Dear PoP – Soundproofing Your House With Insulation To Block Loud Neighbors Edition

“Dear PoP,

I was wondering if you would mind asking your readers if they ever had insulation put in the walls of their homes to soundproof it from the neighbors. we need to do it to one side of our house and were wondering if anyone out there has done this and what their experiences were.”

Well, I hope folks can provide some recommendations for you regarding the specific question. But I think it begs another question for those who live in rowhomes – can you hear your neighbors through the walls? Is this a common experience? How have people approached the issue of hearing your neighbors through the walls (besides insulation)? Any other techniques?

41 Comment

  • Unfortunately, the walls of most row homes in the area can’t be insulated. They are often brick or concrete block with plaster spread on top. At most, there’s a 3/4″ space behind the plaster if it is hung on furring strips. It’s not practical to put insulation in that space because of the tremendous cost and minimal benefit.

    Furthermore, sound travels well through solid objects, so the wall transfers neighbor sounds directly into your joists and floor boards. The same goes for heat. If the house next door is vacant, you’re paying to heat it 🙁 I chalk all this up to city living.

  • Of course, you could insulate over the existing wall and then build a false wall to cover it, but that would take away valuable living space, would probably make hallways too narrow to meet building code, and would require plastering and painting a whole new wall. And it still wouldn’t solve the solid object sound transfer problem.

  • We had some really rowdy neighbors (rock band members/bartenders) while we were renovating a few years back. We built a 2×4 wall against the offending wall and used that wall for two purposes. Luckily we had the width to lose. First we packed it full of Ultratouch, a recycled blue jean/cotton insulation. The Ultratouch is really easy to use since it does not itch like fiberglass and it has a good STC rating. Secondly, we used some of the wall cavities to run vertical oval air conditioning ducts down to the first floor from the attic. After finishing the install, we didn’t hear anything from next door.

  • Sound-proof drywall changed my life. Well, it made my day to day a lot better anyway. It is called “QuietRock.” It is 5/8″ thick, but considered the equivalent of eight sheets of drywall. It is used in government contracting for security clearance purposes. We live in an apartment building with nothing more between apartments than 5/8″ drywall on either side of metal studs – it might as well have been an amplifier before. Prior to installation we could hear anything from casual conversation to cell phone rings. That is more or less gone now. Bass, on the other hand, still gets through – though not nearly as bad as it used to.

    In one area we removed the old drywall and put regular insulation underneath it, then the quietrock on top. In another area we simply put the quietrock on top of the old drywall to sort of double-up on it. Not sure which works better.

    Note: this stuff is pricey (about 100 bucks per sheet, usually 4′ wide). To me it was worth every penny. Plus, its size means it is a much better option than putting up a false wall that takes up a lot of space.

    Also note: We put it up on a wall that did not have obstructions. That is, it was a flat, blank wall without anything hanging on it like cabinets and the like. Not sure what you would have to do if cabinets are in the way (take them down or just put up the quietrock around it).

    Last, really try to seal off the whole surface. If there is a place for the sound to go around it, it will do so.

  • How hard would it be to install this quiet rock in your ceiling?

  • yes i was just going to post about quietrock. that’s your answer. jimmy d is right on every point.

  • Installation is the same as any other drywall. I have never hung a ceiling before, so I couldn’t say how difficult it would be. As long as you have someone with you that knows how to hang the normal stuff, it shouldn’t be any different.

  • Neighbors to the right I only hear if they are hammering something into the wall or drilling. Neighbors to the left I have never heard at all in my 15 + years.

    As far as I can tell there is no special insulation so I guess I am just lucky to have thick walls in my 100 year old town house.

  • I live in a condo… And I have noisy neighbors below me, to the right of me, and across the alley. I’ve triend eco-friendly insulation in my bedroom and it works “ok”. I can still hear conversations, pots banging, and midnight cooking and cleaning. I never had these kinds of problems when I lived in Cleveland Park. I think the Quiet Rock is the correct route to go. I would install it but I’m trying to sell my unit so it just isn’t worth the investment given the current market.

  • Has anyone every installed sound proof windows?
    I have an end unit and am looking to reduce noise from the alley.

    thanks all

  • Here’s a question (somewhat related): I live in a basement apartment in CH that I like a lot, minus one thing – the guys and girls upstairs don’t seem to realize that I live below them.

    So there’s constant moving of furniture, guys barreling down the stairs and jumping the last few (which creates a bomb-like noise in my place), there’s no carpet upstairs so I hear every step they make when they are wearing shoes (don’t get me started about high heels). All of this, I understand, is kind of what you have to deal with living in a basement apt, but I’m wondering if there’s a nice way to say, hey it would be awesome if you guys bought a rug or didn’t jump the stairs. A: Do I have a right to ask that? and B: How do I ask without sounding like a jerk?

  • I never used to hear the neighbors of my rowhouse until the nice old lady passed away earlier this year. Then her son and girlfriend and assorted “hangers on” moved in. Now I hear them yelling, cussing, screwing (she’s a moaner) until 4am. But that’s ok. The best sound transmission is between their bedroom and my bathroom. So I make sure to have a big can of beans for dinner. Then around 2am, I sit on the pot and let ‘er rip.

  • I had decent luck insulating my ceiling for sound. I live in a row house that was converted to a condo and there was almost no insulation betwen floors so I heard voices and footsteps. Another problem was poorly installed metal framing around the HVAC ducts that would get rattled by someone putting force on the floor joist. The noise would sometimes wake me up at night. It drove me crazy!

    I hired a great guy who unfortunately moved overseas b/c his wife is in the foreign service. Here’s what we did:

    – Cut holes into the ceiling and set screws from below to reduce creaking.
    – Secure the metal framing by using washers made from a bike innertube and glued with “green glue” which purports to have anti-acoustic qualities.
    – Stuffed the space with denim insulation.
    – Hung another drywall celing with “hat track,” the same method used for commercial celings. This got around the issue of the drywall being connected directly to the joists which can amplify sounds from above.
    – Stuffed the space between the old celing and new ceiling with denim insulation.

    I only lost 8″ which I didn’t notice since I have relatively high ceilings. The result? A marked improvement. I still hear footsteps when folks wear hard-soled shoes but it’s dealable. Gone are the creaks and the metal-on-metal sound from the metal framing. The total cost was about $2500 and it was 100% worth it!

  • I didn’t install windows that were specifically soundproof, but when I replaced the original windows with ordinary double-paned ones I was AMAZED at the noise reduction. Downside: now I’m so used to the quiet that I don’t like it when the windows are open and the noise comes in. I’m tempted to live all hermetically sealed in.

    As for the upstairs neighbors… I had this problem and unintentionally solved it by having one of the offenders to my place for a drink. Well, I had signed for a delivery for her, and when she came to pick it up I offered her a beer… Anyway, we’re chilling and chatting and her roomies are doing their usual thing and she’s like “WHAT are they doing up there??” and I said “just the usual… it always sounds like that.” She was horrified, and started making everyone upstairs take off their shoes.

  • i think it has a lot to do with the neighbors, i’ve lived in the same apartment for a year and we’ve had 3 couples live across the hall in that time. We only share one wall between our foyer and kitchen and the first couple and third couple i could only hear if they were hammering or moving furniture and when they run their garbage disposal. The second couple (who in fact were pretty tiny people) thumped and bumped and made SO MUCH NOISE. I have no idea what they were doing but they sounded like elephants when they did it. So much so that when people came over they wondered if someone was being beat next door. I can’t say I was too upset when they moved.

    I can hear my downstairs neighbor have sex sometimes, but not always, i guess hes not always consistently good.

  • I confess that I LOVE the moaning my hot neighbor does whilst making love. I am sorry, but I do…

  • Owens Corning 703 or 705

    are two examples of what professionals use in recording studios and theaters to soundproof. Both are relatively inexpensive too.

  • I live in a duplex with one shared wall, there are a couple points where I can hear a frequently visiting toddler who loves to scream and squeal and jump down EACH step. It doesn’t bother me so much as its infrequent. However, at one point the neighbors installed central AC in our 80 year old structure, which required carving routes for ductwork, and noise levels went up after that. Also, their basement tenant has some sort of kickin’ sound system that he like to crank, I generally live with that but have banged on our shared wall a couple times when I can’t handle it anymore (I hate Latino music, I confess).

    In my case, I asked my contractor about soundproofing options, and unfortunately they were limited by cost. With a small house that shares a wall with neighbors on all three floors, I would have had to lose floor space and construct false walls all the way up, or destroy existing plaster walls and rebuild with the fancy soundproof drywall, all too expensive for me at the time and since it hasn’t been a big deal I guess I made the right choice.

    Re: windows, even basic modern dual pane windows are amazing compared to even 20-30 year old windows, and light years away from 80 year old windows. There will be some improvement and you probably don’t need to invest much.

  • I can hear my neighbor’s phone vibrate. That’s how thin my walls are. I’m a renter though so I can’t do anything about it but move.

    Gotta laugh at all the “this is what the professionals use” comments. All those prove is that there are some really good salesman out there. Especially for government security, there are way cheaper means out there. But for a narrow row house where space is an issue, and if cost isn’t, I can see how it would be an appealing solution.

  • I too would like to hear more about what people have used to block noise from outside. The old windows just don’t do the trick.

    Has anyone installed energy efficient windows that come with a tax credit? Worth it? Too expensive for the small tax credit? Can they be custom cut for non-standard shaped windows?

  • I installed triple paned windows instead of the usual double paned to cut down the street noise in my condo, and it is AMAZING. I have the same problem as WDC – it is so much nicer with the windows closed now, I never want to open them.

  • I was interested in insulating my house, not so much for the noise, but because my house is an end unit and energy costs have been super high. I know there’s a tax credit for improvements in energy efficiency, but I could never find a contractor to install the insulation. My house attic is only 4-5ft tall in the front and barely 18 inches in the back, and several contractors said no thanks as soon as they heard it was an old rowhouse. Has anyone used contractors they could recommend? It’s really a job I don’t want to take on myself. Thanks!

  • SM, I have the EXACT same story as yours. I too would like the name of a contractor willing to insulate the attic space of an old rowhouse.

  • I used to live in a newly converted 4-unit apartment building with only interior-wall-like walls separating the four units. Wouldn’t have been bad except for the particularly inventive sex life of my neighbor. I could hear WAY too much detail…It was really awkward. This, and a return to somewhat reasonable prices were a key catalyst in my decision to buy an old rowhouse with multiple layers of brick between each home!

    To the dry-wall walled folks- how about trying the blow-in (Green Fiber) insulation that you can buy at any home center. I haven’t done it, but believe it’s pretty easy to do yourself. I’m pretty sure it is meant for exterior walls, for heat retention purposes, but would probably help a lot with sound in shared walls too. You have to drill a 3-inch (or so) hole between each stud along the shared wall, but holes that small are really easy to repair in drywall- once you’ve done it once, the rest will be a snap. I think a lot of places will let you borrow the blower unit for free when you buy several bags of the insulation.

    Seems that it would be cheaper than re-doing all of the drywall, and a bit more feasible for renters. Heck- ask the landlord to credit your rent for the total cost. Seems like insulated walls would be a real asset in the rental market!

  • SM and Anon 1:23: Had the same problem too. Insulation pros weren’t interested because the job was too small. I’d either research online and learn how to do it yourself (worked for us- it’s really not that hard) or look for a handyman type person to do it- you know the kind of person who will come out to your house to do small jobs, like install cabinet hardware etc.

  • To the insulation crowd, the blow-in insulation guys seem willing to take on any job. At least, in my area of extra small duplexes, they are frequent. No names / phones to pass on though, sorry.

  • I have a great handyman that does everything from garden/landscaping to remodeling and he takes any job, no matter how small. Samayoa Home and Garden is the company, the owner is Jose, 240-355-4611.

    Also, this isn’t exactly “reducing” the noise from neighbors. But in the summer, when things get louder outside, I got a box window fan which is wonderful for circulating air, and drowning out the kids running around at all hours of the night. I don’t think quadrulple pane windows would keep out their shenanigans…and it was $20.

  • I haven’t called them myself yet, but a colleague used Discount Energy Services to insulate the small attic space in his row home. He was quite pleased with the results. I’m going to look into it myself as soon as I get my lazy butt in gear. They have a web site, too.

  • I don’t have a noise problem- I have a neighbor problem. Fortunately the DC noise laws favor me and not loud annoying awful people. I recommend calling the cops when your neighbors break the law.

  • @Not Telling: I actually built some bass traps and gobos for my recording studio with Owens Corning 703. Maybe you should do some research on the subject before dismissing helpful comments?

  • Matt: Or maybe try talking to them first?

  • LJ, when you’ve got the kind of neighbors who get their jollies smashing bottles, who pile 12-15 people into a three-bedroom house, who heckle the young female neighbors, and who don’t speak english (or pretend not to), talking to them isn’t so much an option. Not that I didn’t try.

    And yeah, my nice new windows didn’t do squat when it came to shutting out the crazy bass and daily parties next door. Matt, I’m impressed/surprised that you’re getting a police response. I had to go around with DCRA (Graham’s office was very helpful) for six months to get rid of the people next door to me.

  • Yeah, I’ve tried the talking to them route. I was polite and courteous in my request, and in my defense it was a Sunday night. What I got was 30 minutes worth of drunken, rascist invective about why don’t I “call the INS”, which, what? No one brought up race until they did, typical “this is my neighborhood, I’ve been here for 20 years and hence can play my shitty music as loud as I want whenever I want.”

    I don’t blame you Matt, people suck. I’ve never been made to feel so small and terrible in my life, next time I’m calling the cops. Because now it’s my neighborhood TOO. Wish I had the room for the insulation you all are talking about, and that I didn’t cherish my exposed brick too much to with go the Quiet Rock.

  • For those looking for a contractor willing to take on rowhome attic insulation: I recommend giving Brent McDorman at Tri-State Homes a call. He did my attic (as well as several other unrelated projects), and at a great price. He’s definitely capable of doing blown-in insulation, but he’s also willing to use the more traditional stuff if that’s the way you’d prefer to go.


  • i’ve talked to them plenty of times. sometimes it works. when it doesn’t they get the cops, who’ve been pretty responsive, but you have to call a couple times.

    also i would just make the point that my neighbors are white gentrifiers who speak english. assholes come in all shapes sizes and colors.

  • Not Telling: A good friend of my is a government contractor. He does sound proofing (among other drywalling projects) for the government. He told me quietrock is what they use when security clearance is an issue. I did not buy anything from him.

    As for your second assumption that there are always cheaper means out there for government security, do you know nothing of the way this country spends money when it comes to security? Price is the last question asked, if ever. “No-bid contract” ring a bell?

  • I’m a contractor and I do a lot of soundproofing on projects here in DC. Quietrock is effective but super expensive. You can accomplish the same thing by making a “sandwich” with two sheets of drywall and Green Glue ( Insulation will definitely improve the transmission of sound but not as much as you might hope. Framing in another wall is one of the more effective options, but you will lose a lot of space, which is tough in a rowhome. You can also use a product called homosote ( which also provides some improvement.

    Soundproof windows are extremely expensive, as well. Unfortunately, there is not a ton you can do to block sound from your windows. New windows will be an improvement over old ones, but only minimally so.

    The best way to soundproof is to do it while the walls are still open during construction. There are a ton of underlayments, wall clips, pipe wraps, recessed light blocking techniques, etc that will work.

  • I insulated my own walls and subfloor. Who says you need a contractor?

    One wall was plaster and skimcoated by prior owner – – I can hear the nice older gentleman next door turning over in his bed through that wall, but elsewhere 1/3 of a batt of R13 under the sheetrock worked well. Exposed brick does not insulate.

  • You guys, I am in great need. I am moving back to my condo in DC and am thrilled w/returning but am not looking forward to the horrid relationship I have w/my upstairs neighbors. There are like 2 adults and 2 overweight kids plus dog who live in a small 2 bdrm above me. The parents work alld and night and leave the kids there who make a ton of noise. They don’t speak english, so it has been frustrating for all of us in trying to come to some understanding. I call the police, but it only stops it for that moment. The noise I hear is mostly footfall. When they walk and run, the sound is amplified and transmitted to my unit. I want to replace their floors and subflooring w/some type of material that will significantly dampen the noise. I don’t want to spend a lot if it is not going to help much though. Dave, can you email me at [email protected]. If any other people have recommendations, please let me know. Help!!!!

  • Dave, it would be great to have contact info for you, I’m currently looking to soundproof my ceiling!

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