It’s long been accepted in older houses that sound travels. We have rentals flats where thick underlay & carpet has been fitted to try and stop the impact noise of footsteps and sound of music travelling through floors. In a couple of flats, we’ve even constructed false ceilings in rooms of adequate height, to install further layers of soft sound-insulation and add distance between rooms. In a 1950’s apartment I once lived, the sound between the flats so was dreadful that even though I don’t watch the soaps I knew exactly what was happening on Emmerdale, because my neighbour was an addict. Not good.
So how do you stop sound travelling through floors and walls in residential houses?!
- Special thin acoustic underlay on a roll can be laid out under carpet, laminate or click system wooden floors to cushion impact noise from feet & shoes. I blogged us doing this to this living room and it worked a treat.
- Thicker soft insulation rolled or cut in between floor joists helps soak up airborne noise: voices, music, tv etc. This works especially well between floors, for example, a living room below and a bedroom above.
- False ceilings can dramatically reduce noise travel (impact, vibration and airborne), but this is often only an option when adequate head heights allow lowered ceilings. These glorious head heights are mostly found in converted for rental period properties and feature decorative cornice & mouldings, meaning choices & compromise have to be made to cover these up, sadly. We had to install a false ceiling in this bedroom as the noise transfer between the separate flats was awful. The lowered space of approx 400mm with added soft insulation worked brilliantly.
- In old terraces where roof voids are connected, soft insulation in the loft spaces between joists not only prevents heat escape but can also help with sound travel across the attics. (Far better to have fire walls built between houses obviously!)
- Party walls (the walls which actually divide houses) are often problematic. Think about it, when Edwardian or Victorian terraces were built, there was no late night Netflix, volume pumping Spotify or Playstation Guitar Hero. People got up, went out to work, ate, chatted, then went to bed. Simples. In the post war years, party walls got thicker but these relatively thin walls still have to cope with so much more than they were ever designed for. To try and manage these modern day noise levels when you renovate, try specifying an acoustic plasterboard or even better on a back to brick renovation, as I’ve done in our extension, construct a narrow timber stud and fill it with soft sound insulation then board over that. These choices really do make a difference.
So that’s a few tips for older properties but what about new ones? In new houses, loft conversions or extensions you just don’t expect problems do you? You think that when a new construction is complete, it’ll be solid, robust and silent. That you won’t be able to hear footsteps, or the tv upstairs, or kids shouting, or loos flushing. But, here’s the thing. Often you can. Which is a bit rubbish really isn’t it.
As a result of all my practical experience, when I visit design trade shows I find myself drawn to stands which not only feature wonderful wallpaper and lush lighting, but also the nuts and bolts products designed to transform our homes. As you know, we’re working through a huge renovation at Moregeous Mansions and part of that work has been an extension and dormer bedroom construction. The sound travel is dire and I mean really dire and it already sounds a like a herd of elephants thundering overhead in the kitchen when Mr M walks around in the new bedrooms above. Yes, it’s not finished so there will be less impact and airborne noise once sound insulation in the floor voids goes in and plasterboard goes on to the kitchen ceiling, but I can still foresee problems. I drive people potty when I ‘foresee’ problems as it comes across as very negative but 20yrs experience has shown me these crystal ball visions are rarely misguided and if I have the conviction to act on my hunches, it always saves a lot of time and money in the long run.
So, wandering round 100% Design in September, I see the Hush Acoustics stand, right at the back of the rear most hall, with a solitary stall holder. I hone in like a guided Moregeous missile and Rob is cornered. There’s no escape for him. 40minutes later the order is on and I’m delighted!
Hush Acoustics specialise in just that, acoustic solutions for both new and existing properties to hush up (or down?!) the noise levels. Rob is wonderfully passionate about his subject and became quite aerated when talking about how often in new builds these days, the acoustic specification is the first thing to be chopped during budget ‘reassessments’, leaving the eventual new owners tearing their hair out at how awful the noise travel is from neighbouring properties and within their own homes. Shouldn’t happen really should it, but it does.
I wish I’d know about some of his products whilst we were building. I’d have included these soft acoustic joist strips (left & middle below) which are designed to sit along the top of all the new timber floor joists before laying chipboard on top. These cushion the impact noise when people walk on the chipboard or finished flooring when laid – what a great idea. I’d have also fitted the circular cushioning strip around the edges of the floor between the new chipboard and existing brick. You live and learn eh? So let’s get positive, what could I do to solve my noise problems?
Well, the floor is built, there’s nothing I can do about that so it’s a retrofit product I need. Below is my answer. Hush make sheets of chipboard or plywood which have acoustic panels already attached. You simply lay these, unfixed as a floating system (because sound would travel through nailed or screwed fixings), on top of your problem floor, including a perimeter acoustic strip. The acoustic panels are in different thicknesses according to how bad your sound problem is, or how much floor height you can get away with losing.
When you walk on this ‘new’ floor, the cushioning helps to reduce and soften the impact of heavy footsteps and also assists with sound travel too.
A few weeks later….. we’re cracking on!
The image below shows the size of the ply panels waiting on the bed deck to be fitted. I have the HushPly 28 as we’re laying an LVT Amtico floor in the dormer, but most people would have HushPanels made of chipboard over which you can lay carpet or timber.Below is the cross section of the HushPly 28mm. The HushPanels go way thicker, up to 52mm, but we have limited head height in the dormer. I’ll soon be using these thicker panels in the extension bedrooms above the kitchen.Check ’em out going down below. Glued properly together (not nailed) as Rob instructed. You know when something just feels more solid? That’s exactly how I felt when it was going down. I felt happy. Happy that I’d be in my bath below hearing far less of Mini-M’s Playstation shenanigans and size 11 feet!
Even though the bathroom below isn’t plasterboarded out yet, the noise levels are already reduced, both airborne and impact.
I’ll report back as we progress and also show the extension area with the thicker 57mm panels but I’m already very happy with this choice of product. I’d use it at rentals and specify for clients. And in future I’ll always, ALWAYS think more carefully about sound travel when constructing floors in timber. After all, clever innovations are there to be used, right?
I love reading this, great walk through – and I hear you on going from being drawn to the wallpaper and shiny things to being unnaturally interested in sound insulation!
A question: I am doing a top floor flat which had soft insulation rolls packed between the floors – no plywood sheet over that – and it’s slightly better but you can still hear conversations and more quite clearly.
It doesn’t have those lovely double height ceilings, but the height is better than a new build. Is the best solution to pull up the floorboards and put better insulation underneath, or to add something on top. (We are wanting to avoid carpets).
Hi Marianne 🙂
The problem with simply putting soft insulation between the floor joists is you do still get lots of sound travel through gaps as a proper acoustic seal hasn’t been created. Sound can get down the back of skirtings and echo through timber, it’s a buggar! I’d be tempted to put something on top, such as the acoustic solutions from Hush where I bought mine, though there are other companies. Especially if you don’t want thick underlay and carpet…
I’ve got a real issue with crystal clear airborne noise coming up through from the flat below. There isn’t enough space to insulate between the joists so i was planning to use acoustic chipboard, similar to what you have shown. Did you find any improvement with the sound by only using the chipboard? And i notice you have expanding foam around the edges – i was also planning to do this to make it air tight and help stop sound escaping.
Hi Carlene, I once had the same issue in a Victorian property spilt into flats. We stuffed soft insulation between the joists (just squeeze it in where you can), but also laid a soft acoustic roll under the final floor finish (pine boards) to soften footfall. It did make a difference and continues to do so. On the images in this particular room – in the new dormer at my home – I used expansion foam to fill edge gaps and then neatened it off before laying the acoustic flooring and final Amtico floor. This is more about the airborne sound than the foot traffic noise. You’ve got to think about both. It’s a headache isn’t it!! Good luck x