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Soundproofing: Be the Architect of Your Soundscape


No matter what the cause, it goes without saying that people are happier when other people aren’t disrupting their world with noise pollution.

Let’s face it: there are a lot of musicians out there—but they aren’t the only ones making noise in apartment building and hotel rooms. Kids scream and stomp, teenagers do everything at full volume, gamers blast away at their war games, and grandma watches her stories. (Not to mention that couple that rented a room to “celebrate their love.”)—the list goes on and on.

Living and working next to other people is a fact of life—and people make noise. You can spend your time hoping that your neighbors are quiet people (or at least considerate enough to know when to not make so much noise), but as with all things in life: there are no guarantees.

This is why soundproofing your apartment or hotel rooms is so important. Paper-thin walls mean that you can’t charge as much in rent. That lust-filled couple will keep neighboring guests up at night, making them unhappy with their stay and unlikely to rent a room from you in the future. Maybe you own a restaurant and it seems like the office workers above your establishment are always noisily rearranging their furniture.

No matter what the cause, it goes without saying that people are happier when other people aren’t disrupting their world with noise pollution.

What Is Sound Anyway?

By understanding what sound is and how it works, you can begin to determine what soundproofing solutions might best fit your situation.

Simply stated, sound is a vibration travelling through a medium such as air or water. Physics explains it as an “audible mechanical wave of pressure and displacement that can be received by auditory receptors because of its physical effect on the medium it travels through.” This is why we can hear and feel sound. Sound waves can have all sorts of effects on people, from mood and emotional effects to physical discomfort or relaxation sensations. The intensity and frequency of the sound vibrations, coupled with the arrangement of sound, create an environment also known as a soundscape.

Soundscapes affect a person’s experience by influencing their perception of the environment they occupy. The soundscape your venue creates is a major component to promoting the right atmosphere. This must be considered whether you rent rooms, own apartment homes, or invite guests into your restaurant.

If you build your space properly, you will be able to attract more happy customers. Invoking a sense of tranquility will help to keep people around longer, ensuring that your rental units are always occupied. Utilizing an “open” concept in your dining space encourages conversation and uses the background noise of other conversations and sound to help generate a mood appropriate for dining.

Creating Your Ideal Soundscape: Reducing Sound & Absorbing Sound

The first decision you should make once you’ve determined your ideal environment is whether you need to Reduce or Absorb sound. Creating a space that doesn’t transmit sound to neighboring rooms is only one aspect of the desired goal—if not properly insulated, you may find that you still have problems within a room. For example, a room that has been soundproofed to Reduce sound will help to keep sound from leaving the room, but this can cause problems with noise inside the room, as it may create an echo-y, noisy interior if the materials/methods used to reduce the sound are designed to bounce sound waves off of them.

Soundproofing can be necessary in a large space like this dining area.Generally, this solution is not ideal for smaller rooms such as bedrooms in hotels and apartments. On the other hand, especially in large dining areas, this type of soundscape can help to create an open concept which invites conversation.

A room insulated to Absorb sound is great for keeping sound waves from bouncing around within the room, keeping the space itself quieter. This is exactly what musicians are looking for when recording. Most people consider this a mandatory feature in housing and sleeping units because it eliminates a lot of background noise. Sound absorbing is ideal for medium to small rooms.

Either way, a room that has been soundproofed to reduce or absorb sound creates a much quieter soundscape to neighboring rooms. But clearly that isn’t the only factor you want to consider—a small, noisy room on the inside won’t be of much use to anyone wanting to rent a room from you—and a large, quiet room will make people feel awkward and not want to dine in your restaurant.

Areas of a Room That Need Soundproofing

Once you’ve determined what type of environment you want your space to be, you need to understand where sound pollution gets in and out. Sound can enter or leave a room through various methods: windows, thin walls, doors, the floor, ceilings and even the roof. Stand in the room. Listen and walk around to determine exactly which areas are letting sound in and out.

soundproofingIn some cases, you can do the soundproofing yourself. But if you’re not prepared to install new windows, add insulation between walls, or work on the roof, then your best bet is to hire professionals. Experts will cost a bit more, but can save you time and money by developing a specific plan suited to your needs. While the initial investment may put you off, the atmosphere you are trying to create will work to your advantage and make you more money over time.

There are many methods of soundproofing, all of which suit the needs of any and every situation. Some techniques and design builds are very advanced and ultra-specific. Luckily, these tend to be important to sound engineers and recording studios. Most likely, your soundscape needs fall into one or two common situations, which can be solved by various methods.

Common Soundproofing Methods

Since there are two overarching methods to soundproof a room, here are some common solutions. Understanding these methods will help you determine your needs, allowing you to create the perfect soundscape environment.

Reducing Sound

Great for medium to large spaces, reducing the sound leaving the room is more important than reducing the sound within the room.

Below are some common methods used by soundproofing professionals when building a space to reduce sound pollution leaving the room, but not so much within the room itself:

  1. Diffusion: An acoustic diffuser can be applied to a hard, flat surface preventing sound from creating unwanted echoes by scattering sound in all directions. Good for large dining spaces.
  2. Resonant Absorbers: There are various types of resonant absorbers but all work to dampen sound waves as they simultaneously deflect it.
  3. Residential Soundproofing: Used primarily to keep noise from entering a room or space. Various window solutions, such as double-paned windows or special curtains help keep a noisy outside environment where it belongs: outside.

Absorbing Sound

Insulation that absorbs sound creates environments which promote tranquility within the room. This is important for small to medium spaces. Sound absorbing rooms are not only quieter inside, but also keep sound from escaping into neighboring rooms.

Below are some common insulation solutions used by soundproofing professionals when building a space that absorbs sound pollution within a room:

  1. Dampening Insulation: Reduces the resonance of sound in a room by absorbing or redirecting the sound waves. Dampening limits the acoustic resonance of the air within a room, or the mechanical resonance of the structure of the room itself.
  2. Absorption: As a result of absorbing sound rather than reflecting it, soundproofing materials of this nature end up converting a small amount of the vibrational energy into heat. There are plenty of materials that can be used to absorb sound; the right one for your space depends upon the vibrational frequency the room will experience.

Be the Architect of Your Soundscape

There are many, many options available beyond what we’ve discussed here, all of which are suited to specific needs. This article is an introduction to common solutions and will help to solve your needs as an apartment manager, hotel owner and/or restaurant entrepreneur. As usual, research is the most important first step. Once you understand what sort of soundscape your space requires, you can talk with professionals and build a plan specifically tailored to your business needs.

If you create an environment that welcomes people by putting them at ease, helps them to relax and unwind, and promotes an atmosphere suitable to the services you provide… well, everyone wins. By building the right environment, your guests won’t have to think about why they should look for a competing venue next time they need the service you provide.

Image “Dining Room” courtesy of Flickr user Sam Howzit; Image “LOUD” courtesy of Flickr user Krissy Tower; Featured image “sound proofing” courtesy of Flickr user William Clifford; All image licensed for use under CC by 2.0.

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