In this article, we’ll talk about cheap and easy ways to provide sound dampening in rental spaces like apartments and offices. Although you may have found this article by googling “soundproofing,” the materials and effort required to actually soundproof a space are unrealistic for an average renter on a budget. But the good news is that unless you are an audio technician working from home, you probably don’t need an entirely soundproof space.
If you just need a little bit of help blocking out some noise from your rental home or apartment’s neighbors, this article is for you: I discuss several ways to minimize, capture, and muffle disruptive sound in a typical living space.
By choosing a few- or all- of the tips from this list of ways to soundproof an apartment and implementing them in your home, you should expect to be able to get a significant reduction in sound entering your apartment without having to invest hundreds or even thousands of dollars in expensive technical soundproofing material
1. Using Decorative Textiles as Sound Buffers
You may think I’m crazy for suggesting that a blanket can block sound, but it’s one of the oldest ways to create private, quiet space: traditionally, heavy tapestries were hung in homes to provide privacy, insulation, and to muffle conversations and unwanted noise.
Thick Tapestries Reduce Room Noise
When I traveled to Patagonia a few years ago, I lugged back with me an Andean “Frazada”– a very thick, almost rug-like handwoven blanket made from wool. Displayed on a curtain rod in my office, this blanket- essentially a heavy tapestry – absorbs noise from within and without. It’s one of the most effective ways to reduce echo within my office, and shortly after mounting it I noticed a significant reduction in sounds, and that less sound seems to enter my office from that wall since mounting the heavy tapestry.
Thin Tapestries with Thick Lining
the problem with using thick tapestries like described above is often they are very expensive. The blanket I described above I purchased in Peru for about US$30 but which would cost closer to 300 to purchase in the USA. Another way to modify the tapestry method of creating a sound dampening accent wall in your apartment is to purchase an affordable thin wall tapestry (I love Etsy’s wall tapestry selection), hang it on your wall covering as much of the wall space as possible (check out my article on hanging a full wall curtain as a reference for an easy way to hang one), and then behind the tapestry cover the wall with styrofoam, foam panels, pallet boards, even vertically organized cleaning supplies!
When it comes to insulating an apartment from sound, more material is better, and the denser and more texturally varied the material, the better.
2. Creating a faux built-in bookshelf as a sound dampening accent wall
The best sound dampening wall that I ever made, by far, was a bookshelf I installed in an apartment with paper-thin walls in North Seattle. Lucky enough to be the next-door neighbor of a literal hip-hop dancer and DJ, figuring out a way to provide excellent sound dampening of the wall we shared was essential to remaining neighbors on good terms.
First, before installing bookshelves, I lined the wall with some homemade acoustic insulation panels I made from polyester batting. This plush blanket-like material is cheap, and provides an extra bit of baffling for soundwaves – it also protected my wall from any potential damage from the bookcases.
I purchased enough stand alone bookshelves to cover the entire wall, and then I place them up on risers to create full coverage of the wall with minimal gaps. Into the gaps between each book shelf and into the open space underneath my bookshelves, I inserted poly-fill stuffing and foam (ideally, for better sound insulation of my apartment, I should’ve used denser materials, but I have poly fell on hand and knew that the bookshelf would carry the bulk of the burden of absorbing sound wafting through from my neighbor’s apartment).
Once gaps on the outside of the bookshelves were insulated, I began to fill my bookshelves with books – I even asked for books for my apartment’s housewarming party and began to grab them by the handfuls at thrift stores and garage sales (if I didn’t like the title on the spine, I just turned the book spine side in on the bookshelf!)
I thought that I would have to fill the entire bookshelf with books in order to experience significant sound dampening, but what I found was that even partially filled bookshelves provided far better noise insulation than any other solution on this list that I have tried. Something about the solidity of the bookshelves combined with the uneven fill- and hollows created by books of different sizes – helped absorb and redirect soundwaves very effectively.
One of the simplest ways to reduce sound and sound pollution is to rethink the decor currently on your walls.
3. Line the backs of your wall decor With Sound Absorbing Material
Many of us enjoy wrapped canvas prints or paintings on the walls, but what you may not realize is that even these prints or paintings can become sound buffers with a small modification:
To turn stretched canvas art into a sound-absorbing room muffler, first purchase sheet foam, or recycle a foam pool float or foam mattress topper. Cut the foam to fit within the opening in the back of the frame that your canvas is stretched onto. Once the foam is cut, simply slide the foam filler into the open space in the back of your canvas. This simple, small modification can actually make a noticeable difference.
4. Seal gaps in doors and windows
Check gaps in doors and windows. Sound waves move most easily through open gaps where the soundwaves are uninterrupted. Sound flows like water, so anywhere that a stream of water could enter, sound can also enter. Anywhere that you can redirect or deflect the sound back in the direction it came will reduce the amount of sound entering your living space.
This stick on door seal can help block sound entering underneath a door, and stick on weather stripping can help seal the edges of doors as well as windows. Even a simple draft stopper can minimize noise entering (or escaping from) your space.
Here’s how I used a foam seal to reduce sound from loud voices in the hall outside my office. This inexpensive (under 50 cents a foot) door seal is easy to apply- and can be respositioned- but stays put once applied.
Just a little bit of this foam on the frame of the door to the room means, when closed, there are no gaps to allow unwanted voices to freely enter the room.
First, measure and cut to the right length to fit your door:
Then peel away the backing and place the seal on the door frame. Be sure you place it against the frame so that it’s compressed directly when the door is shut. If you place it on the same side as the lockplate, friction will pull the seal away from the door.
Be sure to cut the seal at a 90-degree angle at the corners. This helps the seal work effectively even where two pieces meet.