Apartment life is interesting, to say the least. With so many different people, lifestyles, and habits, it seems there’s never a dull moment. City-dwelling apartment folks often get treated to the cacophony of jackhammers and heavy machinery with the nearby construction on top of screaming children, noisy neighbors (especially those overly amorous ones in the throes of passion), and then of course, the sounds of the cars and trucks on a never-ending loop passing by on the streets below.
With all these noises, it can be hard to hear yourself think, much less sleep or do anything else. You pay enough to live there yet you can’t get your own slice of peace and quiet in your own domain.
Thankfully though, there’s a way to muffle those unwanted sounds from your surrounds. And best of all, they’re a lot easier to do than you’d imagine. If you love the city life but tire of hearing it when you just want to relax and unwind in the privacy of your apartment, keep reading to find out how to add a pleasing hush to your apartment home.
What is traffic noise?
Before we get into what traffic noise consists of, you should know about the types of sounds. There are airborne sounds which travel through the air, as the name suggests. Every sound your ears pick up is an airborne sound. Then there are structural sounds. These are vibrations that are brought through an object. Think of footsteps on the floor from the neighbors upstairs or someone hammering a wall somewhere in your building.
Structural sounds can become airborne sounds which is what we hear. But because each of these sounds arrives at our eardrums in different ways, you need a variety of soundproofing methods to dampen or mute them.
Sound waves are very efficient fellows for they travel in manners that offer the least resistance. Sometimes, this makes it tough to find out where the sound is coming from, especially in a city apartment. It could be coming through the air vents or you might even have some crevices nearby your electrical outlets that are allowing sound in.
Doors and windows are also points where sounds can sneak in because they often have small holes or spaces around them. Underneath the door is one of the biggest culprits. Plus, when you have an apartment, the previous tenant could have hung pictures on the wall you share with your neighbors. The holes left from the nails could be the reason why your space is anything but soundproof now.
The source of the sound that’s bothering you can often be difficult to trace. Soundproofing experts always advise that you should soundproof in the blueprint phase of any project, but for many that aren’t homeowners, this reality isn’t possible. If you’re renting or subletting, you might have to make do with what you’ve got.
Not to worry though. If you keep reading, you’ll find solutions that will help you battle the noise at any stage.
How to reduce traffic noise in an apartment
If you have the great fortune to be able to start from scratch to soundproof rooms, it’s easier and cheaper to do before the walls and flooring are installed. Not a possibility for some of you we realize, but hang tight and we’ll get to that.
In Manhattan, it can cost over $200,000 to bring golden silence to your living space, according to an article from 2015 in the New York Times. Now four years later, that number has likely increased. To fully soundproof a space, you’d need to rip up the walls and floorboards and add the soundproof flooring or underlayment inside, then seal them back up again.
If you’re planning a remodel, this is a great first step to getting that beautiful hush that you deserve above the city. Plan it into your project from the onset and you’ll avoid a hefty price tag.
Whether you have the option of remodeling and getting soundproofing materials built in or you have to make do with what you’ve got and work around it somehow, there are many products that can help keep those outside sounds outside where they belong.
Keep reading, and you’ll find out how to block out the noise from the garbage truck, cars with overly-loud stereos playing horrible music at all hours of the day, or even your well-meaning upstairs neighbors who have kids that like scampering across the floors at 6am.
Our best tips are as follows:
– Focus soundproofing on your walls
Soundproofing a room should start in the walls. A noise-reducing drywall can help keep unwanted sound from coming around. Once upon a time, if you wanted to keep noise transfer from traveling between rooms, a resilient channel of thin metal attached to framework to isolate the drywall was used to weaken soundwaves. Today though, you can use a singular piece of noise-reducing drywall.
Noise-reducing drywall has 2 dense cores of gypsum with a layer of viscoelastic polymer. You can always add this atop the walls in your apartment to quiet down any annoying outside distractions.
Insulating interior walls is another option, which will stop the vibrations and muffle the noise. This requires much more work as the walls need to be opened up and filled with sustainable insulation. It fills in the gaps between the walls as well as the spaces between the studs. This absorbs the noise and keeps sound from transferring.
– Soundproof your floors
After you’ve dealt with soundproofing the walls, turn your attention below to the floors. Floating floors are an ideal solution because they’re not nailed into the subfloor as with typical flooring. They require a special adhesive for installation. So without nails in a floor joist, these floating floors can stop creaking and sounds from moving through the levels of a multi-level apartment.
Yes, that means your kids can run upstairs and stomp all over the place and you will actually be able to hear yourself think. Amazing!
To get a floating floor, you’ll need to use vibration absorbing materials and make a sandwich of sorts with that between pieces of flooring. Joist tape is an easy fix for squeaking floors, especially if the room is fine besides this. You can use it in an already-built room but you’ll get the best sound reduction before installing walls and flooring. Just know that if the room is built, you’ll need to rip some stuff up.
Another way you can float the floor is to buffer it with layers of insulation between the floor joists. Similar to how it’s done for walls, you can employ the same method under your feet. To be fully effective though, the entire cavity needs to be fully filled.
– Stop the gaps
As mentioned earlier, gaps around your doors, windows, electrical outlets, and vents all let unwanted noise in. Fill those gaps and you’ll keep sounds out. Adding weather-stripping to a door and sealing cracks (Amazon link) can really make a difference in adding more quiet inside your space.
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– Counter it with white noise
Now, if you rent your apartment in the city, you might not be able to (or even allowed to) make big soundproofing changes to it. That doesn’t mean that you have to argue with your landlord about renovating the place. Instead, you can mask unwanted sounds through a very easy and reliable method.
All you need is a white noise machine. It creates soft sounds like a running air conditioning or fan to cover up those outside noises. If you’re a parent, you might even have one of these already that you’ve used for soothing a newborn to sleep. You can use it too to work from home without being distracted by the cabbies arguing outside 30 floors below or the constant barrage of honking, shouting, and other unpleasantness.
You can buy a white noise machine for each room of your apartment or simply move it around with you in your home. You can also use apps on your phone that make drowning out unwanted noises a breeze.
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– Install an awesome sound system
While turning up music too loud can do damage to eardrums, listening to music that’s aptly loud enough to cover the sound without going into the danger zone can make you feel happier, plus it will make you feel more creative. But the key is using a quality sound system like the Nakamichi Shockwafe Pro 7.1, which can tune to your room, measuring the acoustics for optimum sound without going overboard in decibels.
With the right sound system that can analyze the size and layout of your room, not to mention the furnishings within, it can give you the best sound without you having to turn it up too loud to enjoy. And best of all, it takes care of all that street noise, allowing you to live life to the tune of your own soundtrack.
How quiet can your apartment get?
There are many ways to measure sound including decibels, sound transmission coefficient (STC), and more. Each product and material type for soundproofing has its own rating. Buildings have codes and regulations that they apply to a room’s acoustics but it isn’t easy for most people to understand the differences.
To put it an easy way, the higher the STC, the quieter your space will be. Glass windows generally have an STC rating around 25. That means sound can go through it. An 8-inch wall of concrete ranks in at 72, keeping very little sound from coming in. Using the right soundproofing drywall can help you get an STC of at least 50, likely higher.
You should do something about that unwanted noise because whether you realize it or not, it’s causing you stress. It can also keep you from getting the kind of quality sleep you need. You don’t need to put up with it, and honestly, you really shouldn’t because it can affect your health in very negative ways.
Keep reading and you’ll discover just how detrimental it is to your health to take care of soundproofing your space!
Why we need soundproofing in an apartment
It might not be fully quiet and peaceful anywhere on earth, but you can use soundproofing to help reduce the stresses the sounds around you create. Even in a relatively remote space, people are prone to construction zones, airplanes flying overhead, and other noises. Your office might be abuzz with computers and other low-pitched sounds from equipment.
You may tune them out, or when you’re trying to think of ideas to pitch to your boss at tomorrow’s meeting, you might seethe with rage over that nondescript hum coming from your fridge. And if those sounds bother you, then that traffic chaos beneath you isn’t helping any.
These sounds are both annoying and disruptive to your health. Recent research suggests that long-term exposure to these pesky noises negatively impact physical and mental health, but the most troubling is that they can disrupt the learning process for children.
– Physical reactions caused by traffic noise
You might love the city life, and the vibrant and fun culture it holds. But the noises from the road and air traffic flying above increase blood pressure, even more so when these noises occur at night. One study found that the noise surrounding Heathrow Airport in London led to increased hospital admissions as well as deaths by stroke, cardiovascular disease, and coronary heart disease for those living nearby.
In another study, it analyzed aircraft noise exposure over 15 years and found that heart attack-related deaths increased when this noise was louder and longer. According to that study, the 10 decibel increase on average in noise exposure from airplanes directly correlated to a rise in high blood pressure, strokes, and heart attacks.
– Mental reactions caused by traffic noise
Noise pollution from traffic also affects your emotional responses. There’s even a name for this response, known as ‘noise annoyance.’ It’s negative feelings that noise can create from irritation, disturbance, dissatisfaction, nuisance, and feeling like you’ve lost your privacy.
In addition to how loud it is and the type of sound, not to mention how long a duration you’re exposed to it, other factors prevail. If it interferes with your activities, causes you fear, or in other words, starts to drive you crazy, it’s taxing on your health. With quieter background noises, the effects are a bit less clear though they still have the potential to be upsetting.
By and large though, the most important area of research surrounding noise pollution, particularly that of which is caused by traffic, it affects the way children learn. In roughly 20 studies, effects have been found for either aircraft or road traffic on the ability for children to learn and develop long-term memory.
It’s quite clear from studies for both physical and mental effects of traffic noise that it is damaging to our health in many ways, but why is that? Before we focus on tuning it out through soundproofing, it helps to know exactly why you should take measures to silence your space for your better health.
Possible explanations for why traffic noise impacts your health
Wondering why traffic noise can cause such damage to your health? For starters, there’s the pollution that comes from aircraft flying overhead, not to mention the cars and trucks cruising the roads below. The particles they emit into the air cause inflammation which affects health in other ways, leading to chronic diseases.
Noise exposure though adds to that by stressing your heart rate and blood pressure. When you’re inhaling toxic fumes regularly and listening to an endless droning of traffic noise, all these factors raise your risk for cardiovascular diseases. Blood fats, blood glucose concentrations, and even obesity are more common when exposure to traffic noise takes place. Without countering these effects, you stand a greater risk of having a heart attack or stroke than someone that isn’t perpetually assaulted with noise pollution as well as air pollution.
Even in sleep, your body still responds to the noises. If you’re often awoken by noisy traffic sounds, the clanking of the city garbage trucks, airplanes flying low overhead, or even cats caterwauling in the alleyway, this repeated disturbance to your sleep can have serious consequences for your health.
This negative pattern causes problems for your breathing, heart rate, and body movements, though for children and the elderly, not to mention shift workers or those in poor health, it can be particularly damaging. Airplane noises can have even more disturbance than that of the sounds coming off the road, so if you live close to the airport, it could really be affecting your health more than you think.
While there are a great many studies that reveal how traffic noise impacts sleep, the impact it has on children and their ability to learn is a bit more profound. Some surmise that the noise interferes with what teachers are trying to present while others think the constant interruptions from the unwanted noise distract the children themselves. “Oh look! Another airplane!”
Quite often, those in lower income brackets have been the primary residents surrounding airports, but researchers have found that traffic noise affects even those from wealthier locations. Although this still seems a bit murky, the takeaway is that noise pollution is a very real problem for people living in cities.
We can’t tell everyone to go away, cancel all flights, and get rid of our roads, but we can take steps to secure our home space from the intrusions of these unwanted noises to bring peace and harmony into our homes. Noise pollution is here to stay in our modern world. You can run from it, but you can’t hide because it will always be around in some form.
The key is getting serious about your soundproofing to reclaim your own slice of peace on earth.
You may think you’ve found the perfect apartment until you lay your head down to sleep on the first night and hear all the noises coming from the air and from the roads. The good news is that there are many ways to dampen that noise and keep from hearing these annoying and health-damaging noises.
Ideally, you should build them into your space in the walls and floors, but it’s not always possible or affordable for many. That’s where using other innovative options come in that can be an easier fix to your noise problems. There are many soundproofing materials out there that can help dampen the noise, and should you be unable to make major changes to the space you’re in because you’re not the property owner or the expense is too great, you can look into cheaper alternatives to counterbalance that noise, like white noise machines for example.
The bottom line is that even when you dwell in the city, you don’t need to dwell over unwanted sounds. Follow these soundproofing tips and you’ll be on your way to a more peaceful existence.