The best thing about having the great home theater you’ve spent years dreaming of is the volume – that is, the ability to turn it up to your liking. No better place to indulge your love of super loud bass, or high octane sports, or scream-packed horror movies, right?
The worst thing about having a great home theater? Well, it’s the volume of course, unless your home theater has been soundproofed.
The point of having a home theater is to enjoy it, and soundproofing your home theater should serve a dual purpose – protecting those on the outside from your choice of entertainment, and protecting your investment in the home theater by blocking unwanted outside sounds from leaking in. You can do that by installing the right noise reduction material or combination of materials – you want to absorb noise before it leaves the space, and you also want to block outside noise from coming into you home theater.
For instance, the sounds that come from bass notes are some of the hardest to block because they come through the floor and walls even at normal listening levels. Bass contains a huge amount of energy, and those low frequency waves travel through most surfaces – walls, floors, ceilings – not only in sound waves but also in vibration. The louder you like your bass, the bigger the noise issues will be for other family members as well as neighbors, particularly if you live in an apartment or condo.
In fact, treating your home theater with the appropriate noise abatement material is going to pay off, both in your immediate pleasure (you can hear all the fine details from your HD screen or stereo without being disturbed by the neighbor’s dog barking) and later when it comes time to sell your home. In fact, homebuyers are more inclined to purchase a home with the convenience and privacy factor of soundproofing already installed.
The difference between attenuating noise caused by loud base, a full volume football game, or a noisy pool party in the next-door-neighbor’s yard is fairly complex and may require more than one approach to creating peace for those people within earshot of your home theater, as well as for making your home theater as enjoyable as it can be.
Noise abatement material that absorbs sound will keep your family and neighbors happy. This type of material works best when added to the wall studs during construction or renovation, before the drywall goes up. There is a wall treatment that can be attached over virtually any existing wall for a construction-free alternative to the stud treatment which carries the same STC, and can be painted or wallpapered to match the room’s décor. Once in place, the acoustical wallcover is virtually indistinguishable from any other wall.
Adding an appropriate noise barrier material, and/or a reverberant noise product will make the experience of listening to music, movies, or television all your own. You’ll still feel your bass waves inside, but family and neighbors on the other side of your home theater walls will remain blissfully ignorant.
Initiatives to redevelop and renew previously blighted and/or densely populated urban areas are giving multifamily builders new opportunities for work, but many of these projects also involve heightened noise abatement issues that must be considered to avoid creating a building full of irritated tenants.
Nearby freeways, street-level construction and, most significantly, other neighbors can quickly turn a $500,000
luxury condo into a chamber of endless noise that results in homeowner lawsuits and expensive retrofits. To avoid this sort of cacophonic catastrophe, multifamily builders must be up to speed on the latest technologies, materials and noise-abatement Acoustiblok Products design standards before initiating new urban projects.
“It’s important builders recognize there is a noise problem in the first place. Noise is not usually a big concern for contractors because the ultimate goal is usually trying to build the building for a certain amount of money per square feet, when, in most cases, the tenant would happily pay more for a quieter living environment if they knew the option existed,” says Lahnie Johnson, president and founder of Acoustiblok Inc.
Since many of the available tracts of land targeted for urban residential development are in notoriously loud locations—near freeways, airports or industrial zones—the first thing to consider is usually the site itself.
“Orientation to things like highways or railroad tracks will dictate how acoustically resilient the exterior shell needs to be,” says Todd Beiler, principal with D. L. Adams Associates, an acoustical engineering firm with offices in Denver and Honolulu.
“Then you have to look at the structure of the walls and floor/ceiling spaces, and any sounds that may be generated by mechanical equipment like the air handling units or chillers.”
In relation to the building envelope, windows are the most critical noise-reduction element.
“Exterior walls are typically very well insulated, so windows are always the weak link for sound transmission from the outside. In that regard, laminated glass significantly out-performs standard glass when it comes to sound insulation,” says Beiler.
While site location and resilience of the structural envelope have a lot to do with minimizing a building’s sound levels, the biggest cause of noise complaints in most every multifamily structure —whether hotels, apartments or luxury condos—are the upstairs neighbors.
“The thing that causes the most headaches for building owners and residents is the floor and ceiling assembly. People tend to expect some noise from the street level or from mechanical systems, but noise from the upstairs neighbor is more annoying than anything else,” says Beiler.
Minimizing vertical noise transmission requires contractors to consider the complete floor assembly from top to bottom.
“Floor finish is one of the biggest factors for sound transmission. Obviously, stone and tile floors are the most challenging.
"Other things to consider include whether or not there is some sort of resilient or acoustical dampening layer underneath the floor, what the subfloor structure is, and how or if the ceiling is suspended,” says Beiler.
Designers of the recently finished Ko’olani, a 48-floor, 370-unit luxury condominium tower in Honolulu, spared no expense when it came to ensuring the comfort and privacy of residents. To
eliminate potential sound transmission from upstairs neighbors, the Ko’olani was built using Acoustiblok material as a subfloor soundproofing layer.
“Many architects will specify installation of noise-reduction barriers between units and floors only to have them value engineered out by thecontractor who may go with cheaper materials— such as extra layers of drywall. But noise-dampening products are superior because they use specialized polymers
that transform sound vibrations by turning them into inaudible friction energy,” says Johnson.
Advanced new materials are making it easier than ever for builders to eliminate sound problems between units and from outside. Keeping the communal peace can also be achieved using advanced soundproofing products from companies such as Soundproof Windows, a maker of secondary noise-eliminating windows perfect for remodel and post-occupancy situations.
Regardless, when building urban multifamily structures, a good rule of thumb is that, when given the option between “loud” and “not loud,” most people will be happy to pay a little more for “not loud."
Excerpted from "Sounds of Silence: Noise Abatement in Urban Multi-family Buildings," by Johnathon Allen, Builder News, September, 2009.