Protecting your hearing, and possibly your sanity, is important. It seems to be more important now than ever. There are quite a few floor soundproofing option that you may consider. Read about all of them here before you make your decision about which one is the best option for you.
There is nothing worse than the noise you cannot control. When there is someone around you that is creating a large amount of noise, you may be desperate to find ways to prevent that sound. If you cannot stop it, you want to at least reduce the noise.
I did not realize all of the ways I could soundproof my house. I have small kids, and they have not yet grasped how to walk quietly. I can hear them clomping throughout the house. That is until I find a way to dampen the noise, including using soundproof flooring. Read this article to find out about all the different types of soundproof flooring.
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Table of Contents
- Noise Types That Acoustic Flooring Can Prevent
- Evaluation of Underlayment
- What is Underlayment?
- Soundproof Flooring Material
- Types of Soundproof Flooring
- Soundproofing an Existing Floor
- Difference Between Soundproofing and Sound Absorption
- Where to Buy Soundproof Flooring?
- History of Soundproof Flooring
Noise Types That Acoustic Flooring Can Prevent
Before you can determine which soundproof flooring is right for you, there are some you need to know. There are two different types of noise that can transmit through the floor.
Regardless of the sound that you hear in your building from carts, to machinery, to people walking, the floors of your building or home take the weight of the impact. The noise and energy that are generated by the impact of the items in your building will transmit throughout your entire building. This noise can disturb anyone that is in your building.
Acoustic flooring is intended to insulate the noise made from impact, and it prevents it from transmitting to the floors underneath the floor. The material on the floor has a measurement that indicates how effective the flooring is at preventing the transmission of noise. This is called the impact insulation class (ICC). There is more about ICC later in this article.
Airborne sound comes from people, instruments, and speakers. This type of sound easily transmits through the floor into other parts of the house or building. The term sound transmission class (STC) is what determines the ability of the material to prevent the transmission of airborne sound. There is more about STC later in this article.
When considering the appropriate soundproofing flooring materials, you want to look at both measurements. While these two measurements are important, they are not the only metrics you want to consider. You also need to make sure the flooring you select makes sense for the area in which you are installing the floor.
Evaluation of Underlayment
When you are considering an underlayment (more about this later) for your floor, you want to pay attention to some of the important metrics. Sound Transmission Class (STC) and Impact Insulation Class (IIC) are two metrics you should consider.
Sound Transmission Class (STC)
STC is a measurement of how well the material is able to reduce the amount of airborne noise. There are a set of lab tests that are used to determine the STC. These tests result in a number that ranges between 15 to 80. The higher the number means, the better able the material is to reduce airborne noise.
You want an item with a higher number. The number is calculated with a logarithmic calculation. The fact that it is a logarithmic calculation means that you will see small increments in the number, but those small increments make a big difference in the amount of sound it can block.
Impact Insulation Class (IIC)
IIC is a measurement of how well the material is able to block the amount of structure-borne noise. This test is also done in a lab in a bit of a low-tech way. Someone in the lab taps the material with a steel hammer. When this happens, it creates vibrations that measure on a scale that is similar to STC. When a wood floor that is not insulated is tested, the reading is around 40, which falls below the requirement of 50.
Some numbers you will see as it relates to IIC are:
IIC 50 is the lowest rating. Examples of flooring in this rating are usually tile and stone.
IIC 60 is the medium impact rating. Examples of flooring in this rating are usually laminates and wood.
IIC 65 has the highest level of absorption. Examples of flooring in this rating are usually cork and carpet.
What is Underlayment?
The underlayment of a floor is installed to give a smooth and even surface that provides a predictable surface and installation. This is typically a softer layer, like cork and foam, that is put on the subfloor before the final floor is installed. The soft underlayment is usually installed under a top floor of carpet or laminate.
The flooring underlayment can also be a thin and hard layer like plywood or cement board. Laminate flooring, ceramic tile, porcelain tile, engineered wood, or solid hardwood are installed over a hard underlayment. The underpayments can be used together. The softer underpayments come in long rolls.
This is the least expensive types of underpayments. It also tends to be one of the least effective. This is a foam that has closed cells. It is easy to find in a host of hardware stores. Many different brands sell this type of foam underlayment. The thinnest polyethylene foam comes in 2 mm.
The underlayment of acoustic foam is typically used for laminate flooring. It tends to be one of the most expensive foam options. This is known to be effective at keeping sound from moving between floors. A 3mm thick acoustic foam is about half the thickness of cork underlayment.
Felt underlayment is friendly to the environment because it is recycled. It is great for reducing noise. This is more expensive than polyethylene foam, but if you are interested in absorbing sound, this is an ideal option. The Felt is roughly four times heavier than foam. It is also denser. This soundproof underlayment should be used for laminate and wood flooring.
Plywood underpayment is thin and used under flooring that is flexible and thin, like linoleum tiles and vinyl. This underlayment is a moderate sound absorber. Often you will find that plywood is used with tar paper, also known as roofing felt or red rosin paper. These do not help to dampen the noise, but they can help to reduce the amount of squeaking you hear from the plywood.
Acoustic underlayment is a better option than plywood as a soundproof underlay. Acoustic underlayment is different from plywood because it helps to elevate the floor on something called a sleeper board. This may also be thought of as a floating floor. The elevation creates a space of dead air that can help to drastically reduce the vibration transmission from one floor to another. Often this type of acoustic underlay is made from recycled wood.
The cement board is incredibly dense, making it a better sound blocker than wood. This is a great underlayment for a tile floor.
Soundproof Flooring Material
There are a great many types of flooring materials to help soundproof your floor. There are materials that fit between the subfloor and the floor that help to soundproof the floor.
This material is put over a subfloor that is made of plywood and concrete floor. This helps to cushion the floor and helps to reduce the impact noise and airborne noise.
Vinyl for Sound Deadening
This is also referred to as mass-loaded vinyl. This is a thin vinyl that is heavy. It helps to dampen noise, specifically with floors, vehicles, and machines.
Floor Insulation for Sound Absorption
This is acoustic insulation that is placed between floor joists, which is located directly below the subfloor. It is often installed between the ceiling and the floor above it.
Acoustic Floor Tiles
These acoustic floor tiles are produced specifically to minimize the echo and reverberation in rooms where there are floors and hard surfaces.
Carpet Padding for Sound Absorption
The padding under a carpet is incredibly important. The thickness of the padding helps to reduce noise. When cheap padding is used, it will not work as well as thicker padding. You might consider selecting a more affordable carpet pad, but this is not the place to cut costs.
Types of Soundproof Flooring
While the underlayment of the floor is important to sound dampening, the floor material is also important.
Carpet is the best soundproof flooring that you will find. It is intended to be soft, luxurious, and prevent noise. The thicker carpet you have, the more sound that is dampened. The pile of the carpet is what indicates the thickness of the carpet.
The thicker the pile means, the more sound that is absorbed. Foam and rubber are great options for underlayment for your soundproof carpet. They are softer under your foot and are great at absorbing sound.
Carpet is generally is the least expensive flooring option you will find. It does have its shortcomings, though. It is not the most durable option. It is not easy to clean, and it traps dust and allergens. If anyone in your family has allergies, carpet is not the way to go.
Hardwood floor is not a great soundproof flooring option because it does not absorb sound well, but you can put cork under it to help. The cork stays firm but does not flex. You could also consider foam as an underpayment, as long as it is dense and thick.
The laminate floor is a moderate choice to reduce sound, as long as the underlayment is quality material. The underlayment will add a layer of comfort to the floor. It will reduce the hollow sound made when someone walks on a floor. The foam may be a good underpayment as long as it has properties that have a vapor barrier. Cork flooring may be a better noise reducer. You should consider laminate carefully because it is weakened by moisture.
Vinyl flooring, even luxury vinyl, usually comes with a cork underlayment. Felt and foam will also work as an underlayment. Cork is the best option because it does not stain or damage the floor. The vinyl floor gives you a flexible and cushioned surface which is ideal for reducing sound.
There are not many good options that you can place under tile flooring. You should use a thick subfloor. You should consider a combination of the underpayment. A combination of rubber and cork is the best option.
Cork is an ideal choice for flooring that is going to help reduce sound. Not only does it dampen sound, but it also absorbs it. It is so effective as noise reduction, it is often used in recording studios to reduce background noise.
Cork is incredibly porous and as a result, it breaks up the sound waves instead of letting them bounce around. Cork gives you a spring-like feel beneath your feet. It is comfortable to walk and stand on. It may even prevent objects from breaking if they fall on a cork floor.
Soundproofing an Existing Floor
When you have an existing floor that you do not want to rip up, but you still want to soundproof, there are many options available to you. You may find that your existing floor may make a lot of noise and while you want to address it because it is annoying, you do not want to completely replace your flooring. There are some options available to you that will not require tearing apart your floor and spending a large sum of money.
You can add insulation to your ceiling to provide more padding to the flooring. This can also help reduce the noise that you are hearing on the floor beneath the floor. Insulation is easy to find and use. It is affordable and this is a simple option to resolve the noise concerns.
An ideal option is adding some rugs to your existing floor. This is an affordable option. You do not have to put a lot of work and effort into placing rugs on your floor. You can do some quick shopping online to find rugs that meet your needs and style. Rugs can help to dampen impact noise but only for a certain portion of your floor.
Since a rug is only a certain size, the noise is dampened for that specific area. A great place for a rug is in your high traffic areas and under furniture that is used. You might want to put rugs under beds and sofas. Keep in mind, that the thicker run you can find, the better it will dampen the sound.
These are pads that go under your rug. I am sure that you know your carpet has a pad under it. You can purchase similar pads for your rug. These have many benefits. They can protect your rug and your floor. They also help to keep the rug from slipping. And lastly, they provide insulation for temperature and noise. Just like with rugs, the thicker your padding is that means the better it provides the benefits.
Interlocking floor mats are another way to provide sound dampening for your existing floor. These are great for areas of high traffic. You can use them in basements, garages, and playrooms for your children. These mats fit together like a puzzle. They are easy to install.
You can buy as many or as little as you need. They are simple to move around, and you can do it without any extra help. You can find them in many different colors and patterns to match the decor of any room.
Difference Between Soundproofing and Sound Absorption
When it comes to noise disturbance, most of us just want it to stop. You may not even really care how it stops, as long as it does. Soundproofing is an umbrella term that is typically used to cover all aspects of reducing sound in your home or office. Really, there are two different methods to control sound. There are soundproofing and sound-absorbing.
Soundproofing is when sound is blocked. This may be called sound blocking, as well. In this case, there is a material that is insulated, and it prevents the sound from entering or leaving a specific space. These items are usually heavy and solid.
The material must be dense so that it reflects the sound and keeps it all in one space. This may not be your first option when you want to reduce noise. It is a great option under the proper circumstances. Places like recording studios and movie theaters require soundproofing to ensure the sound contained inside does not leave the space.
Sound absorption is when the material is used on walls, ceilings, and floors to absorb the sound waves that are in the room. This is an ideal method to reduce the amount of echo or noise within a space. The materials that are intended to absorb sound are made from softer materials and work to soak up, or absorb, the sound as it hits the surface. These materials can help remove extraneous noise in an office, the echo of a hallway, and murmuring in a classroom.
Where to Buy Soundproof Flooring?
There are a number of places you can purchase any of the soundproof flooring options mentioned in this article. You can go to a hardware store and purchase these items. You can visit a large number of websites that will allow you to purchase acoustic room dividers. You can go to their websites and purchase them online.
There are specialty stores that sell only flooring. They may be your best bet when you want to talk to an expert about flooring that will be soundproof. It is smart to have some knowledge of flooring and underlayment options before you contact any stores.
History of Soundproof Flooring
The first sounds were captured in 1857 by Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville. He created a device that allowed scientists to capture sound. This device transcribed sound waves by drawing a line down glass or paper. You could say the sound has exploded since then.
Now, we often feel overcome with noise, and we just want to turn it off, or at least turn it down for a little while. Soundproofing started back in the 1890s. Wallace Clement Sabine was a physicist at Harvard. He was called on to make the acoustics better in Harvard’s main lecture hall.
He measured the time it took the sound to reverberate. He is the first known person to do this. He found 5.5 seconds was the magic number. Then he started experimenting. First, he used seat cushions and then moved on to materials that were more sound absorbent.
He took that information and designed the Boston Symphony Hall, which opened in 1900. It is the first building to have been designed with acoustics that was scientifically formulated.
The world around us just continued to get louder until music became so loud that it was negatively impacting hearing. Rock concerts and rock music were being played at unprecedented volumes. The Environmental Protection Agency determined that an estimate of 20 million Americans sustain permanent hearing loss due to their daily exposure to environmental noise.
In the early 1980s, less than 9 million people were exposed to occupational noise at levels over 85 decibels. By the early 1990s, that number increased to 30 million. It only takes eight hours of noise at 85 decibels to be a danger to your middle ear and eardrum.
Congress passed the Noise Control Act in 1972. This act is an attempt to standardize common practices to reduce occupational noise. This includes actions like putting up noise barriers on highways. These barriers were intended to reduce the amount of noise nearby neighborhoods heard.
As time moved forward, there was an understanding of how important soundproofing is. People became more concerned about hearing loss, as well as annoying their neighbors. Technology has advanced allowing us to come up with new and innovative ways to soundproof and eliminate or reduce occupational noise.