Stories & Features

All that noise, noise, noise! Soundproofing your home

Image of young girl reading on a couch
Many of us live in urban areas or in busy neighbourhoods where noise can travel into the interior of our homes. And a busy household can also create noise that transfers from one room to another, making it tough to find a place to settle in for a little reading or quiet time.

10 tips for reducing noise transfer, from inside and out

Until all cars, leaf blowers and even jackhammers are electric (yes, they're on the way), and until all our in-home appliances are whisper quiet, we're going to have to deal with a lot of noise in and around our homes.

There are exceptions, such as homes built in quiet areas and commercial buildings specifically designed to limit noise, including the newly-opened Pacific Autism Family Centre in Richmond. But if you're reading this, you're probably intrigued by the thought of making your home at least a little quieter.

With BC Hydro specialist engineer Gary Hamer as our guide, we've scanned the web to come up with 10 ways to limit the noise in your home.

When shopping for appliances, ask about noise levels

If you want less (as in energy use and noise) you may need to pay more. And while energy efficiency and quiet don't always go hand-in-hand, they're often related.

"Ask the salesperson, 'What are the noise levels for this appliance?' says Hamer, who can't wait to replace the fridge in his home that's noisy enough to force him to shut the bedroom door each night. "If they don't have that information on hand, they can find it for you."

The next time you buy a bathroom or range hood fan, know your sones

Hamer is particularly passionate about this one, because many people who have noisy fans don't use them enough. And that leads to all sorts of issues, from lingering cooking smells that hang around your home, to condensation issues on windows and in ceiling corners.

"Many inexpensive bathroom fans are noisy, so people don't use them," he says. "Customers should look for the ENERGY STAR® label, and they can pay attention to the SONE level for the operation of the fan."

The sone rating isn't the same thing as a decibel rating. It's more aligned to a comfort level, with 1 sone equal to the sound of a quiet fridge in a quiet kitchen. A fan rated at 3 sones, which is fairly typical, is four times louder. And anything 1.0 or lower – such as many Broan or Panasonic bathroom fans – is barely audible.

One negative byproduct of really quiet bathroom or range hood fans is that they're so quiet you can forget to turn them off. Hamer suggests installing a timer, and he says the ideal use of a bathroom fan is two four-hour cycles each day – if your home doesn't have a dedicated ventilation system.

Consider double- or triple-glazed windows, preferably with laminated glass

It's no coincidence that some new downtown Vancouver apartments in noisier neighbourhoods are equipped with triple-glazed windows. While developers are always looking to reduce costs, they need to sell the homes in the first place, and a quiet home has much better sales potential.

Of course, replacing existing windows is expensive. So if soundproofing outside noise is a major goal in your home, save your window upgrades for when you're renovating. And at least look at using laminated glass – two pieces of glass with vinyl sandwiched between. These are sometimes called SSP windows because they reduce "sound" transmission and increase "security" by staying intact even if shattered, and they offer increased energy " performance."

"If you live near a busy street and you're getting new windows, you might as well get laminated glass, because it will make your rooms quieter," says Hamer.

Before you buy a home, check the noise levels

"We lived for years in a house that was four or five homes from Canada Way in Burnaby, then moved to one that's three blocks away from that street," says Hamer. "We couldn't believe the difference. We got used to the noise in the background, but now that we don't have it, we're really happy it's not there."

Before you commit to a rental home or buy a home, visit it at different times of the day at different times of the week. You'll get a better idea of just how noisy the area is, and whether that's something you can live with, especially given that homes on or near busy streets tend to be less expensive.

Before you install a heat pump or air conditioner, carefully consider the location

This is a tip that not only helps you, but can also help ensure peace with your neighbours. Because the fans on heat pumps can be noisy, you probably figured out not to put it outside your bedroom. But also keep in mind what it's doing to your neighbours. Pick a location that's fair to everyone, and install acoustic fencing or some other noise barrier if you have to, to keep the peace.

Oh, and before you fork out for a new heat pump, see our visual guide to deciding whether you need one.

Add soft materials in rooms to help deaden sound

Do you have hardwood floors and no area rugs, soft window coverings or anything else that might absorb noises in the room? Adding a few soft elements – including area rugs – to a room can work wonders. "You don't necessarily need to go wall to wall, especially if you have nice hardwood you want to show off," says Hamer.

Also look at acoustic ceiling tiles and drop-ceiling systems to block transfer of sound from one floor to another.

Add an additional layer of drywall

Adding insulation to exterior and interior walls can do a lot to reduce sound transfer from outside the home or between rooms in your home. But Hamer says that if that's the only reason you're going to rip the drywall off your walls, you may want to consider another easier, less destructive option.

"Probably the simplest thing to do is to take away a bit of your room space by putting in an additional layer of gyproc (drywall)," he says. "Taking all the gyproc off and adding insulation inside the walls is theoretically a good idea, but it can be really problematic. While you're gaining in energy efficiency, which is good, in older homes you could find vermiculite in there, or perhaps asbestos tape was used for the wall board.

"If you're replacing windows, that's a good time to put in another layer of gyproc."

Tame that subwoofer

Nothing travels between walls and floors quite like a deep bass sound from your music or your TV. While there are times when you might want to go all out with that home theatre sound, your family and your neighbours will appreciate it if you let up on the subwoofer presence.

Using wireless headphones while playing video games can bring a lot of calm to the household. But if you want to use those big speakers, consider buying a subwoofer isolation pad to put beneath the subwoofer so the sound is produced without vibrating through the house.

Soundproof your interior doors

This isn't really about energy efficiency, although a tighter-fitting door will allow you to keep selected rooms warmer. This is about cutting noise transfer between rooms.

The most effective change would be to upgrade from a hollow-core door to a solid-core door. But even a solid-core door won't be a great solution if there are gaps around it. Even a 1% gap around a door can allow up to 50% of sound to get through.

This is especially important if the bottom of your door was undercut to allow for carpeting that you've since replaced with hardwood. Ask your local hardware dealer for ideas for acoustic door gaskets or door seal kits that can help plug those leaks.

Not all garage doors are created equal

If you have rooms next to or above your garage, noise coming in through the garage door can also be an issue. Premium double-skin garage doors are filled with foam insulation and have an additional covering on the inside, but many garage doors feature an open interior with only an external sheet of plywood, steel, vinyl or aluminum.

Everything from the materials used to the thickness and the quality of the draftproofing components count. For details on selecting a garage door, you might check out this tips page at hometips.com or this site or this infographic.