Do you sometimes wish that you were a single-family homeowner? A home with no shared walls. A question as such, “Can my neighbors hear me talking?” would be irrelevant, right?
While modern houses are made of concrete walls which block airborne noise transmission, avenues such as doors, windows, and outlets on a shared wall will leak noise to the outside world. Nosy neighbors are the worst to have. They will go as far as eavesdropping on your conversations.
Can my neighbors hear me talking? If you and your neighbors share a common wall or are upstairs or downstairs from your apartment, chances are that they will hear you shouting, hear loud noises from your house, and hear when furniture is being moved.
Sound Transmission Class vs. Noise Reduction Coefficient
Sound Transmission Class measures how well a window, door, walls, or any other building partition reduces airborne sound.
STC is measured by the decibels lost as the sound propagates through objects such as walls, doors, or windows.
The STC values are determined from a reference curve table. The value of the lost decibels is tested against 18 of the known frequencies from 125 Hz-4000Hz to create a curve compared to the STC curve table values.
The higher the STC value, the better the material is in reducing sound transmission. For example, a standard single-pane window has an STC of 27, while a dual-pane window ranges between 26 and 32.
For example, if the curve generated from a measure of the lost decibels through your window closely matches the STC 20 curve, your window has an STC of 40. The more prominent the STC measure, the better the material blocks sound.
On the other hand, Noise Reduction Coefficient (NRC) measures the amount of sound an acoustic material can absorb. In simple terms is the measure of how quieter a sound-absorbing material can make a space.
Just like a sponge absorbs water, acoustic materials can soak up sound. NRC rating scale ranges between 0 and 1, with the latter being the best.
My Neighbors Can Hear Me Talking, What To Do?
Fear strikes when you realize that your neighbor could have been recording your conversations all the while. Maybe your work-at-home job involves private calls with clients providing crucial details to you. Maybe, you generally do not want anyone prying on your dialogs.
You have to understand the concept of sound transmission to deal with the problem effectively. When we speak, sound travels in the form of pressure waves through matter. The sound waves escape through your room’s windows, doors, walls, or openings.
The solution is to soundproof or sound deaden the passages. By knowing the Sound Transmission Class of your walls, windows, and doors, you can successfully soundproof or dampen them.
On the other hand, knowing the Noise Reduction Coefficient of your soundproofing materials will help you pick the best material for maximum effectiveness.
1. Install Acoustic Curtains
Acoustic curtains, also known as soundproofing curtains, are an affordable soundproofing option for anyone on a budget.
Sometimes, companies market their thick curtains as “soundproof,” but this is mostly not true. An actual acoustic curtain is woven, thick, and heavy, with a drop length that spreads from the ceiling to the floor.
The width of the curtains is bigger than that of traditional windows to ensure the window sides are sealed properly.
Acoustic curtains have deep pleats and are rough and porous. The porous surface absorbs sound waves, while the deep creases and roughness scatter the sound waves. These actions reduce the energy these sound waves bounce back to your ears.
These curtains are inexpensive, and hanging them is undemanding. To suppress more sound, utilize a ceiling bracket as it hangs the curtains from the ceiling. If your window is wider than the acoustic curtain, you can create a custom drape of two curtains.
Ensure that the curtains extend to the floor and have good gathers for maximum sound absorption. A 1% opening can let in or out 50% of sound. If your ceiling is 8′, get the 96″ curtain as it would extend from the ceiling to the floor.
Acoustic curtains are fashionable and serve other purposes other than sound damping. The curtains can block out light or insulate the house, thereby leaving your room warm in the winter and cooler in the summer.
One of my most recommended choices is NICETOWN curtains, available online.
2. Soundproof and Acoustic Blankets
These are not your typical bed blankets. Acoustic blankets are made by embedding fiberglass between two woven fabrics. They work by absorbing sound waves. The fiberglass can absorb around 75% of the reverberations rebounding from the blankets.
On the other hand, soundproof blankets are made of fiberglass and mass-loaded vinyl sandwiched between woven fabrics. They absorb and block sound waves.
Soundproofing blankets will serve you best, even if your room has little to no furniture. Sound waves bounce on objects and are amplified when you do not have furniture in a room. These blankets can slow down the sound waves, thereby not escaping the room.
These blankets can be used to cover windows, doors, and walls. You can also hang them from the ceiling as a room separator.
Most suppliers will design custom-fit blankets as long as you provide the exact measurements of your door, windows, or any other area of your room you need to soundproof.
Alternatively, you can custom cut the blankets to fit any surface you might need to cover. To do this, you will need to purchase a field stitching kit.
The installation process is effortless. Most of these blankets have grommets; the edges have hook and pile Velcro that allows for continuous sealing of the blankets. Be careful while installing not to damage the exterior fabric.
3. Reorganize your Furniture
Your furniture, including bookshelves, wall units, and TV stands, should be placed close to your walls.
Due to furniture being made of either steel or wood, the energy of the sound waves passing through them is reduced, acting as soundproofing surfaces.
Using your bookshelf, ensure that the shelves are filled with books for maximum noise reduction. The same case applies if you use a portable closet. Stash it with clothes. Like acoustic foam or other sound-absorbing materials, the clothes will create a soft surface that will absorb noise.
4. Use Mass Loaded Vinyl (MLV)
Mass Loaded Vinyl is a popular soundproofing material used since the 1960s. MLV is a hefty sheeting material that combines polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and barium sulfate or calcium carbonate.
It would be best to get MLV, whose thickness ranges from 1/16 to 1/4 inch. However, most MLV manufacturers do not indicate the thickness or reference weight. ½ pound per square foot of MLV is 1/16″ thick, 1 pound per square foot of MLV is 1/8″ thick, and 2 pounds per square foot of MLV is ¼” thick.
MLV should be loosely installed as it is viscoelastic, meaning it is viscous and elastic at the same time. This property makes MLV a sufficient sound vibrations diffuser and reflector.
How does MLV work? Here’s a simple analogy:
Try throwing a ball towards a sheet on a hang line. The ball’s speed is reduced after it curves into the sheet forming a three-dimensional shape. MLV works in the same manner.
That is why you are supposed to sandwich MLV between two drywalls. The sound waves that go through the drywall will be dampened by the MLV, creating the best soundproofing combo.
5. Use Soundproof Windows
Soundproof windows are built from window panes of different types with varied Sound Transmission Class values.
There are three types of soundproof windows: single-pane, double-pane, and triple-pane windows. The triple-pane window is the best as thicker than the other two. The panes are mostly made of a glass-plastic-glass integration aiding in blocking out sound waves.
Choosing a window pane from the three will require you to replace your window panes completely.
You can purchase soundproof window pane inserts if you are renting a room. This is because landlords are against major structural changes undertaken by the tenants.
Window inserts won’t interfere with the existing window structural integrity. You will install the panes some distance behind your window. The airspace between the panes absorbs and weakens the energy of the sound waves.
The installation process of these window panes is the most crucial part. Ensure a tight seal between the insert panes and the frame to prevent air leaks. You can use weatherstripping materials such as rubber or foam for this purpose.
6. Use Blown Insulation
Blown insulation is a low-density cellulose substance that improves thermal insulation and reduces sound waves’ transfer between walls. The material is also loose, thus creating air pockets between the walls that absorb and weaken the sound waves.
You are supposed to drill holes of about 3-4″ diameter at the center of your walls. Then, you will blow the insulation into the holes to occupy the cavities created.
Finally, you will patch the holes and paint them. The material can insulate your room against heat loss as an added merit.
7. Use Draft Stoppers to Seal Door Spaces
Interior doors usually have spaces at the bottom, allowing soundwaves to penetrate through. You can use draft stoppers to block these spaces to block sound waves from leaking into the other rooms.
If you are on a budget, you can roll a towel or rugs and use them to block the spaces.
Get draft stoppers with loops that allow you to hang them on the doorknob when they are being utilized.
8. Use Acoustic Foam Panels
These are dense sound-deadening materials used on either walls or ceilings. The thicker the foam, the better it will dampen the sound. They are easy to install and align.
You’ve probably seen them in recording studios, nightclubs, or gaming rooms.
Acoustic foam panels are porous. When air sound waves infiltrate the foam, the waves are trapped and bounce within the porous spaces. Due to the bouncing, the energy of the sound waves is drastically diminished, leaving a weak sound wave to reach your ears.
9. Seal the Cracks and Gaps on Your Walls
Sound can penetrate through as long as there is a crack on your wall, window or door frames, or any other surface.
Using an acoustic sealant such as a green glue compound, you must seal these cracks.
An acoustic sealant refers to adhesive soundproofing and absorbing caulk that can stick to several construction materials such as gypsum, metal, concrete, and wood.
It is a non-toxic, non-flammable, and water-based element. Compared to conventional caulk, acoustic sealants do not harden, dry out, loosen, or shrink. These properties allow the acoustical caulk to prevent sound penetration and absorb vibrations efficiently.
Acoustic sealant is durable and can withstand the contraction and expansion of materials.
Can My Neighbors Hear Me Talking- Final Thoughts
If you suspect that the neighbors can hear you talking, I would highly recommend you implement the soundproofing mentioned above methods.
It is cost-effective to do it yourself rather than hire a soundproofing company’s services. What’s better is that the options mentioned above are affordable and also highly effective.
Ensure that you first deal with all the main culprits, including the doors, windows, etc., that leak airborne sound.
Remember, a house made of cement or steel will likely require less sound deadening than one built with wood.
Before moving into a new home, scrutinize everything, especially if you value your privacy. This way, you will never have to ask, “Can my neighbors hear me talking?” rather, you’ll immediately start solving the problem using this article as a guide.
Meet Mike O’Connor, (a DIY enthusiast), living in Cincinnati, a city ranked as the noisiest in the USA.
As a work from home dad, I have a first hand experience of how noise can truly affect your well being.
Soundproofing isn’t something that should be taken as a hobby, it should be a skill that every homeowner should be equipped with.
Most of the work documented on this blog comes from purely first hand experience, and the products recommended work as indicated.