How to Soundproof a Noisy Apartment

Two of the best ways to cut noise: books and tapestries. (Photo: Morgan Library, New York City)

When most websites discuss homes, they mean single-family houses and rarely talk about apartment living. (Although looking down the list of TreeHugger posts on the subject, I was surprised at how well-balanced the coverage is.) Yet more and more young people are finding home ownership to be unaffordable and the idea of commuting to the suburbs undesirable, and more people are living in apartments.

One of the problems with apartments, particularly rentals, is that the occupants have so few options as just about everything is controlled by the landlord. One of the biggest problems in apartments is noise from neighbors.

The worst (and the hardest to deal with) are the noises from people walking around upstairs; that’s why so many apartments used to come with horrible wall-to-wall carpeting. If a building is new and properly built to current codes, there should be sound-absorbing material underneath floating floors, but as I found in my own house, where I put in sound-absorbing insulation and floated the floor on cork, those impact noises can travel. You could perhaps visit your neighbor and politely ask if they would wear slippers instead of those tap-dancing shoes, but other than a major renovation adding acoustic isolators and hanging a new ceiling from below, there's not much you can do to soundproof your ceiling.

felt tiles
Add a little felt tile to your walls. (Photo: MIO)

But you can absorb sound, soaking it up so that it doesn’t bounce around your space. Cork tiles are coming back in style, and MIO makes a range of felt decorative tiles that can be installed on walls and ceilings.

Eclectic Home Office by South East Photographers/

One of the best ways to absorb sound is to build a good library because books absorb and muffle sound, and they provide good thermal insulation as well.

Tapestries stop noise, insulate your walls — plus, you can take them with you. (Photo: History of Furniture)

Or you could go medieval on your walls and hang tapestries; they weren't only for looks but for insulation, sound isolation and even room dividers. They were portable insulation, as people moved around a lot.

pillow headboard
Pillow fight, anyone?. (Photo: Elle Interior)

Remodelista shows this very strange sound-absorbing pillow headboard from Sweden that probably works.

Adding a rug in your space will not only lower the noise level in your own apartment but your downstairs neighbors will thank you too.

draft guards
Draft guards can cut corridor noise. (Photo: Etsy)

On New York real estate site 6sqft, Annie Doge suggests draft guards to keep corridor noise out of your apartment. This can be a bad idea if your building’s ventilation system is the standard kind where the corridor is pressurized, and the gap under the door is actually engineered to provide the makeup for air that is sucked out through kitchen and bathroom exhaust fans. But if that’s not the case, this solution can make a difference.

window inserts
Window inserts insulate and cut noise. (Photo: Lloyd Alter)

Street noise is also often a problem, and old single-glazed windows don’t do much to stop it. 6sqft suggests replacing windows if you can, but this is very expensive, and even if you own your apartment, you don’t own the exterior wall or the window and will need all kinds of approvals. However window inserts can do a very good job at cutting noise; I have window inserts at my home and found they made a difference, but you can buy acoustic inserts with a heavier acrylic that do even more. There are also many different noise-canceling curtains you can install.

Some people find that adding noise can make a difference, and there are a number of white noise generators that push out the sound of waves and wind. They are described as “perfect for baby nurseries, day care centres, college dorms, apartments, or any sleep environment where unwanted disturbing or intrusive noise is a problem.” There are also noise apps, like Ambiance, that let you pick your favorite background noise, “designed to help you create the perfect ambient atmosphere to relax, focus or reminisce.”

cork helmet
Just what we needed! A noise-blocking helmet. (Photo: Pierre-Emmanuel Vandeputte)

And perhaps the best suggestion from Annie Doge at 6Sqft is Pierre-Emmanuel Vandeputte’s cork helmet. The artist describes it:

A helmet made out of cork allowing a person to insulate himself from noise. A mechanism devised with only a counter-weight, a rope and two pulleys helps to move the helmet up or down one’s head. The soundproofing characteristics of cork are clearly evident in the design concept.

Seems legit.