The sound of silence: 7 budget-friendly ways to soundproof your home

Sirens, honking horns, noisy neighbours, barking dogs, leaf blowers, lawn mowers, trucks, cars and aeroplanes – all these can create an unwelcome soundtrack in our homes. According to the Australian Government, these outdoor sounds can interfere with our sleep and conversation, and can cause fatigue, irritability, headaches and stress. Through soundproofing, you may be able to minimise these noises and enjoy some peace and quiet. In addition, soundproofing may help reduce noisy distractions for those working from home during the coronavirus pandemic.

Build.com.au, an online building and renovation publication, said the first step in soundproofing is to work out what kind of noise you want to stop, where it’s coming from, and what area you’d like to keep it out of. For example, if you’re looking to soundproof your home office from the noises of a busy street, you will need to work out how the sound of the street is travelling into this room (such as through a window) and how to then block that sound out.

There are many methods you can use to soundproof a room, including altering the existing structure of that space. For example, you can add an extra layer of plasterboard (also known as drywall) as well as sound-dampening material to your room’s walls, or install double glazed windows. Or you may consider laying down carpets in certain rooms to dampen noise and reduce echo, particularly if you are above ground level and looking to block sounds travelling from underneath your floors. However, these soundproofing techniques can be expensive, both in terms of the materials required and the potential cost of installation by a professional.

If you’re looking to soundproof your home or room but want to keep costs down, there are some budget-friendly options you can consider.

*Note: If you are renting, it may be a good idea to ask your landlord for permission to use any soundproofing techniques in your home or apartment before starting the work or hiring a professional to complete it for you.

1. Hang thick curtains

Hanging thick blackout (also known as blockout) curtains over windows, while not being a complete noise-cancelling solution, can minimise the level of sound entering the room, according to architect Catherine Cortez. These curtains are usually made with heavy, double-layered material that enables them to absorb sound waves coming from the outside, as well as lessen echoes within your home. Blackout curtains are also made to block sunlight and UV rays that enter a room from the outside, and as such may be more suited to some areas in the home than in others. You can buy these curtains at various department and homeware stores, or you may consider making your own. To hang these curtains, you will need to first measure the size of your windows to make sure the curtains you buy or make are the right dimensions. From there, you can hang the curtains yourself using either a rod or tracks. The cost of blackout curtains will range depending on the provider, brand, size, colour, design and type of curtain (eyelet or pencil pleat) you buy. For example, for a blackout curtain through the Spotlight store, you can expect to pay anywhere from between $15 to $300. You will also need to factor in the costs for the curtain rod or tracks you use to fix the curtain to the window.

soundproofing blackout curtains
Source: Tiko Aramyan (Shutterstock)

2. Apply weather stripping tape

If you live on a busy road or in a noisy neighbourhood, adding weather stripping tape around the top and sides of a door or window frame (where there are gaps) may also help in keeping outdoor noises where they belong – outdoors. Ms Cortez said this tape is mostly made of soft peel-and-stick sponge rubber and can act as an air seal, which can help block out sounds as well as helping to block draughts of wind.

To install weather stripping tape, you will generally need to clean and measure where it will be applied, then cut the tape to the length you desire, remove the backing and fix the adhesive side of the tape to the door or window frame, applying pressure as you go. Rubber weather stripping tape can be bought in varying sizes from hardware stores or online. The price will vary depending on the provider, brand, size and quality of the tape you want to use. For example, the cost of a 5-metre single weather strip from Bunnings will set you back about $5 to $10.

soundproofing weather strip tape
Source: New Africa (Shutterstock)

3. Install a door seal

The gap at the bottom of your front door can let in noise from the outside. To help seal out these sounds (as well as air, dust and insects) you can install a door seal to the bottom of your door. These seals (also called door sweeps and guards) are often made of rubber, plastic or metal and have a thick rubber strip or brush at the bottom.

Ms Cortez said you can ask a professional to install a seal, or you can do it yourself by cleaning and measuring your door frame, cutting the seal to size, placing the seal against the bottom of the door (either inside or outside), marking the fixing position, then removing the backing paper to expose the adhesive and carefully positioning the seal on the marked line to fit. Some seals may not have an adhesive backing and instead will need to be fitted by drilling screws through the seal into the bottom of the door. When you are marking the position of the seal on your door make sure the rubber strip or brush of the seal is just above the floor so that you can minimise the amount of sound that leaks through it. If you do plan to use a drill to install your door seal, it is a good idea to read the user manual of the tool or refer to online safety information before you begin work. Door seals come in different shapes and sizes and can be bought from hardware stores or online. Prices for these seals will vary depending on the type and size of seal you buy. However, to help get an idea of the cost of these seals, they range from about $8 to $40 at Bunnings.

4. Hang tapestries and blankets

Fabric wall hangings, such as tapestries (a form of textile art) or felt wall art, can be effective noise-dampening materials, according to Ms Cortez. These heavy wall hangings can help absorb sound as well as add colour and pattern to a space. The cost of these wall hangings will vary considerably depending on the provider, brand, type and design you buy. On the Direct Art Australia website, you can purchase wall tapestries from $79.

You can also absorb or dampen sounds by hanging thick blankets over walls or other sound-entry points in the home (such as windows or doors) with tacks, finishing nails or screws. The layers in a heavy blanket can help prevent both low and high frequencies (or pitches) of sound (such as the low rumbling of a storm or high pitch of a child screaming) from penetrating.

soundproofing tapestries
Source: Galyna Andrushko (Shutterstock)

5. Add bookshelves or a bookcase

Instead of adding additional layers of plasterboard or padding to thicken internal walls, you can consider using bookshelves or a large bookcase. Ms Cortez said the space between shelves and a wall can provide some level of sound insulation (reducing the sound transmitting through it), which can be increased by filling the bookcase with dense books. For example, you could place a bookcase against a shared wall to block out some of the noise caused by a neighbour. Bookshelves or a bookcase will again vary in price depending on a range of factors, including the size, quality and style you buy. On the IKEA Australian website, they have bookcases on sale from $40 through to $260.

soundproofing bookcase
Source: PhotoMavenStock (Shutterstock)

6. Use upholstered furniture

Chairs and sofas that are upholstered in plush fabrics, such as suede, microfibre or corduroy, can help to absorb and dampen sound, Ms Cortez said. You may soak up unwanted sounds by placing this type of furniture up against the walls in your home where these sounds are penetrating through. For example, if you live next to a noisy neighbour in an apartment complex, you can help reduce the sound coming from their room by positioning your sofa against the wall you share with them. Upholstered chairs and sofas price from around $69 to $200 at Kmart, and from about $200 to more than $1,000 at Freedom furniture.

soundproofing upholstered furniture
Source: Photographee.eu (Shutterstock)

7. Install a ‘green wall’

According to Australian indoor plant and sustainable landscaping provider Ambius, studies show that plants can be effective in absorbing sound waves and deflecting them in other directions, due to the dynamic surface area of their leaves, stems and branches. By installing a ‘green wall’ in your home (which has plants or vegetation that grow on or against a vertical surface), you can bring a number of plants together to help absorb external noises that penetrate through walls in your home. Ms Cortez said studies have shown that green walls can reduce exterior noise by up to 40 decibels, which is an important benefit for those that live in noisy neighbourhoods.

Costs for installing a green wall (also known as a living wall or vertical garden) will vary depending on the type of structure and design you go for, the plants and irrigation system you use, and whether you install it yourself or hire a professional builder or landscaper to do the job for you.

According to Greenwallaustralia.com.au, a provider of living walls, the cost for the design, supply, installation and maintenance of a green wall through their company ranges between $900 – $1,200 per square metre. For a cheaper solution, you can buy vertical garden units and pocket planting pads to attach to the outside or inside wall of your home yourself through online providers (such as eBay and Amazon) or home and warehouse stores (such as Bunnings) for as little as $20 to $50 (excluding the cost of the plants and potting mix). Bunnings also has a water irrigation kit that you can attach to your vertical garden wall for $10.

soundproofing green wall
Source: Viacheslav Lopatin (Shutterstock)

Considerations when soundproofing

Before you consider using any of the above soundproofing methods, it’s important to research the costs involved and whether they will fit into your budget. If you do plan to make structural changes to any existing space in order to soundproof it, you may also want to check with your home and contents insurer as to whether this work could impact your insurance cover.

Cover image source: Fizkes (Shutterstock)

Share this article