travelling through. At this point, bulk curtains or drapes are often suggested. We are not convinced, even with so called deadening drapes, as the weight and bulk would have to be significant to have any real effect, although it will certainly not do any harm and might well have some (heat) insulating benefits which could be your primary reason for adopting this solution. Please get in touch with us and share your methods if you have had any success with deadening drapes.

DIY Sound Proofing Suggestions; How to Block External Noises

The next step is to block offending noise by adding or thicken the material between the noise and you. This deals with the noise in one of the two only real ways to tackle it; reduce it or absorb it. The difference is subtle; reducing truly blocks the sound, but absorbing it uses the properties of the material the sound wave hits to alter it to become less intrusive.

It will be useful to see where the noise is getting in and deal with it there. Typically it will be through the windows, which are generally the thinnest, least dense material or any ventilation openings such as air bricks.

However there might be other entry points depending on the source of the external noise you are trying to soundproof against. Here are some of the most common external noise problems people can experience:

Soundproofing Air Bricks

Often a significant amount of unwanted noise can enter through air bricks. This is a problem because they are there for a reason and simply blocking them is not generally a good idea. The reduced ventilation can lead to condensation, damp and mould. Find out more here about this in our air bricks project here.

You can use sound dampening materials to reduce the sound that gets through the air brick or louvers, but whatever you do here you need to ensure that you do not stop the ventilation and ultimately the outside air getting into your home.

Dealing with Doors and Entry Points

This is generally a lesser issue, but you should check the weather stripping around your doors and replace any that are loose or perished. If air can get in so will sound.

The more robust the door the better it's sound proofing qualities are, so you might consider replacing your door with a solid or composite one. Make sure the threshold, jams and head are airtight and sound proof.

Sound Proof Windows from Exterior Noise

Windows are typically the worst culprit for allowing external noise to get into your home. There are a range of things that you can try:

  • Deadening Drapes: We're not convinced, but others think this is a good solution. It can be used if you are renting and can't make any alterations
  • Heavy-weight window drapes

    Heavy-weight sound deadening drapes or curtains for windows - Image courtesy of residential-acoustics.com

  • Seal the Window from External Noise: Use caulk and weather strip to seal all around the window and the window frame. Find out exactly how to do this in our project about draught proofing windows here. Of course, this will not stop the noise that is coming through the pane or frame. You will need these other sound proofing measures for this
  • Window Plugs or Shutters: These are mats of sound proofing material that are cut so that they fit your windows reveals. It is important that they fit snugly into the window frame so as to make a sound proof seal. They are not transparent so they need to be moved or lifted into place in the evening (or when the noise becomes excessive) and removed in the morning. You could make these yourself relatively easily with the right sound proofing materials. See here for more information on what materials you can use
  • Window plugs for blocking sound

    Window plugs to block sound - Image courtesy of whatsbestforum.com

  • Secondary Glazing to Stop the Outside Noise: This is a second window inside the true external one. For sound proofing, the air gap is critical; the larger the better. Ideally you should have the secondary glazing at least 2 inches (50mm) from the external window. It should have an airtight, sound proof seal when closed (if it can be opened). The glass that you use can make a difference also, so choose carefully. The heavier and thicker the glass the better for sound proofing.
  • Double Glazing and Sound Proofing: Double glazing is very effective at stopping external noise entering your home, but it is one of the more expensive options available. Find out more about the typically benefits and returns available from installing double glazing here. Noise levels can be reduced by around 20% by fitting double glazing, but if the glazing and frames are changed for windows that are designed with sound proofing in mind the sound entering your home could be reduced by half or more

How Walls Can be Sound Proofed from Exterior Noise

Typically, exterior walls are not the problem as they tend to be thick enough to stop the sound and in most cases it enters through another point as described above.

Essentially, if this is the cause of your sound proofing problem you need to thicken the wall with sound deadening or absorbing material. This can either be done by adding material to the wall cavity void or to the surface of the wall (normally the interior walls).

In most cases this involves battening the surfaces of the interior walls and filling the space with a dense, soudproofing material that then essentially stops, or at least reduces the sound that is allowed to pass through the wall into room.

This is rather a simplified explanation of the process and is not quite as simple as this to cure any issues. The fact that the battening with be fixed to the wall introduces a weak point as this itself will allow sound to pass through it. For some expert advice on the best way to go about this method, visit the Cusom Audio Designs website for further help.

Sound Proofing Legislation

Sound Proofing is a concern for governments too. Part E of the building regulations covers the requirements for new and refurbished buildings. It is known as “Resistance to the Passage of Sound”, and is designed to improve sound proofing for homes both from internal noise and external noise.

For more information about the regulations, please see our project on Part E of the building regulations.

Sound is measured in decibels (dB). You can find out more about measuring sound on Wikipedia, but the HSE state that the safe noise limit in the work place is 80dB. This is around about the noise of a vacuum cleaner; if you are regularly experience more than this you should act as son as possible.

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