How to Soundproof a Room in an Apartment

Soundproofing is a great way to prepare a room for audio and video production. Outside noises from roommates, the air conditioner, and noisy neighbors can ruin an otherwise professional recording. While having a decent mic that filters out these background distractions naturally is a great tool to have, you may want to take that little extra step to make sure you don’t experience unwanted intruders in your production.

First, soundproofing a room is generally expensive. It also usually requires you to have the ability to make major changes to the room’s interior. Proper soundproofing can require a replacement of the drywall, addition of sound-absorbing foam across the walls and ceiling, and even some changes to the doors and windows. You can spend a small fortune on soundproofing even the smallest of rooms, and that just isn’t feasible in an apartment scenario where you may not even have the ability to drill simple holes.

Even if you’re not recording audio in your apartment, you may find soundproofing to be a useful tool when living with other people. Having outside noises flowing in (and out) of your bedroom can result in sleep deprivation as well as social implications you may want to avoid. Everyone needs a place to escape to away from eavesdroppers, right?

The Door

Perhaps the best place to start soundproofing is the door. In an apartment, this is typically a fairly thin rectangle of wood set on hinges and poorly spaced with the frame. While you may not have permission to change the door, you can supplement its shortcomings with a number of gadgets designed to prevent drafts. Sound waves are like air in that they have a hard time making their way through sealed spaces.

One non-destructive way to soundproof a door is by using a door sweep seal. This is a specially designed seal that bridges the gap between the bottom of your door and the floor. The main purpose in residential situations is to prevent drafts, but the right seal can also prevent sound waves from entering the room.

There is an “As Seen on TV” ad floating around for a Twin Draft Guard. This device slips under your door and blocks air (and sound) from both sides of the door thanks to two foam cylinders that rest on either side. It installs without requiring any attachment to the door itself, and works on most doors. Make sure you pick up one that is the right size for your door.

Keep in mind that this isn’t the ultimate solution. It just happens to be one of the more helpful ones without altering the door itself. You can get rubberized flaps that attach by way of screws or adhesive and rub against the floor as the door is opened or closed. This type of sweep seal is more effective, but requires some modification to the door itself.

The sides and top of the door may be fine, but a good-sized piece of weather-stripping can work wonders to preventing gaps around the frame and improve sound reduction dramatically. This stripping should be able to be removed and any paint damaged by the adhesive touched up prior to moving out.

Ultimately, you’re at the mercy of the door’s build quality and materials once the gaps are filled. A thin or hollow door is what it is, and the best you can do is work with the tools you have. You could, if you really wanted to, add width to the door by attaching a thick blanket or twin-sized comforter to it using a light adhesive. This really doesn’t help much, but if you’re desperate.

Oh, I almost forgot to mention that egg carton foam (like the kind you find at bedding stores) can help. It isn’t exactly studio quality, so it may not work as well as the more expensive stuff, but attaching that foam to the inside of the door can absorb some of the sound bleeding through the surface.

Walls

Echo is a big factor in sound production. Walls in apartments might be thin, but there are a few things you can do to lessen the degree of impact this sound bleeding has on your audio recording.

As stated before, egg carton foam is a great sound insulator. If you can afford the expensive stuff, it could be worth it to you, but if your walls really are that thin, nothing short of a wall of toilet paper will insulate louder noises.

You can pick up some fairly good pyramid foam from Amazon for as little as $35 which can cover quite a bit of space on your walls.

Arrange foam in squares around the walls. It would be impractical to cover every square inch of the wall with the stuff, so try doing it in a pattern. A square could be turned and posted in a diamond pattern around the wall, with two-foot gaps between pieces. This reduces echo as the foam itself is quite absorbing. This won’t insulate against bangs and bass thumps from noisy neighbors, but it will help prevent noises from inside the room turning up on your recording.

Use a mild adhesive. The foam isn’t heavy, and doesn’t require more than maybe a small tack or some of that gooey putty stuff.

Windows

Windows may be one area that you have the least control over in your apartment. Aside from using heavy curtains or some basic weather-stripping, most apartments restrict you from doing anything to alter the windows. In fact, many apartments require you to have the same brand/style of blinds facing outward that came with the apartment. Talk about a lack of options.

You can, however, find some interesting sound reduction curtains out there. They may not be as pretty as decorative ones, but they do a pretty good job at absorbing the sound between the window pane and the room.

Your best bet may be to direct your microphone to the opposite side of the room as the window if you live in a noisier area of the apartment complex. I live across from a swimming pool, and between the screaming kids and the music, it’s a wonder I get any audio recorded at all.

Article Written by

Ryan Matthew Pierson has worked as a broadcaster, writer, and producer for media outlets ranging from local radio stations to internationally syndicated programs. His experience includes every aspect of media production. He has over a decade of experience in terrestrial radio, Internet multimedia, and commercial video production.

  • torchstar

    There is a risk factor using foam – FIRE! When foam catches fire it yields toxic thick black smoke. Any foam used in a living space should be rated flame retardant.
    No candles or smoking near it! I saw a couch burn (outside, thank goodness) hours after the guests had left. Very dramatic! Very scary!
    Be careful of cheap foam…

  • Wolfee Darkfang

    I wonder if this will work for a room on the second floor of a 2 story wooden home in a rural area. Everyone else in the house can hear my computer’s game sounds, but I can’t hear anything from the other rooms. I wish I could reverse that effect. :D

  • http://www.facebook.com/bharatkumargupta Bharat Kumar Gupta

    very useful post, thanks for sharing these tips, yeah i always wondered the wall tiling in pro audio recording studios now i get it.

  • http://daanberg.net/ Daan Berg

    If I’m right, there’s a way to make that stuff burn slower and less, with some kind of spray. I saw it on TV a while ago, but can’t remember what the name of it was.

    • don dog drekmin

      water