Blocking sound and absorbing sound are two different things, says Matthew Boughan of Acoustical Solutions. Absorbing it is easier. Some ideas to try:
Add acoustic panels
Plasterboard, a terrible absorber of sound, can be the culprit of that tinniness you hear when talking on the phone. To remedy this, cover your walls with materials that have a noise reduction rating (called NRC, or noise reduction coefficient) of 0.85 or above, Boughan says. He recommends a two-and-a-half-centimetre-thick fabric-wrapped acoustical wall panel.
You want to spread out the absorption evenly among all walls and even place panels on the ceiling. Panels can even be turned into a gallery wall.
If your floors are concrete or cork (shown here), congratulations. Those are among the best materials for sound absorption.
Carpets, rugs and padding
If your floors are sporting wood or tiles, you may want to try rugs or carpet coupled with a sound-absorbing padding. Cut-pile carpeting, with its fuzzy top, tested better at absorbing sound than loop pile. Also helpful is a foam-rubber backing, according to the Carpet and Rug Institute.
There are other options for flooring, such as floating hardwood, Morrall says. This type of flooring installation includes a gap between the subfloor and your actual floors, which effectively dampens sound.
These can be both sound absorbing and sound blocking. For sound absorption, look for heavy materials such as velvets and wools. And if there’s a mass-loaded vinyl layer, even better.
“If sound is pouring through the window, it means the frame is substandard, the panes of glass are not airtight, or there are not enough panes of glass there,” Boughan says. “You need to replace it or cover it.”
A lot of outside noise can seep in through windows. A mere 1 per cent gap in the sound barrier transmits 50 per cent of sound –that’s the rule of acoustics, Boughan explains. Try something simple like caulking around your windows, sealing any gaps.
More radical solutions are acoustical seals. A seal is a track that makes it possible to add another layer of airtight glass in front of your existing window. Once it’s installed, your window won’t open anymore.
Acoustical blankets look like those mover’s blankets in loading bay elevators.
A prettier solution that still involves fresh air and light: You can replace double-pane, or double-glazed, windows with triple pane, says Morrall. Installing triple-glazed windows requires the expertise of a contractor, and cost more than double-pane windows.
Boughan finds that the biggest sound culprits in home offices are doors. For the best sound blocking, install a solid-wood-core door; its mass will dampen sound. “The little crack running around the door is transmitting a lot more sound than anyone would ever dream,” Boughan says, reminding us of the 1 per cent rule.