A Little Built-In Quiet Is a Sound Idea

By Jeanne Huber
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, September 28, 2006; Page H08

Q I live in a duplex in Northwest Washington. My problem is that when my neighbor is talking in her living room, I can hear every word, so she probably hears me, too. Is there a way to add soundproofing that will quiet things for both of us?

A There are ways to dramatically improve your situation, even if it doesn't achieve the perfect results implied by the word "soundproofing."

When people share a building, problems often arise from two sources: the sounds of voices, music, radio or TV; and the impact of footsteps, dropped books and rearranged furniture.

Most of the sound that travels sideways through a structure is the first type, just as you describe. Some of this sound is absorbed by the drywall or plaster on both sides of the wall separating the two spaces. But wall coverings don't have much mass and are attached to wooden or metal studs, so much of the sound travels right through.

The best ways to avoid that are much easier to accomplish when a structure is being built. For example, builders can erect a double wall between units, with studs spaced differently on each side. Separating the top and bottom pieces of framing by even a slight gap will break the connection between the walls. Or builders can hang the drywall on special clips that allow the sheets to jiggle slightly as sound waves hit, which dissipates their energy.

Insulating between studs also helps because it traps the sound waves within the wall cavity. Builders also can include sheets of a sound-absorbing material known as mass-loaded vinyl under the drywall or add several sheets of drywall to each side of the wall.

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