A Practical Guide to Soundproofing Floors in Your Home
At first, the idea of floor soundproofing might not make sense. You’d expect noise to only reach you through your walls or ceiling, right?
However, noise can also travel up through your floors and be just as irritating. Especially if your floor is built on top of open space, such as an apartment, or if you live in a house with a basement.
For example, if your bedroom is above a basement with loud-running mechanical devices such as a furnace, a washer/dryer set, or a water filtration system, the noise can seem as loud as somebody speaking right next to you.
If you live in an apartment, condominium, or occupy a bedroom on a house’s upper floor, you can hear all the foot traffic, conversations, or television programs going on downstairs…
...and typically when you least expect it.
Which is exactly why soundproofing your floors is the best-kept secret for multi-story living.
Don’t worry, you won’t need to tear apart your floors to make them soundproof.
Today, we’ll cover what soundproofing can and can’t do, including the different approaches and cost-levels involved in completing your floor soundproofing project.
What does soundproofing do?
Soundproofing is done on your walls, floors, and ceilings to keep unwanted noise out of your space.
There are all kinds of materials that can be used to achieve some form of soundproofing, from specialized types of drywall to foam insulations to adhesives and caulks.
The materials you choose for your soundproofing project depends on the surfaces you want to protect and the types of noise you want to block.
Types of noise
Believe it or not, there is more than one kind of noise. The type you want to keep out of your room will be the first factor in deciding which soundproofing materials you use for your project.
Noise falls into two categories:
- Impact Noise
- Airborne Noise
Ideally, you’ll want to select a solution that handles both impact and airborne noise, but some materials handle only one type. Make sure you check the manufacturer’s specifications when choosing materials.
Impact noise, also known as vibration noise, covers any type of sound that’s transmitted through the structure.
In an apartment, impact noise can come from things like the tenant below tapping on their ceiling with a broomstick, or them having a ceiling fan that’s unbalanced that they like to run at full speed all night long.
In fact, ceiling fans are such a noisy issue that companies like SplendidFans rate ceiling fans based on how much noise they (don't) make.
It’s the tapping, running, scraping noises that come from shaking pipes, moving furniture, wobbly appliances, and anything else that you can think of that sends vibrations up and down the walls of your apartment.
Airborne noise is any noise that transmits through the air, as well as through your floor, walls, and ceiling.
Most people can relate to the downstairs neighbor that likes to play their music too loud at all hours, or the other inconsiderate neighbor that throws parties every weekend.
Materials that specialize in deflecting airborne noise are perfect for making sure loud music from downstairs doesn’t interrupt your sleep.
The cheapest way to soundproof floors
It’s important to keep in mind that you get what you pay for, so the cheapest solution isn’t always going to be the most effective.
Sound, both impact and airborne, travels best through hard surfaces.
Therefore, the easiest and cheapest approach to soundproofing a floor is to soften the area around the source — an example being in an apartment with noisy downstairs neighbors, strategically placing as many area rugs as possible on the floor.
The most effective way to soundproof floors
The most effective way to soundproof a floor is with a secondary floor system, such as wood paneling, to create a completely independent layer of protection between your apartment and the noise coming through from below.
Though this method is the most expensive, it’s like creating a protective wall between you and the noise.
The best way to soundproof floors
The best way to soundproof a floor is with wall-to-wall carpeting on top of high-quality rug pads. This two-layer approach absorbs and diffuses the sound when it comes up through your floor, and it makes everything more comfortable when you’re walking or standing.
This method is the best because it has the right mix of soundproofing effectiveness and a more affordable cost.
We’ll cover the benefits of each of the above methods a little later.
How to soundproof floors (with new construction)
The best possible time to install soundproofing for floors is when the building is under new construction and installers have access to the frame under the floor.
When soundproofing is a requirement, the construction teams choose from a variety of complete flooring materials — such as hardwood and ceramic tile — to ensure noise protection without the need for additional layers.
When soundproof flooring is installed, it’s commonly placed on the underlayment.
Note: Underlayment is a thin, pliable layer of material in between the flooring and the building frame that acts as a buffer to deflect and diffuse noise. Underlayments come in a variety of material types and thicknesses that are typically inexpensive.
Soundproofing hardwood floors
It may seem counterintuitive to recommend hardwood flooring for soundproofing when noise transmits more effectively through hard surfaces, but hardwood can act as an effective sound barrier with the right installation.
The key to soundproofing with hardwood floors is applying underlayment in between it and the subfloor.
Underlayment acts as a buffer to soften the impact on the hardwood. It diffuses vibration and sound waves.
Plus, underlayment adds the bonus side effect of helping the hardwood last longer, since the wood has room to give with impact instead of denting.
If you’re soundproofing a floor above a damp basement or a floor that has water pipes running beneath it, moisture protection is another benefit of using an underlayment. And, depending on which product you select, this can vary from moisture-resistant to fully waterproof.
If you choose to go with an underlayment, the installers should use an adhesive like Green Glue instead of nails to tack the hardwood down.
Nails make the floorboards rigid, which defeats the purpose of having a pliable underlayment. If there’s no give, every footstep is amplified — so keep this in mind when budgeting for materials.
Level of Soundproofing: high
Soundproofing ceramic tile floors
Hardwood is a rigid material, but ceramic tiles are even more so. Thankfully, the approach to soundproofing is nearly the same: use an underlayment.
For ceramic tiles, the underlayment types are slightly different because you don’t use an adhesive like Green Glue to tack it down.
Tiles are sealed down with mortar, so make sure to select an underlayment that is designed to work with that material and that won’t be damaged if it comes in contact with grout (the filler between the tiles).
Level of Soundproofing: high
Soundproofing carpeted floors
Earlier, we covered that the cheapest way to achieve soundproofing was by laying down area rugs. Carpeted floors are the next best thing, because they create a uniform layer of sound protection and are much easier on your feet when walking or standing.
But, to ensure your carpeted floor has the maximum amount of soundproofing ability, make sure the installers first put down a good quality carpet pad.
Carpet padding adds two benefits:
- It increases impact absorption to make walking, running, and jumping whisper quiet.
- It increases comfort — the thicker the pad, the softer the floor and the less stress on your feet.
If you want to go that extra mile to reduce noise, you can install an underlayment underneath the padding. Keep in mind this will add extra expense to your budget.
Level of Soundproofing: high
How to soundproof existing floors
What if you live in an older house where new construction soundproofing isn’t an option?
What if you don’t have the budget to rip up your floors and start over?
There are several options available to add soundproofing to existing floors that can be just as effective as new construction.
Soundproof from below
There are different approaches to adding soundproofing materials from below, and this will change depending on the kind of space available beneath your floor.
If the space below your floor is another apartment or condominium, we will cover this in a later section.
Finished or semi-finished basements allow you to add whatever materials you see fit.
Or, if the basement beneath your floor is entirely exposed, you can install soundproofing drywall that attaches directly to the beams with drywall screws.
This approach is ideal for reducing vibration noise, as the drywall can diffuse the vibration through its direct contact with the beams.
The same approach applies to fully finished basements where the ceiling has been closed off with regular drywall. Simply apply the soundproofing drywall as a layer on top of the existing drywall or rip-and-replace the old drywall with the new.
If there’s a drop ceiling, add insulating material above the tiles to muffle the airborne sound and soften the vibrations. The thicker the insulating the material, the greater the noise reduction.
Level of Soundproofing: medium
Install additional flooring
If you can’t put in a noise barrier underneath, put one on top.
This is definitely the most costly and trickiest approach, but placing in additional flooring gets you as close to new construction results as possible.
Installing more flooring means stacking underlayment and flooring materials (e.g hardwood or ceramic tile) on top of the existing floor.
This approach not only gives you exactly the kind of floor you want without performing major demolition, but you can install all the soundproofing measures used for new construction.
However, there are significant risks.
Adding a second floor means your floor height goes up, so every doorway and threshold has to be measured for fit and potentially raised.
If accurate measures aren’t taken, you risk tripping on the lip of the floor every time you enter the room, and your doors may not close properly.
Adding a second layer of flooring also adds more weight to the beams underneath the existing floor. If you choose a heavy floor material, like ceramic tiles, the stress on the beams could create bowing and fractures that damage your house’s frame.
Always check with an engineer before pursuing this option.
Level of Soundproofing: high
Soundproofing for apartments
Apartments, especially tall ones, have frames constructed from mass-produced materials such as steel, aluminum, and concrete.
Unfortunately, those materials are high sound and vibration conductors which means apartment buildings will carry sound from top to bottom more readily than the average house.
That’s bad news if you need absolute quiet. And, what’s worse, you have limited options when it comes to construction and modifying your apartment.
Large-scale renovations are definitely out.
Luckily, apartment dwellers do have soundproofing options. And the following approach is the most economical of all.
Rugs (and rug pads)
Rugs and rug pads are effective at reducing noise, inexpensive, easy to install, and easy to remove (if you need to).
Rugs installed without rug pads will soften the hard surface of the floor in your apartment and diffuse the sound waves that bounce around when coming up through the floor.
Not only are rugs effective at reducing the noise, they come in an almost infinite number of attractive patterns.
When you install a rug with a rug pad, the pad provides a number of additional benefits:
- A pad adds a friction layer to keep the rug from slipping.
- A soundproofing rug pad absorbs more noise than a rug can do on its own.
- A rug pad adds cushion, making your rug even more comfortable for your feet.
Rugs, with or without rug pads, will typically come in set sizes and are not meant to cover your entire floor in the same way as a carpet. Read more about the difference between rug and carpet.
That means rugs are the simplest, cheapest, and easiest option, though not as comprehensive at stopping noise as a full floor solution.
Level of Soundproofing: medium
FAQs about soundproofing floors
We examined the different approaches available to soundproofing floors, and these Frequently Asked Questions can help you decide if soundproofing your floor should be your next project.
How much does it cost to soundproof a floor?
The cost to soundproof the floor in a single room varies depending on the approach.
Most homeowners opt for full room carpeting with an underlayment, so plan on budgeting $1,000 – $2,000 per room.
Seek out a professional installer to help you come up with a proper estimate.
How do I stop noise from upstairs floors?
You have two options:
- Soundproof the upstairs floors using any of the approaches above.
- Soundproof the ceiling beneath the floor.
You’ll achieve maximum noise reduction if you do both.
Does floor soundproofing work?
Yes, floor soundproofing has shown to be most effective in multi-level homes with significant foot traffic, and in apartments with noisy neighbors down below.
Is vinyl flooring noisy?
It can be if the floor was installed incorrectly.
Vinyl flooring makes a crackling noise when it has too much room to flex. And the more you flex the vinyl the louder it crackles.
To prevent a noisy vinyl floor, work with your contractor or check your DIY instructions to ensure the subfloor is perfectly level. Also, make sure there are no air pockets after installing the underlayment.
How can I make my bedroom soundproof?
You can make effective changes to your bedroom that improves its soundproofing in just a few minutes.
Sound transmits by air and vibration, so start with sealing the gap under your bedroom door. This will block the noise coming in from the hallway.
Bedroom doors can be made out of a thin material, such as plywood. If this is the case with your door, consider upgrading to one made of a stronger material.
Here’s a simple tip — rearrange the furniture so that it rests against the wall with the persistent noise. This tip can be surprisingly effective and doesn’t cost a dime.
If the noise comes from outside and you have windows, install heavy curtains. There are options on the market specifically designed to block noise. And they’re fashionable, too!
Can you totally soundproof a room?
Yes. Total sound cancellation is possible, but it will be costly.
Keep in mind that there’s no such thing as absolute silence, so make your soundproofing choices based on the level of quiet that you find most comfortable.
Does soundproof paint really work?
Soundproof paint doesn’t fully soundproof a room. What it does do is provide a buffering layer that absorbs sound as it comes through the wall.
To reduce the sound significantly with just soundproof paint would require multiple, thick layers that may wind up looking unattractive.
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