If you are working from home you have probably been distracted by noise from outside or from other parts of the house.
Lack of soundproofing in a home office can be a constant pain point while working from home so it is worth thinking about and addressing.
Recently, I’ve been planning out how I am going to soundproof my home office. In this article, we will look at:
- The potential sources of unwanted sound in the home office
- How to soundproof each of the potential sources
- How to reduce echo in the room and get better acoustics
- Alternatives to soundproofing
The Science Behind How Sound Travels
In order to get a better idea of how soundproofing works, we should first understand what sound is and how it travels. After all, we are trying to stop sound from travelling into our room.
What Is Sound (Simple Explanation)
Put simply, the sounds that we hear are vibrations of particles in solids, liquids and gases such as air. Sources of sound create the vibrations that eventually travel to our ears.
Our ear drums vibrate from the sound at different frequencies and intensities. This is then amplified in our ear and translated to electrical signals that our brain perceives as sound.
How Does Sound Travel?
You’ll often hear that sound travels in a wave pattern. If you want to visualize it, it is similar to the waves coming out of the sound icon on your task bar or even the WIFI symbol.
Since sound travels due to the vibration of particles, it moves faster through objects where the particles are closer together. This means sound moves fastest through solids, followed by liquids and finally gases. However, the speed that a sound moves through an object is not very relevant to soundproofing.
At a theoretical level, sound transmission is stopped or resisted by materials that don’t vibrate well. These materials can absorb and reflect some of the sound before allowing it to transmit.
What Are The Potential Sources Of Noise In A Home Office?
The door to your home office can be the biggest opening in the room. This means that unless you live alone, you’ll probably hear noise coming from the door during the work day, especially if you leave the door open while working.
Often time, doors also don’t completely block out noise when shut. There are air gaps under and on all sides of the door that allow sounds to enter the room.
Moreover, depending on the material of your door and whether it is hollow or solid inside, sound can actually enter through the door itself.
Windows can also be a major source of sound in the home office, especially if you live in a busy neighborhood or close to loud modes of transportation such as the subway or an airport.
Additionally, the type of window that you have can effect the sound blocking quality of it. Windows with two or more layers of glass perform better than single panel windows.
Moreover, windows can also allow sounds into the room if they aren’t sealed properly and there are cracks and gaps in the frame or surrounding wall.
Typical walls in the home are generally ok at blocking sounds. However, you can still hear loud noises and structural noise through them.
Furthermore, if the insulation in the walls is not adequate, your walls may be allowing a lot of noise to come in.
Similar to windows, holes, cracks, and gaps in the wall can also be sources for sound to enter into the room, distracting you from work.
If your home office is not on the main floor of the house, noise from below you can permeate the flooring and be bothersome while you work. You may even have noise coming from the basement if it is being used.
Additionally, floors, similar to walls, can transmit structural sounds easily and loudly. For example, every time someone opens or closes the garage is a loud sound that gets transmitted through structural vibrations in the floors, walls, and ceiling.
Ceilings are similar to floors in how they allow sounds to enter the room, but can often times be worst depending on what floor you are working on. At the top floor of the house, you may not have sound sources above you, but if you work downstairs or in an apartment building, sound from the people above can transmit through the ceiling.
Similar to walls and floors, ceilings can also be a source of structural sound in the house.
6. Air Vents
Air vents can be a major source of sound in the home office because they connect to other parts of the house. Sound can easily travel through vents much more easily than through walls, ceilings, and floors as it would have to otherwise.
With vents, you also have cracks and gaps around them that are also potential sources.
Last but not least, sounds from inside the home office can echo around and last for a while if the acoustics in the room are bad. This can be detrimental for audio calls if you are not using headphones. Furthermore, the quality of sound picked up by the microphone may be effected by the echo in the room as well.
Step By Step Guide To Soundproofing A Home Office
In this section, we’ll take a look at how to actually soundproof these sources of sound entering you home office.
First and foremost, it’s very important for you to have a plan of attack. You need to first identify which noises you want to eliminate from you home office and where they are coming from. Then you can soundproof that area of the home office.
Unless you are trying to build a completely soundproof office for some kind of audio related work, you’ll most likely only want to soundproof some targeted aspect of the home office such as the door or the window.
Once you have a plan, here’s how you can go about soundproofing the potential sources of noise.
1. How To Soundproof A Door
When it comes to soundproofing a door, a good start is to identify whether the noise is coming through the air gaps under and around the door frame, or also through the door itself.
If you hear noise coming through the closed door itself and really want to completely block out all sound coming in, there are a couple things you can do.
First, you can replace the door to a solid core door if you have a hollow core door. As the names suggest, a hollow core door is open on the inside and blocks less sound than solid core doors which are a solid material all the way through.
You can tell the difference by comparing your front door and garage doors to your office door. Chances are the front and garage doors are solid and the office door is hollow.
This is a more expensive option and another downside is that it can be hard to find a solid door that matches with the rest of the house. However, if a different door look doesn’t bother you, you can just change the door and keep the old door for when you may want to sell the house.
The other thing you can do to completely block out all noise coming from the door is to use a soundproof blanket and attach it to the door.
This is also an expensive option compared to the other methods mentioned below, but will also give you the added benefit of absorbing some of the echo in the room as well.
Here Are Some Simple Things You Can Do To Improve The Soundproofing Of A Door
Here’s what you can do when replacing the entire door, or having a soundproofing blanket fixture is not an option. You may want some ideas to help improve the soundproofing of the door, rather than go all out. Oh, and I should mention that you can do all these things with a solid core door as well to further improve the soundproofing.
- Install a door sweep or draft stopper to the bottom of the door. You can actually do this on both sides of the door for added benefit.
- Install weather stripping to fill in the gaps between the door and the frame. Weather stripping will get compressed when the door closes providing a complete, gap free, barrier from the other side. Moreover, you’ll never hear you door slam again with these installed.
- Seal cracks and gaps with sealant. You can also use sound proof sealant, but I don’t know if it actually works better than regular sealant.
- A very simple thing you can do is place a thick rug in front of the door to seal the air gap below it.
You can purchase all these items at your local hardware store.
2. The Best Ways To Soundproof A Window
Many times, the first thing you’ll hear with soundproofing a window is to remove the window if you don’t need it. While this can give you the best possible sound proofing, let’s face it – the home office needs natural lighting while working as well as good airflow. Remove the window is not an option!
There are quite a few different things you can do to sound proof a window. Room aesthetic is also a big consideration here as some of these ideas can really shape the look and feel of your room.
- Get soundproofing window inserts. These inserts install easily on your existing windows and provide a complete seal and extra layer that blocks sound very well. However, this is an expensive option and may not be ideal for everyone. Moreover, if you need to access the window to open it, this solution doesn’t work for you.
- Install sound proofing curtains. These are especially designed to block noise and as such can be quite expensive. However, you do get the soundproofing without jeopardizing the look and feel of your room. Another benefit of these is that they can reduce echo in the room as well, providing you with better acoustic sound quality for voice calls.
- Install thick blinds or window shutters. Similar to curtains, these can get expensive, but will go with the look and feel of the room.
- Add weather stripping to the windows. Many windows even when closed have small gaps because they aren’t aligned properly. Weather stripping can act as a barrier for these gaps and block the sound from coming through them.
- Install double glazed windows. Since these are a standard now, your home may already have these installed. With two panes of glass and an air gap in between, these windows have a better sound blocking than single panel windows.
- Lastly, it is always recommended to seal all cracks and gaps in the frame surrounding the window. These can open up over time and also due to weather changes so its a good idea to fill these in. Sound coming through the cracks from outside will be greatly reduced.
3. How To Improve The Soundproofing Quality Of Your Home Office Walls
Soundproofing the walls in your home office can be a major task and may require professional help for the majority of the steps mentioned in this section.
However, the simpler things that you could do yourself include:
- Fill holes and gaps in the wall. As mentioned before, if you have large cracks and gaps in the wall, sound could be entering through them. It will help slightly to fill these with a typical filler. Note that you may have to paint over these filled sections to maintain the aesthetic of the room.
- Install soundproofing acoustic panels. Acoustic panels will slightly reduce the noise coming in through the walls, but they won’t get rid of it altogether (unless the noise is very quiet to begin with). The major benefit of the acoustic panels is to reduce the echo in the room, giving you a better audio quality for voice and video calls.
For a typical home office, you are probably not going to bother with trying to soundproof the walls as it can be both costly and effect the look and feel of the office. If sound coming through the walls is a huge problem and you are not willing to get professional help, then there is a list of alternatives at the end of this article.
That being said, here are a few things you could get professional help for with regards to soundproofing the home office walls:
- Add or improve the insulation inside the walls. While the main purpose of insulation in the walls is for temperature control and possibly fireproofing, the added barrier can mitigate sound travel through the walls. In fact, there is special soundproofing insulation available. However, normal insulation will also be effective to a degree.
- Minimize structural sounds. Structural sounds are vibrations that permeate through the supports of the house. An example of a structural sound is the sound you may hear when the garage door is opened/closed. There are ways to mitigate these vibrations traveling through the beams in the house that could be employed with the help of a professional.
- Add a second layer of drywall. Having an additional layer of drywall can also block out additional noise coming through the walls at the expense of a slight reduction in room space.
4. What Options Do You Have For Soundproofing The Floor
A simple way to improve the soundproofing quality of the floor is to add a thick rug. This can also improve the aesthetic of the room. For soundproofing purposes, the larger and thicker the rug, the better it will be.
If you already have a carpeted flooring in the home office, a smaller decorative rug can still help reduce noise through the floor since it adds extra thickness.
With the floor, similar to the walls, you may be getting a lot of structural noise from time to time. It’s best to seek the help of a professional for mitigating these vibrations if you deem it necessary.
5. How Can You Soundproof the Ceiling
Soundproofing the ceiling is another expensive and time consuming commitment that you may need a professional’s help for. As mentioned before, one thing you can possible do yourself as a DIY project is to fill the cracks and holes in the ceiling.
Another DIY remedy you could try is acoustic paint if you have very little sound that you want to block out. That being said, I don’t know how effective acoustic paint actually is and would not recommend you to try it without extensively researching on the subject yourself.
Otherwise, here is a list of more involved things you can try to address to soundproof your ceiling:
- Use thicker dry wall. Increased thickness in the drywall with help it to absorb and reject more noise before allowing it to transfer into the room from the ceiling
- Install acoustic insulation in the ceiling. Chances are your ceiling already has insulation. If this is the case, you could try to swap that insulation out for acoustic insulation which should be more effective at removing noise transfer
- Install resilient channels under the drywall. These are steel beams that allow you to decouple the drywall of the ceiling from the structural channels of the house. This is a great way to effectively reduce structural vibrations and even sound coming through the ceiling
6. Here’s How You Can Soundproof Air Vents In Your Home Office
Air vents can be a significant source of noise in your home office. They connect to the other rooms in your house and is basically a chamber for noise to travel through.
Here’s how you can soundproof air vents:
- Install a vent silencer behind the cover. These fit into your duct and contain a maze like structure that provides a barrier for sound while still allowing air to go through. You could also try to build a DIY sound maze for your home office air duct
- Fill gaps and cracks around the air vent. You can use sound absorbing tape to seal the edges of the air duct. This may reduce the noise by small amounts
7. How To Reduce Echo In A Home Office
Generally, echo in the room will not be a problem unless you need really high audio quality for your work. For the purposes of work meetings you can purchase headsets that have build in noise cancellation that work very well.
However, if you need high quality audio acoustics in the room, here are some things you can do to reduce echo:
- Install acoustic panels on the walls. Acoustic panels are specifically designed to reduce the echo by absorbing all the sound that would otherwise be reflected off of the walls and back into the room
- Install soundproofing curtains on the widows. Similar to acoustic panels, these will absorb the sound before it reflects
What Are Some Alternatives To Acoustic Panels?
Professional grade acoustic panels can be expensive. However there are tons of DIY solutions available that you can try. It’s important to remember that you don’t need to cover the entire room to attain a significant increase in sound quality.
You can make a few acoustic panels and space them out on the wall so that it has some aesthetic appeal as well. For my room, I made some paintings on canvas and filled the back with old towels. I used heavy duty double sided tape to stick it to the wall.
Alternatives To Soundproofing The Home Office
While you may be aware of the sources of sound that are distracting you from work, it may not be feasible to try to soundproof those sources for many reasons.
You have to think about costs, resale value of the house, etc.
Sometimes, the best we can do is try some alternatives and make do that way. Here are some ideas that you can try instead of soundproofing your home office.
1. Work From Outside
If the weather permits, you can actually work from outside your house such as from your backyard. The pleasant scenery and fresh air can really get you in a productive mood, not to mention that you’ll be getting your daily dose of Vitamin D from the sun.
One issue I can foresee is that you may have bad internet quality if your WIFI signal is not strong enough for you to work from outside. You may have to use your phone’s data or run a large ethernet cable from your router or wall socket outside with you.
Alternatively, you can try to schedule outdoor work, when you don’t need internet access. This has the added benefit of preventing you from going on the internet as a distraction. For more ideas on how to avoid distractions, read my ultimate article here.
Another working from outside idea is to go to a coffee shop. Many people find themselves to be more productive when working in such a setting.
One thing to note, is that if you have meetings during the day, this is probably not a viable option. Moreover, if you get distracted easily from the normal activity in the shop, you might just be better off staying in your home office.
2. Go To A Quieter Place In The House (Have A Travel Work Setup)
If you work using a laptop computer instead of desktop computer, you can actually make a travel work setup that can support you to easily take your work to a different setting. This can be another quieter place in the house or even outside like the backyard or the coffee shop.
If you mainly use a desktop, this may be a good reason to also invest in a laptop and use both interchangeably.
A travel work setup can be a bag containing a laptop for work and a wireless mouse. If your main work environment gets uncontrollably noisy, you can take the travel work bag to another quieter part of the house and temporarily work from there.
3. Create Favorable Noise
This is the method that I employ the most as an alternative to soundproofing my home office. Creating favorable noise can drown out unwanted noise and allow you to still be productive.
One great idea is to use a quiet pedestal fan. A good quality fan is not too loud in operation but also loud enough to drown out conversations and the quieter sounds coming from outside. As an added benefit, you have better airflow in the room.
Another idea is to wear headphones while working and play some kind of productive background sounds. This can just be white noise if you can’t concentrate while listening to music. You may also find some instrumental music that resonates with you productively. Personally, I like to alternate between the two, and use background white noise when I really want to cancel out all sounds and have a deep focus.
You can find a lot of playlists for white noise and instrumental music for focus on services like Spotify and even YouTube.
4. Active Noise Cancellation
The last alternative to soundproofing you home office I have for you is to use active noise cancellation. While active noise cancellation headphones are somewhat expensive, there are some good quality ones that can function as you office headsets as well.
Moreover, these can benefit you while you are travelling on an airplane or public transit as well and want to get some work done in a quiet environment.
Hamid Tahir is a Mechatronics Engineer and founder of WFH Overload. He is currently working from home and is dedicated to the continuous improvement of his home office setup. Hamid has extensive experience setting up workspaces and dealing with the related tech. He hopes to share his knowledge to help you create the most productive and comfortable work from home setup. Read More