Soundproof Your Floors in 5 Easy Ways

Soundproof Your Floors in 5 Easy Ways

Flooring
By Dikran Seferian July 09, 2022

Years ago, I had a friend who rented a spacious, airy artist’s loft in lower Manhattan, and paid incredibly cheap rent. But here’s the catch: he lived one floor below a dance studio. And no, they didn’t do ballet or modern dance or anything mild and quiet. This studio specialized in clogging, an incredibly loud Irish dance style that repeatedly pounds those hard heels directly into your auditory canal like a pneumatic jackhammer — hence the low rent. My friend lasted six months in that loft, and he said it was an endurance record.

If you live in a multi-story home or condo, you probably already know how sound can travel vertically from one floor to another, and how incredibly annoying and disturbing it can potentially be.

You may also be remodeling a basement as a living space, with open floor joists above your head. Having said that, you’re probably wondering what’s the best way to stop your home from sounding like a big kettle drum every time someone walks above you.

Quality new home construction uses various kinds of sound absorption and mitigation materials. These include sound-deadening foam underlayments, sound-insulating floor mats, and special anti-sound boards that homebuilders install under new sub-floors. Rather than transmitting sounds from one floor to another, these soundproof flooring technologies make for a quiet, well-damped aural environment.

But what if you have an existing house that transmits noise like my friend’s loft? The easiest fix to floor noise is a good layer of thick padding and carpet. An even better option is to install a sound barrier product under the padding beforehand. If you’re installing new flooring, stay away from the hard plastic or fake-wood products that try to mimic hardwood. They may be affordable, but you’ll get all the noise you paid to prevent.

Soundproofing Your Floors

In many cases, soundproofing floors involve tearing out the floor to apply underlayment, insulation, or mass-loaded vinyl (MLV). The following methods, however, allow you to minimize noise while keeping your floor intact.  

1. Try Interlocking Floor Mats

Interlocking floor mats are more than just flooring material for gyms and playgrounds.

Interlocking floor mats are more than just flooring material for gyms and playgrounds.

One of the easiest ways to soundproof your home is with interlocking floor mats. As odd of an option they may seem, these mats are great at absorbing the sound of footsteps.

You can essentially position them beneath carpeting as you would with underlays, or leave them exposed without placing a carpet on top. Interlocking mats are available in a variety of colors and patterns, including hardwood. But then again, this option is mainly suitable for home gyms — which is exactly where you may need them if your workouts tend to get noisy. You can also place them in playrooms where kids run amok.

Normally, interlocking mats also come with edge pieces that you connect to the sides. This allows the whole unit to appear more like a carpet than an unfinished puzzle. Ideally, you should go for the thinnest option to prevent your soundproof floor from feeling awkwardly elevated.

2. Place an Underlay Beneath Rugs

If your carpet doesn’t quite help in absorbing the sound of your footsteps, consider pairing it with an underlay. Although it may be somewhat thick, the memory foam underlay will be undetectable beneath your area rug. But you’ll definitely notice the difference it makes in sound absorption.

These quarter to half-inch soundproof floor mats are available in a variety of sizes but you can cut them down to the dimensions you need. All you need is an ordinary pair of kitchen scissors. When taking measurements, you’ll want the mat to be about an inch smaller than the carpet you’re placing it under. This would create a slightly beveled effect on the sides, keeping you from tripping over the carpet’s edges.

3. Make Use of Rubber Mats

Rubber mats have both sound absorbing and slip-resistant properties and can be useful for various purposes.

Rubber mats have both sound absorbing and slip-resistant properties and can be useful for various purposes.

A more subtle alternative to underlays is placing a rubber mat beneath your carpet. Not only are rubber mats thin enough to go unnoticed under a rug, but also flexible enough to absorb noise from impacts. In addition, their density allows them to stop airborne noise from making its way through the floor.

Although the flexibility of rubber mats can cushion any foot impact, it’s not always as absorbent as their foam counterpart. You can, however, find certain varieties that serve as a middle ground solution — one example being rubber foam mats like the ones you’d place under fitness equipment.

Besides their noise-reducing qualities, rubber mats also offer slip resistance. This can especially come in handy if your carpet doesn’t have that kind of backing. 

4. Add a New Layer of Flooring to the Existing One

Adding an extra layer of flooring is another way to hinder the transfer of floor noise. You have a range of viable options including vinyl, laminate, linoleum, and carpet. Any of these flooring types can more or less play their part in noise reduction. However, consider using adhesive instead of nails to attach the new flooring to the underlayment — which you should take the opportunity to apply over the existing floor. The green glue sandwich technique can be an excellent option here. This involves fusing two sheets of plywood with green glue and sealing the edges between each piece before covering them with the new floor.

Bear in mind that this method for soundproof floors might not be an option if you live in a rental, since you may not be allowed to make any major alterations. However, you should still be able to choose one of the previous solutions. 

5. Consider Cork Tiles

Cork has been used as a household material, roofing in particular, since 400 B.C.

Cork has been used as a household material, roofing in particular, since 400 B.C.

Cork is one of those materials that make for an excellent soundproof floor, and you can use it above or below the floorboard. Even if you choose to keep them exposed, cork tiles can still be visually appealing; consider choosing the hexagonal ones for a honeycomb effect.

One common reservation around the cork, however, is that it’s not the most waterproof material. But then again, its antimicrobial properties prevent mold from growing on it. Nevertheless, you may still want to avoid using them for spaces that normally get wet — such as bathroom or kitchen flooring.

Most cork tiles come with an adhesive back while others may include a mounting tape. But if you prefer not to stick them directly to the floor, you can adhere them to a layer of rubber instead. This will not only allow you to move the tiles when you need to but also boosts the soundproofing effect. For the cork tiles to serve as soundproof flooring, make sure they are half an inch thick at the very least. 

Soundproofing Your Basement

In the case of turning a basement into a living area, there are additional measures you can take to soundproof the space. These steps target the ceiling instead of the floor.

Start by Sealing Any Cracks and Holes

You want to seal any holes in the basement ceiling and fix any floor squeaks. Typically the holes in the ceiling are used to pass wiring, plumbing, and HVAC ductwork from the basement to the first floor of the dwelling. A simple silicone sealer caulk works fine for this step.

To fix the typical squeaks and groans in older houses with hardwood floors, ask for someone to step on the places that make floor noise. In almost every case, a squeaky floor is caused by slight warpage of the hardwood boards in the flooring, made as the loose board moves against a floor joist. Occasionally they can come from a subfloor sheet of plywood, too. 

While your helper locates the squeak, find it visually and then slip a shim shingle into the open space causing the squeak. Lightly tap the shim into that space with a hammer until the squeak stops. As an alternative, you can use a drywall screw angled up through the joist and into the flooring material — just make sure you don’t screw it in too far and penetrate the floor above.

Determine What Type of Insulation You Need

You’ll find a variety of effective noise reduction materials to choose from.

You’ll find a variety of effective noise reduction materials to choose from.

If your basement has open joists in the ceiling area, you can buy and install a soundproofing floor insulation product that will fit between those joists and mitigate much of the sound from above. Thick sound-absorbing pads do not provide thermal insulation, but they do block much of the ambient sound from the floor above.

Finish the Ceiling

Once you’ve installed your sound barrier in the basement ceiling, you’re going to want to finish your ceiling with drywall, plywood, or some other kind of ceiling material. Make sure not to screw it directly to the floor joists above. This will only serve to transmit sound directly down into the room. Instead, use an isolating resilient channel to mount your ceiling material to the joists. The resilient channel will absorb impact sound from above, isolating the ceiling material from the joist you mount it to.

These three steps will give you a much quieter and calmer basement — unless Irish dancers live on the first floor.

DS

Written by
Dikran Seferian

Written by Dikran Seferian

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