How to block out noise from neighbors in 5 easy steps


We all have that neighbor who makes WAY too much noise for our liking. He’s either:

  • playing Wagner’s Valkyrie full blast while eating lunch
  • an insomniac bouncing a basketball in the middle of the night
  •  washing his dishes and laundry at 4 A.M.
  • he’s a cry baby (or an actual baby)
  • a scrubby teenager learning to play the drums. “I’m doing it for you Stacy!”

Whichever of these 5 noisy people are living next to you, I have a few solutions that can nip the problem in the bud. And luckily they’re legal and fully safe to operate. So you won’t end up as the villain in the next episode of “Murder She Wrote”. Okay, ALL joking aside, here’s the short answer:

  1. Locate the source of the noise (approximately)
  2. Ask your neighbor(s) to be quieter. If they won’t budge, do this:
  3. Cover the wall, ceiling or floor that separates you from the loud neighbor with soundproofing material
  4. Choose the right soundproofing material depending on the type of noise (airborne or impact noise)
  5. If it’s airborne noise use acoustic panels. If it’s impact noise use Mass Loaded Vinyl or mineral wool panels.

This is a short overview of the steps. Next, let me explain all the nitty-gritty details, like how to choose the right material and how to install it properly.

1. Locate the source of the noise

Before you start gluing weird foamy stuff on your walls, let me save you 500 bucks of trouble.

For heaven’s sake, don’t soundproof your whole apartment unless you’re completely surrounded by loud jackasses!

I’m super serious. You probably already know where the noise is coming from. It’s either coming from upstairs, downstairs or from one side or the other on the same floor.

So once you know the location, you know which part of your home you need to soundproof. This will save you tons of money. If the noise from your neighbor can be heard only from the ceiling in your bedroom, then soundproof only the ceiling in your bedroom. If it can be heard only from the floor in your living room, then soundproof the floor in your living room. There’s no reason to soundproof all the walls in that room, just to be on the safe side.

Maybe you understood this immediately, but I’ve met more than a fair share of people who used way more soundproofing material than they had to for simple projects like this one.

Okay, so now you know where the bothersome noise is coming from. But what’s the nature of the noise? It can be:

  • AIRBORNE NOISE (any sound transmitted only through air): talking, yelling, screaming (I hate you, I wanted the new X-box you got me the new Playstation AAAAAA!!!), loud music…
  • IMPACT NOISE (low frequency vibrations that gets stronger as it passes through walls, doors etc.): drum bass, music with strong bass, washing machines vibrating on the floor, people walking or jumping on the floor, ball bouncing…

It’s critical that you understand this difference before doing anything. Because not all soundproofing materials work equally well for both. Soundproof foam panels work great for airborne noise, but they do nothing for impact noise.

I believe this explanation is enough to understand the difference. But if you need more info, you can read this free 420 page book on this very subject.

2. Confront the neighbors

Now that you know the exact location and source of the noise, you can confront your neighbors about it.

I’m serious. Sometimes just telling the person that they’re being too loud (especially if it’s past midnight!) can solve the problem.

Perhaps they’re not even aware that you can hear them. You are terribly polite and don’t make any noise. But they don’t know that. Maybe they think you’re as loud as them, but they can’t hear you so you can’t hear them either.

Or maybe, just maybe they’re waiting to see how much longer you will tolerate their disrespectful behavior. So don’t make them win – knock on their door and ask them to stop whatever it is they’re doing at night because it’s driving you crazy! Show some teeth. I’m serious.

STORY TIME:

I had a problem with smelly neighbors a while back. They live right next to me, and they used to make the most god awful smelling food ever. They were an elderly, retired couple and they consumed tons of garlic. The problem was that they also kept their windows closed all day during winter time. They would open the windows in the evening, and all of that concentrated garlicky + old people smell would travel to my apartment.

I tolerated this insult for a year. But when winter came rolling in so did their garlic munching habits. At one point I knew something had to be done. I went over, knocked, entered their apartment and told them the truth. The problem was unbearable and I would not be smelling their stale garlic stench any longer! They respectfully apologized for any inconvenience, all the while refusing to admit any fault.

So… now you’re wondering – did it work? Well… NO, it didn’t. Up to this day I have to close my windows in the winter evenings because of this old, garlic-loving couple.

So why did I tell you this story at all? Well, just to show you that nothing BAD will happen if you go over and confront your neighbors. And who knows, maybe you will have better luck than I did.

But hey, at least you can block the noise. There are no filters for the stench I’m dealing with.

3. Move out!

I don’t mean literally move out of your home. But here’s an example:

If you can’t sleep at night because of noise, moving your bed to another room might be a better option.

Of course, this entirely depends on the design and size of your home.

4. Hang acoustic panels (without damaging the walls)

Okay, let’s get down to business.

If you’re dealing ONLY with airborne noise, you’re in a bit of luck. Because now you can use the easiest soundproofing solution out there – acoustic panels.

It’s the easiest one because:

  • hanging the panels on the wall is fast and simple
  • it requires no wall reconstruction
  • in most apartment situations they can absorb 90%+ of airborne noise (therefore no other materials are required)
  • they’re more affordable than other options

I reviewed top 4 acoustic panels and how to install them without damaging the walls (ceiling included) in this comprehensive guide. Make sure to check it out to save time, money and sanity.

How to soundproof the floor

If the noise is coming from a downstairs area, you should obviously soundproof your floor. Using acoustic panels on the floor is not convenient, and there are better options such as:

  • carpet padding
  • mass loaded vinyl (works for both airborne and impact noise)
  • acoustic underlay (works for both airborne and impact noise)
  • cork tiles

Here are my top floor soundproofing solutions.

5. Impact noise solutions

Acoustic foam panels will do very little for impact noise produced by drums, washing machines and people stomping on the floor. For this you will need one of these materials:

  • fiberglass panels
  • Mass Loaded Vinyl
  • Mineral wool panels

These are very dense materials that also have a bit of flexibility to them. Due to this combination they can absorb low frequency vibrations more efficiently than any other materials.

For example, Mass Loaded Vinyl has been used since the 1960s to reduce road noise and engine noise in cars and trucks, and even in boat engine compartments.

On the walls MLV works just great against impact  AND airborne noise, which is why I frequently recommend it as a one-punch-all solution.

For more info on MLV, check out this article.

Alternative:

Another product that works great for soundproofing walls (and ceiling) is mineral wool. Mineral wool panels are inserted between the wall joists (studs). They work equally well for impact and airborne noise.

Here’s how you install mineral wool boards:

And here’s how you soundproof the ceiling:

These two videos are spot on. But one more thing should be highlighted. You should ALWAYS use gloves, a mask and glasses when working with mineral wool boards. If they’re not covered with dense material, they release small fiberglass particles which can irritate the skin and nasal passages. This is why this product is almost always installed inside the walls, not on the outside.

Materials used in the videos are available on Amazon:

Mass Loaded Vinyl or Mineral Wool Boards?

I personally prefer Mass Loaded Vinyl. It also has a better record against impact noise and the installation is a bit easier. With mineral wool you have to use some protective gear and you have to cut all the pieces to size so that they can fit between the joists. With Mass Loaded Vinyl you just cut that one big piece of vinyl, attach it to the joists with a few nails and you’re good to go.

Fiberglass panels – on-wall solution for impact noise

For reducing impact noise it’s best to place the soundproofing material inside the wall in order to improve its density. But, if you’re not to keen to do that, you can hang acoustic fiberglass panels on the wall instead.

Again, I recommend checking out my comprehensive guide on acoustic panels, and especially the 4th option, which is the flat fiberglass panel.

You don’t have to get those ones exactly, but they need to be fiberglass panels, NOT foam panels, otherwise you’ll only reduce airborne noise.

I still advise using Mass Loaded Vinyl because it’s cheaper and delivers better results.

6. Installing Drywall

Drywall can also reduce noise. It’s already present in most houses and apartments, especially in the US. There’s nothing magical about it; it’s an extra layer of wall that provides thermal and sound insulation.

For tips on how to install it check out this article from the Family Handyman.

But I suspect that most of you already have drywall and are still struggling with the noise. In that case, placing Mass Loaded Vinyl or mineral wool panels behind drywall or acoustic panels on top of it is the way to go.

Conclusion

Noisy neighbors will always be a problem. But instead of using ear plugs, taking sleeping pills or listening to Jordan Peterson’s lectures on the necessity of suffering, I suggest you deal with the problem by using one of the soundproofing methods mentioned above.

If you encounter any obstacles during the installation process, write it down in the comment section. Sometimes the comment section is not present for some reason. In that case you can email me directly with your question(s) at soundproofadvice@gmail.com and I’ll help you out as best as I can. – Luka Baron

 

Peter Bone

Soundproof expert and a staunch opponent of noise. This website is a free source of information on how to 'keep it down a notch'. I update the content regularly to keep up with advancements in the soundproofing industry.

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