"I would do it, but I'm paralyzed with not caring very much." - Spike
Question #93233 posted on 07/19/2020 10:14 p.m.
Q:

Dear 100 Hour Board,

Is there a renter friendly way to soundproof a ceiling so that you can't hear those above you walking around when you want to sleep? If there was a soundproofing equivalent of press n' seal, I'd probably buy a roll and cover the bedroom ceiling.

Thanks!

Some people sleep heavy
others sleep light
but really we all just want
quality sleep at night

A:

Dear Señor/Señora ZZZ's,

Now, on the one hand, you could have just Googled this question. But, on the other hand, maybe you did! And maybe you found that a bunch of random results from websites you'd never heard of popped up. And maybe you clicked on some of those websites and found, not a clear and concise listing of information, but a long, rambling blog post reminiscent of all those lengthy, meandering introductions to recipes where seemingly inconsequential information ("My spouse loved this homemade hot chocolate when I made it for breakfast on our skiing trip to the Pyrenees!") takes precedence over details you consider more relevant, such as how many ounces of chocolate chips you'll need (Answer: "More than you'll ever know.").

(Tangent: do you ever wonder why so many recipes start like that? It's because of SEO, otherwise known as Search Engine Optimization. The authors of said recipes need to include certain key words in important (read: early) places in their blog posts if they want their content to escape being banished by the search algorithm to the Forbidden Zone™ (read: Page 2 of the Google results). So it is with all content creators whose meager livelihoods are dependent on the almighty Algorithm; fortunately, the 100 Hour Board depends, not on the Algorithm, but on the hope, dreams, prayers, sweat, and morbid fascination of a small number of current and former BYU students.)

(Another Tangent: In reality, it's not just content creators who find themselves beholden to the Algorithm, because guess who sorts through all of the applications for the job you just applied for online? That's right: it's Mr. Algorithm again. However, since resumes likely can't hold lengthy descriptions of how you used Python to synergize engagement and leadership experience, you'll probably have to settle for the next best thing: typing all of the buzzwords you can think of in the empty spaces and then hiding all of them by setting their font color to white. It's great advice, and I hate it! Not because I don't think it would work, but just because it represents yet another hoop to jump through that will eventually become useless when everybody starts doing it, and instead of questioning the usefulness of said hoop, companies will just keep on inventing new hoops. C'est la vie.)

So it's completely understandable that you would turn to the trusty-and-reliable-if-somewhat-temporally-inconvenient 100 Hour Board! A place where Frère Rubiks such as myself will do the work reading all of those ersatz articles and then synthesizing and delivering their content to you in a clear, familiar (and, as the Rubiks hope, maybe even entertaining) fashion. Therefore: let's talk about sound, shall we?

(What, did you think that I was going to simply deliver the information without launching into a lengthy, rambling preamble myself, especially since I already pointed out that I have no urgent need to do so? Please: I'm a far-past-his prime Board Writer, and as such I'm far too self-indulgent to pass up such an opportunity.)

To review: when you hear something, it's because some thing has smacked into some other thing and part of the energy involved in said collision is transferred into the air, making air molecules run into their neighbors and then those neighbors run into their neighbors until finally some distant air molecule neighbors collide with your ear drum, causing a change in pressure that is registered and turned into a bio-electrical signal that is processed in your brain. (Simple, no?) In space, no one can hear you scream, but that's just because there are no air particles up there (or, at least, few enough that their neighbors are too far away to be bumped into). Importantly, sound can be transmitted through other substances besides air; we're just used to talking about air when it comes to sound because that is the substance that most commonly is nearest our eardrums (for an example of sound traveling through a different substance, see this eerie video of divers hearing sonar from an unknown source while underwater).

Now, if you had read the myriad articles about soundproofing, they would have informed you that there are two general types of sound that come into play: "airborne" noise, and "impact" noise. For our purposes, think of airborne noise as people talking: the source is in the air, away from the ground, and it typically isn't strong enough to get through neighboring walls (unless the walls are especially thin and/or resonant). Impact noise happens when something strikes a solid surface and the noise zips through that solid surface and jiggles the air molecules on the other side. Examples of impact noise include knocking on doors and hearing the footsteps of people on the floor above you, as you have described.

So, to sum up: someone's foot is impacting the floor above you; that impact reverberates through the floor/ceiling, and the reverberation disturbs the air molecules on the other side. That disturbance eventually reaches your ears, and Presto! You're hearing footsteps.

With all that in mind, the problem of soundproofing is the problem of breaking that chain of disturbances. You could do that at the source by putting a thick rug down on the hard floor, which would absorb the initial impact, but that sort of thing is out of your control (unless you want to persuade our neighbors to do it). You could do it inside the floor: if you put some sort of soft and fluffy insulation in between their floor and your ceiling, which would make it harder for the sound to travel through, but you are similarly limited there by your rental agreement. Finally, you can try to lessen the vibrations that are coming from your ceiling and disturbing the air in your room, and here is the area where you are finally in control.

There are a number of ways you could hypothetically dampen the vibrations from your ceiling, but for once, I'm going to cut to the chase here and tell you that your best bet is probably to use some foam soundproofing panels. Foam, in general, is good at getting rid of vibrations; as I'm sure we've all seen before from countless Tempur Pedic commercials, if you set a full glass of wine on a memory foam mattress and then jump on it, the wine won't spill (because who among us has not poured out a glass of wine only to be filled with a sudden urge to jump on the unmade bed and had no other place to set said glass of wine except said unmade bed because, dang it, we're not risking putting it gently on the floor where an earthquake could knock it over and cause us to lose our deposit over carpet stains?).

(Also, it should be said, I am not promoting Koala mattresses by linking to that video, because the war over internet mattress sales is something I am not willing to wade into.)

So, foam is generally good at absorbing vibrations, and foam formed into triangles or "egg-carton" shapes is especially good at dampening sound. So, my overall suggestion would be to look into some foam soundproofing panels and then secure them to the ceiling via command strips. If that doesn't work, then it may just be time to talk to the neighbors whenever you find a good sale on thick, plush rugs.

TL; DR: just read the paragraph immediately preceding this one, and forgive my old, self-indulgent ways.

-Frère Rubik, hitting that sweet writing groove that only manifests after 1 AM

P.S. The whited-out buzzword thing works here, too: tunnel worm, relationship, crush, werf, archives, doughnuts, BYU, greatest Board Answer ever

posted on 07/20/2020 11:22 a.m.
Another option to try is white noise, either using a machine, or even just a box fan. It can help the other noises not register, so you don't wake up. It does wonders for helping me sleep through my husband's snoring.
posted on 07/20/2020 6:55 p.m.
While Frère Rubik is correct that foam is good at absorbing vibrations, if you want to actually block the sound you need isolated mass. For a more rental friendly way to do this you are probably looking for mass loaded vinyl. It isn't as effective as isolated drywall, but it can be installed in less destructive ways. Just note that it is pretty much always black and will look terrible installed inside of a room.

Or you could go all out and ask your landlord if you can install an isolated mass ceiling. This is expensive, but should resolve the problem. Check out installation options here: https://www.soundproofingcompany.com/soundproofing-solutions/soundproofing-ceilings

- Fredjikrang