It’s a fact of life that apartment walls are often horribly thin. When living in condos, apartments, and townhomes, we’re often left hearing every word our neighbors say. Why is this happening?
You can hear your neighbors talking through the walls because the walls are made with cheap materials that don’t do a great job blocking sound. Walls are typically built this way in apartments because there are so many units to build, and manufacturers don’t want to pay extra for excess materials.
In the rest of this article, I’ll further explain some of the most common reasons why you can hear your neighbors talking through the walls. I’ll also discuss some tips you can implement to help limit the amount of noise coming through. Let’s get started!
Why Are Apartment Walls So Thin?
Apartments are built in such a way as to accommodate many people for a minimal cost. Unlike traditional single-family houses, apartments and structures such as condos and townhomes aren’t built to withstand noise.
Builders of single-family homes can often afford to purchase thicker materials. There is more time involved in building the structure. Often, single-family homes are built to custom specifications, and as a result, the materials used are usually much better than those used in apartments.
Often, there are no more than a few sheets of drywall between apartments, and drywall has practically no soundproofing qualities. This is why many people use other soundproofing materials, such as green glue and sound panels.
The biggest reason apartments are made with such thin walls comes down to the builders attempting to keep costs at a minimum. In most situations, unless the apartment is classified as a “luxury apartment,” the manufacturers don’t see a point in using extra materials to benefit from higher sound reduction.
This is primarily because the apartments will rent regardless of the noise level. Apartment owners and builders know this, and while they aren’t standing around plotting to get as much noise as possible into your apartment, they aren’t going to take extra steps to make you comfortable.
Most people recognize and accept that living in an apartment comes with making compromises. Generally, the price is lower than living in a single-family home, but it also comes with its challenges – excess noise being one of them.
For more information about apartment walls, check out the video below.
Why Sound Travels Through Apartment Walls
Apartments as a whole all have the same standards set in place by local regulation. Usually, the walls are around four inches thick with wood and drywall. However, the thickness of the walls is not the problem.
Instead, the issue lies in the fact that sound waves can travel through the air with enormous ease. The only way to block the sound from transferring is to put in obstacles that prevent the sound from traveling through the air. This is what soundproofing materials do. They essentially catch the sound so that it can’t travel anymore. I’ll talk about this more in a few minutes.
With all this in mind, the real problem is not the thickness of the apartment walls. Instead, it’s the fact that there isn’t anything but open air between the walls. This means that the sound vibrations can travel freely through them.
Every time a sound vibration happens in one apartment, it begins to travel until it encounters something that reduces it to the point of stopping. The problem is that the sound wave begins in one space, goes straight through the wall, and eventually stops somewhere in the apartment next to it. The air acts as a conductor for sound, similar to how certain metals act as conductors for electricity.
How to Stop Hearing Your Neighbors Through Walls
Normally, soundproofing happens in the initial building process. This is because the best soundproofing occurs by insulating the interior walls. Apartments are, in general, not very well insulated. This causes more problems than just sound coming through. It also means that heat and cold are lost, and the temperature often fluctuates widely inside apartments.
Between the temperature and sound problems, you may wonder why anyone chooses to live in an apartment. When it comes down to it, the truth is that despite the problems with apartments, they’re still significantly more cost-efficient. With that in mind, if you’re one of the many people living in an apartment, you probably want to know how you can start reducing sound-related issues.
As mentioned, soundproofing usually occurs through heavy insulation in the walls. This can present a problem in apartments because you can’t take apart the walls and add in your own insulation or other soundproofing materials. That means it’s time to get creative.
So, how can you reduce sound in your apartment?
The good news is there are a few other solutions that don’t require you to remove the walls. Some of the options include:
- Acoustic Panels
- Carpet & Rugs
- Noise Reducing Curtains & Soundproofing Blankets
- Mass Loaded Vinyl
Let’s talk about each of these in a bit more depth.
Acoustic panels are a type of sound-absorbing panel that is used to reduce background noise along with both reverberation and echo in space.
The panels are made from heavy foam, which stops most sound in its tracks. As I mentioned, sound travels through the air. When the sound encounters the acoustic panels, it gets absorbed into the panels.
Usually, acoustic panels are hung directly on the wall, but sometimes they’re placed on the floor. This is one of the easiest and most effective solutions for soundproofing because of the way that these panels are installed.
Acoustic panels are typically installed by simply peeling off the backing of the panel and sticking it to the wall. Some require you to use nails or screws to install them, but this is rare.
One thing I want to mention, however, is that acoustic panels are built to reduce the sound traveling outside the room where they are placed. If placed in your neighbor’s apartments, the panels would work significantly better at reducing sound for you.
This is because the panels are flat on one side but usually textured on the other. They are designed for the sound waves to hit the textured side first and be drastically reduced before moving through to the flat side. When the acoustic panels are used backward, the sound encounters the flat side first and isn’t reduced as much.
Despite this, the panels are still excellent and remain the second best out of any other options we’ll discuss below.
The downside to acoustic panels is that they’re usually pricier than other soundproofing materials.
Noise Reducing Curtains & Soundproofing Blankets
Both noise-reducing curtains and soundproofing blankets work the same. They limit the amount of sound that can travel from one area to another.
Typically noise reducing curtains are hung over windows, which helps to reduce the sound that comes from outside. Windows significantly contribute to sound bouncing through your apartment, both from the window itself and the walls.
Soundproofing blankets are also often hung over windows and tend to work equally as well as noise-reducing curtains.
However, you can also use both tools on the wall. While they will help reduce some noise on the windows, you’ll see them shine if you hang them on the walls directly. This way, they’ll catch the sound directly and work towards reducing the sound vibrations.
The only problem with noise-reducing curtains and soundproofing blankets is that they aren’t aesthetically pleasing. They take up a lot of space and make it impossible to hang any artwork.
Speaking of artwork, let’s talk about how this can help to reduce sound in your apartment. Artwork works like most other sound-reducing materials – it catches the sound waves as they come through.
Artwork doesn’t always do a great job, and it works best if combined with other sound-reducing methods, such as carpet or noise-reducing curtains. However, bigger art pieces especially will help to block out some of the noise.
This helps because the art provides an extra barrier that the sound waves must travel through before reaching your ears. Surprisingly, this can be an enormous help if the artwork is strategically placed where the most of the sound is coming through.
It’s best to choose heavier and thicker paintings as they absorb sound the best.
Artwork doesn’t work nearly as well as other materials, but it’s a good option if your inner interior decorator likes to show up. If you’re creative, you can do quite a lot with artwork to help limit the noise you hear. You can even combine it with other unconventional soundproofing methods, such as utilizing plants.
Mass Loaded Vinyl
Mass-loaded vinyl was introduced in the 1960s as an effective soundproofing option and has been used ever since. While this material works extraordinarily well – about the same as acoustic panels – it can make an ugly sight.
Mass-loaded vinyl only comes in black and is utilized by rolling it over the floor or screwing it into walls. You will sometimes see it utilized in gyms because it also does a great job of reducing echo from equipment.
Mass-loaded vinyl is made of limp vinyl with metal pieces added to it to help increase its mass. All these materials combined help reduce the sound that is coming through your walls drastically.
One of the best parts about using this alternative over acoustic panels is that you’ll get the same sound reduction quality regardless of textures. The mass-loaded vinyl is flat on both sides and will reduce the sound coming from the other side of the wall just as effectively as it will reduce sound going out from your apartment to your neighbors.
In my opinion, mass-loaded vinyl is also reasonably cost-effective, making it the best choice. While it doesn’t add the aesthetic appeal that acoustic panels do, it does the job just as well, if not better, and it achieves this for a cheaper cost. Plus, the installation is as simple as rolling it out on your floor.
Carpet & Rugs
Surprisingly, carpets and rugs work pretty well for reducing sound. This is because sound quickly bounces around hard floors.
Hard floors have very little ability to absorb sound waves, so when they encounter them, the sound simply echoes off of the tile or wood. Carpets and rugs, on the other hand, catch the sound and help to reduce the amount of noise that gets bounced off.
This can reduce your apartment’s noise level by absorbing some sounds from the walls before they reach your ears. When utilizing carpets and rugs, thicker is better. Low-height carpets will work about as well as hardwood floors, but thicker materials will absorb the sound much better.
Even if you already have carpet in your apartment, you can lay thick rugs over the carpet, which will dampen the amount of sound you hear.
However, you should know that this won’t solve the problem completely. It will just limit the amount of noise coming through. Carpets and rugs are best combined with other soundproofing methods.
Usually, apartments are made with thin walls due to the costs and time associated with making thicker walls. Unfortunately, this can present huge challenges for those living in apartments.
If you can hear every word your neighbor says, there are quite a few options for soundproofing your apartment. While you aren’t going to be able to tear apart the walls and add in excess insulation, you can add all sorts of other materials, such as mass-loaded vinyl and acoustic panels. You can also implement artwork, curtains, and rugs or carpets to limit the sound.