how to soundproof a ceiling

How to soundproof a ceiling: 10 Quick Ways That Work

Ian Mutuli
Updated on
Ian Mutuli

Ian Mutuli

Founder and Managing Editor of Archute. He is also a graduate architect from The University of Nairobi, Kenya.
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If you have gotten to a point where you are thinking of soundproofing your ceiling, you definitely should. Otherwise, your stay in your apartment will not be as pleasant, and you might end up hating your neighbor. However, do you know how to soundproof a ceiling? We will tell you where to start to give you the assurance you need.

What is Ceiling Soundproofing?

A sound is a form of energy; sound waves can travel through solids, liquids, and air. Therefore, soundproofing limits the movement of sound waves in or out of a room. When soundproofing, you use soundproofing materials that are bad at transmitting sound waves.

These materials can either absorb sound waves or prevent unwanted noise. For example, ceiling soundproofing is treating the ceiling to prevent it from transmitting sound from the upper floor or to make it capable of not reflecting sound from outside.

When soundproofing, there are types of noises you will be dealing with.

Types of Noises

Noise can be transmitted from impact or generation from a source like someone shouting upstairs for whatever reason. So here are some noises you need to identify before you start soundproofing.

a) Airborne Noise

If your upstairs neighbors are constantly partying, the disturbance you are experiencing is airborne noise. Airborne noise is difficult to deal with because it will try to travel between structural ceiling spaces that are a bit harder to soundproof. Airborne noise reduction needs more attention because it might be coming from outside noises reflected by the ceiling.

Blocking sound that is airborne requires you to know how to soundproof a ceiling in such a manner that it will either scatter or absorb sound. Having a non-reflective surface is as good as having a surface that can absorb sound.

Flanking noise, which is the noise that comes from an outdoor space, is mostly under the airborne noise category.

b) Impact Noise

These noises result from the impact on the floor surface above your ceiling. You might be familiar with kids playing with balls upstairs or the washing machine jumping up and down. Maybe your upstairs neighbors leave early for work wearing heels that produce unwanted noises.

Sound transfer happens faster in solids, followed by water, then air. Therefore impact noise is bound to be louder than other forms of noise. Structural noise is a form of noise where an object directly impacts a structure, here being your ceiling.

How to Soundproof Your Ceiling

First, Plan

You need to understand the type of ceiling you are dealing with if you want to block noise efficiently. You have to consider different factors before undertaking such a project if you want to be successful at completely getting rid of the ceiling noise. At least we have ascertained that getting rid of the noisy neighbors is not an option. So what are the factors?

i) Where is the Noise Coming From?

You need to understand where all the noise is coming from and what kind of noise you are dealing with. For instance, if your neighbor plays very loud music with deep bass, you are dealing with a different noise from your neighbors having loud conversations.

Why is this the case when the noises are both under the airborne noise category? Well, the sound from a subwoofer with deep bass produces low frequencies with longer wavelengths, more energy, and more destruction. Ever wondered why things vibrate when you add the bass to your system? These are the waves you are dealing with.

The ear has a frequency range within which it can hear. There is a frequency a dog will hear that you will not hear because it is too high. While humans have a limit just above 20kHz, dogs can hear up to 45kHz, almost double what humans can hear. Cats can do even higher at over 60kHz, which are sounds you can not even imagine.

While you struggle to hear below 20Hz, pigeons will hear 0.5Hz. This means they will know that a storm is coming or an earthquake has occurred somewhere else.

What is the importance of this theory lesson? First, the fact that you can not hear a frequency does not mean it is not affecting you. For example, the military uses sonic weapons that produce loud (you will not hear them, but they are very intense) and low-frequency waves as a weapon. These noises can make you feel nauseated. This is proof that sound can harm you.

Point? Vibrations from fridges and other machines above can create discomfort without you knowing it. If you live close to a rail track or an airport, you will be dealing with low frequencies most of the time.

ii) Your Ceiling Type

Once you have figured out where the sound is coming from and the type of sound you are dealing with, it is time to know the ceiling type hanging above you. This will inform the type of soundproofing materials you need to solve your noise problem.

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There are two types of ceilings.

  1. Drywall ceiling- These are ceilings consisting of gypsum plaster pressed between fiberglass and thick paper.
  2. Drop ceiling- A ceiling installed below an existing ceiling. Drop ceilings can be done for different reasons, including plumbing, cabling, and soundproofing.

Once you have ascertained the ceiling type you are dealing with, it might be a good time to pick the soundproofing you want.

iii) How Big is your Soundproofing Project?

Are you thinking of soundproofing the whole house or just part of it? For example, if the kids' playroom above your ceiling is only above one room, you do not have to soundproof the whole house. However, if it is within your budget, you can do so.

You can do the soundproofing yourself, or you can hire a professional to do it. Both methods work and are easy to execute.

Modes of Soundproofing

There are different general methods you can use for soundproofing. These modes give you options, one of which you should be able to achieve within your convenience. Here are the modes to make your living space a bearable one.

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a) Absorption

You will have the quietest rooms if you can find soundproofing methods that absorb sound. Have you ever wondered why libraries tend to be very quiet? There is a rule for users to maintain silence, but apart from that, the books absorb much of the sound.

For soundproofing, you can install absorptive materials to eliminate any unwanted sound. Unfortunately, these materials are mostly low-density materials.

b) Decoupling

Separating two layers is a viable soundproofing solution that works for some people. The space between structures creates a sound barrier that tends to be effective, especially when dealing with structural noise. The dropped ceiling soundproofing can be categorized under the decoupling method.

c) Damping

Sound waves are energies. A wave is a form of energy that travels through space. Therefore, it is important to deal with sound from this approach. Damping dissipates the sound waves and converts sound into heat energy. This is satisfying to think about.

d) Mass

The high mass has a way of impeding the movement of sound. As a result, thick walls will be more resistant to airborne noise than thin walls. Have you ever noticed how much difference heavy curtains in your living room make after installing them?

This is how effective mass is when you use sound-absorbing materials.

How to Soundproof a Ceiling and How Much It Will Cost You

Here are some tested methods to keep your house quiet and free from noise. Welcome to soundproofing 101. How much will it cost you to get materials for soundproofing? Look at the costs below:

  • Resilient Sound Isolation Clips-$5 - $10 per clip
  • Mass loaded vinyl- $2.50-$5 per sq. ft.
  • Acoustic Panels- $1 - $10 per sq. ft.
  • Mass Loaded Vinyl- $2.50 - $5 per sq. ft.
  • Green Glue- $15 - $30 per 28 oz.
  • Insulation- $1.50 - $4 per sq. ft.
  • Foam- $1.50 - $5 per sq. ft.
  • Double Layer Drywall- $40 - $60 per sheet

1) The Floor Above

If your neighbor understands enough, you can discuss installing mass-loaded vinyl and barium sulfate below the carpet. Additionally, your neighbor can add heavy and stylish carpets. This will work well for you if kids are on the floor above or your neighbor loves partying. This is undoubtedly among the most effective soundproofing techniques because it solves the problem right at the source.

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You will not have to interfere with the existing ceilings when you use underlayment vinyl soundproofing on the floor. Ceilings have sensors, plumbing, and wiring that should be left alone most of the time. However, whenever you are about to make changes to the ceiling space, you have to consider what system you will potentially interfere with.

If you can soundproof from the floor above, you will be better placed to achieve higher success with keeping the impact noises away.

2) Acoustic Foam Panels

Acoustic foam panels do a good job of reducing airborne noise and creating soundproof walls. Acoustic foam panels are used in most music studios, proving they are great at an airborne sound reduction.

Foam panels are easily accessible and are cheaper than most soundproofing methods. However, the soundproofing qualities of foam panels will depend on your placement in the room and your understanding of how sound travels in a room.

3) Egg Panels

If you have an existing drywall ceiling, you do not have to eliminate it. Instead, you can line the space between the ceiling with egg panels. Egg trays act just like foam panels would. The shapes are great at dispersing sound and absorbing the rest if they are made of thick boards.

Egg panels alone will look hideous unless you know how to style them. This soundproofing method might not be as effective as others, but you will get a soundproof ceiling to keep the arguments upstairs at bay.

4) Sound Interrupting Foil

As surprising as this may sound, aluminum foil does a great job at soundproofing. If you can find a way of layering aluminum along your wall and ceiling without making your house ugly, you will have the quietest house. Aluminum does not absorb sound and is your best bet to sound blocking.

Aluminum is used in places like gun ranges. The adjacent rooms to your house do not stand a chance. Aluminum is not only great at reducing sound but is also affordable and easy to work with. You will be good to go if you can add layers of aluminum around the places you do not want the sound to pass.

5) Acoustic Caulk

You may have soundproofing for your ceiling, but if you have gaps and holes, the ceiling soundproofing is as good as not having any. You want to seal any spaces and holes to prevent sound from leaking. Sound just has a way of finding its way, and you know it because some arguments are too spicy to miss out on.

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Acoustic caulk is the best material to use around light fixtures, holes, accesses, corners, and spaces where the drywall ceilings might be lacking in soundproofing.

Acoustic caulk should be the last thing you do once you are done with every other method in your books—the material acts as a great compliment to the other methods you will use for soundproofing. You can paint over the acoustic caulk to make your finishes presentable and good to look at. You will have solved two problems all at once with this material.

There is no use in spending a lot of money on ceiling soundproofing only to have sound leaking from small spaces and holes in the corners and fixation points on the ceiling.

6) Fiberglass Insulation

Before looking into more complex solutions, you can solve the noise problem by installing fiberglass. Fiberglass insulation is inexpensive and easily accessible.

Fiberglass comes in different forms, giving you options when installing ceiling soundproofing. You can get fiberglass ceiling tiles that you can install on the ceiling. The ceiling tiles are better than mineral fiber in keeping the room quiet and are more durable.

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The fiberglass ceiling tiles will not sag over time compared to the mineral fiber. However, the mineral fiber does a decent job of keeping the sound at bay. You can additionally use spray insulation whenever you use tiles to keep the spaces between the tiles airtight.

7) Mineral Fiber

We have compared mineral fiber to fiberglass above. However, if mineral fiber is what you have available, you will successfully block sound transfer through the ceiling. You can get mineral fiber in the form of ceiling tiles and good ceiling noise attenuation, which the tiles are known for.

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Both the mineral fiber and fiberglass acoustic tiles work well for suspended ceilings. In addition, you can use acoustic panels for drywall and suspended ceilings, making them versatile for keeping out both impact and airborne noise.

8) Drywall Ceilings

Drywall ceiling installations are a common preference that you will find on most ceilings. However, does this setup do a good job in reducing or cutting off the noise from upstairs? Drywall ceilings alone will not do a great job but will do just enough to keep the noise away. The ceiling should do fine if the noise is from a TV screen or conversations.

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Drywall Ceiling methods are expensive but effective if done correctly. Before installing the drywall, you can use floating ceiling joists to create a decoupling, which opens up more opportunities for more soundproof drywall.

9) Drywall and Fiberglass

While the existing ceiling drywall will only let in ambient sound, sometimes you want to keep all the sound out. For example, think of hosting a podcast in your house. The slightest noise will be a distraction. Therefore you can combine fiberglass with the drywall to create a solid soundproof solution to an existing ceiling.

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You can use soundproofing clips with hat channels to create a strong decoupling together with the floating ceiling joists. Using these materials allows you to add a second layer of drywall. Adding fiberglass between these two layers keeps airborne sounds and impact noise out.

10) Drywall and Green Glue Compound

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Green glue converts airborne sounds and impact noise into kinetic energy. This process dampens the noise to bearable levels. As a result, this green glue compound will work exceptionally well to keep impact noise at bay. Impact noise is the most notorious of ceiling noises, and the solution is to have one layer of drywall on top of another, lined with the glue in between.

Final Take

There is one thing that can be more annoying than the noise coming from your neighbors upstairs: soundproofing and still hearing the noise. Therefore if you are considering ceiling soundproofing, it is best to do it well. To get airtight solutions, you need to combine the methods. For example, you can use soundproofing underlayment with a double-layer of drywall to get good results.

You can have other combinations of soundproofing material to further reduce the sound from upstairs and any other place in your apartment.

Ian Mutuli

About the author

Ian Mutuli

Founder and Managing Editor of Archute. He is also a graduate architect from The University of Nairobi, Kenya.
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