Picture by: ArchDaily

Now we’ve heard everything! Acoustical myths soundly debunked.

Some bloggers begin mapping out their posts by searching for images that align with or enhance the topics they’re writing about. So imagine this writer’s “surprise” when Google failed to deliver the perfect photo to share with you here. Could it be that no one has ever taken a picture of the DIY soundproofing project that entails nailing mattresses to walls? And while carpeting walls may or may not constitute an aesthetic felony, it definitely fails as a soundproofing measure. But hey, we do have visual representation of that particular myth.

When failed soundproofing makes you see red

Myths about sound control and acoustics in general abound, replete with a colourful history. In his book Architectural Acoustics, Christopher N. Brooks cites two major categories of acoustical myths: wishful thinking about noise control, and charming myths about concert halls. Examples of the latter include the popular belief that “Broken wine bottles under the stage are the secret to the great acoustics in old European halls.”

Whether you’re an audiophile or an architect, read on to learn more about what to unlearn when it comes to the following misguided approaches to manipulating sound.

Carpet or mattresses applied to walls

While rugs do help absorb noise, they have no soundproofing value, and anyway, who wants to vacuum walls? As for mattresses, well, unless you want to bounce off them, be aware that you’d have to cover entire walls as well as caulk and seal every crevice between them before they’d have any soundproofing qualities at all. Other issues, such as smells and bedbugs, will remain—for the breadth of this article—unaddressed.

Could it be that no one has ever taken a picture of the DIY soundproofing project that entails nailing mattresses to walls?

Egg cartons as soundproofing material

This one might bring to the mind’s eye a music-loving, budget-constrained young adult in their first apartment. Similar to acoustic foam in shape, egg cartons could be used to break up flat wall surfaces, and thereby help absorb sound rather than bouncing it back to the listener. The cartons would somewhat reduce echo, but then, so would curtains, furniture, and anything else in the room. But their soundproofing efficacy is nil. 

It may be art, but it ain’t science.

Soundproof foam

For starters, this myth is based on a common misnomer. When people talk about soundproof foam, what they’re really referring to is acoustic foam, which can be an effective product … but not a soundproofing one.

If you’ve ever shopped for a raincoat, you’ll have seen labels reading waterproof or water-resistant. But water-absorbent? Good quality in a kitchen sponge, not so much in rain gear. Similarly, soundproof ± sound absorbent. Sound absorbent materials, such as acoustic foam, prevent sound waves from bouncing and echoing within a space by obstructing their paths. Lightweight, porous materials make sense.

Actual soundproofing, however, is a matter of blocking sound, and that requires heavy, dense and thick materials best applied in multi-layered assemblies so that sound won’t penetrate or pass through. Soundproofing a wall necessitates modification of the wall itself.

Soundproof paint

At a thickness of 30 to 40 thousandths of an inch, this specialty paint may absorb some mid-range sound waves but fails to do so with lower or higher ends of the sound spectrum. Coupled with a very limited colour selection, this negligible result suggests your acoustic optimizing dollars would be better spent elsewhere.

Soundproof wallpaper

Essentially wallpaper backed with foam or similar sound deadening material, like soundproof paint, it’s too thin to do much of anything aside from reduce room-to-room residential noise transmission.

Dark paint

Quite honestly, I’ve only chosen to include this one because significant numbers of people out there actually believe it to be true. A dark room may look quieter, but tell that to your ears.

Cellulose Insulation

Its thermal value notwithstanding, cellulose insulation stuffed into your walls might as well be the dollars it cost. If you notice a theme emerging here, well, thanks for the attentive read. While fluffy, lightweight materials may absorb some sound, they can’t replace the dense, heavy materials that actually work such as, say, an extra sheet of drywall. At 2.31 pounds per square foot, a 5/8” thick sheet is effective both in terms of cost and function.

Foam Rubber

Great in the form of yoga mats, sure, but we give it a resounding “No!” for use as a soundproofing material. It degrades over time, and have we mentioned that it’s extremely flammable?

So what does work?

If you’re starting to think that the very concept of soundproofing is a myth unto itself, you’re not altogether wrong. No space is 100% soundproof. Professional recording studios come close, but most rooms don’t require that level of sound control.

Bearing this in mind, and armed with an understanding that many “simple tricks” really are myths, consider the following options that actually can help mitigate the impact of noise:

  • Earbuds. Affordable and close as your nearest hardware store or pharmacy, these little units prove remarkably effective in keeping noise out of the inner space between your ears. Almost all ear plugs come with a Noise Reduction Rating, or NRR, that indicates how much sound the plugs muffle.
  • White noise machines. These devices essentially drown out noise by distracting you with pleasant or innocuous sounds such as rushing waterfalls or wind blowing through trees, and many people swear by them as effective sleep aids.
  • Acoustic door and window seal kits. If replacing your doors or windows with heavier alternatives isn’t feasible, check out How to Soundproof Your Apartment to learn about how such products might help.

 

At BAP Acoustics, we feel that myths belong to the worlds of art and literature, not sneaking around under the guise of scientific fact. And we quite enjoy dispelling them! So if a supposed solution to your acoustical problems seems too good to be true, well, chances are … Please feel free to contact us with any sound-related questions you may have or issues to clarify.

Recent Post

Starfish Communications

Destination: Acoustical Consulting Career

A number of UK and EU-based universities offer Acoustical Engineering degree programs at levels from undergraduate to PhD. If you live in Canada or the US, however, you’ll find that those highly specialized degree programs aren’t offered on this side of the Atlantic.

But if a career in acoustical engineering consultancy sounds like it might be your cup of Earl grey, take heart. Your journey needn’t begin overseas. Here’s how you can get there from here.

Read More »
Starfish Communications

WELL done acoustics with a side of Green

The fact that I’m wearing noise-cancelling headphones as I write strikes me as both ironic and illustrative of how much and how insidiously noise can affect us at work, rest, or play. With all the construction underway in my neighbourhood, I’m relieved to discover that the sounds of recorded waterfalls, surf, rain—or even Drum & Bass—are far more conducive to cognitive focus than, say, the dulcet tones of jackhammers or chainsaws. Though currently home-based, I have worked in conventional office environments, researching and writing amidst colleagues engaged in activities and conversations sometimes no less, um…dulcet, and I suspect wearing headphones to tune them out would probably have been construed as rude.

Read More »
Starfish Communications

Something sounds fishy: mitigating noise aboard small industrial craft

I’d never before pondered that fish and noise might—even indirectly—have anything to do with each other. Little did I know! Sure, fish do tend to be quiet, but the process of harvesting them most assuredly does not.

With high casualty, accident, and injury rates, fish harvesting ranks as one of the world’s most dangerous industries. Occupational Health and Safety (OH&S) and Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB) literature from coastal communities not only confirms this; it also highlights noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) as a primary health hazard among fish harvesters. What these regulatory bodies haven’t addressed is the noise-induced fatigue caused by insufficiently sound-attenuated crew quarters. Cumulative health effects of noise exposure over time also include cardiovascular stress, which can lead to high blood pressure and dizziness.

Read More »

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Join Our Mailing List

We would like to share our stories and news with you

Denny Ng, M.A.Sc. P.Eng.

Senior Acoustic Consultant

Denny is a locally trained and licensed Professional Engineer specializing in environmental noise modelling, architectural acoustics and mechanical noise control. His career as a consultant began with an internship at BAP Acoustics in 2016 while completing his graduate studies in acoustics at the University of British Columbia. Working closely with Eric and Mark, Denny has had the privilege of working on numerous post-secondary education and infrastructure projects including Emily Carr University of Art and Design, UBC Gateway and Brock Commons Phase 2, Stuart Lake Hospital Replacement Project and Nanaimo Correctional Center. His approach to consulting is communicating acoustical concerns as they arise in order to reach cost effective solutions. 

 

Qualifications

B.A.Sc. Mechanical Engineering – Thermofluids Option (with distinction), University of British Columbia, 2014

M.A.Sc. Mechanical Engineering – Acoustics Group, University of British Columbia, 2019

P.Eng. BC

Leanne Farmer, B.Eng.

Acoustic Consultant

Leanne Farmer began her career in Adelaide, where she gained four years of experience providing acoustic design advice across Australia. She possesses extensive technical knowledge in both building acoustics and complex environmental noise assessments. Demonstrating her capabilities in multi-disciplinary coordination and project management, Leanne effectively managed large-scale measurement campaigns and contributed to major infrastructure projects. After re-locating back to Victoria, BC in 2023, Leanne joined BAP Acoustics. She is excited to be working on local projects, applying the experiences and insights gained from her diverse international work.

 

Qualifications

B.Eng. Mechanical Engineering, University of Victoria, 2018

EIT, BC

Alex Mendes, B.Eng. EIT

Acoustic Engineer

A graduate of the University of Victoria, Alex has contributed to an array of computerized acoustic modelling projects during his tenure with BAP Acoustics. His passion for music lends itself to a particular focus in room acoustics modelling, where he has applied creative approaches to navigate the unique challenges posed by varied architectural designs. His expertise extends to outdoor sound modelling, where he has lent his skillset to initiatives ranging from shooting noise control studies to public alert system performance evaluations. Alex’s ardent curiosity and his analytical, pragmatic approach to consultation have served him well in providing sensible, practical solutions to a host of acoustic challenges.

 

Qualifications

B.Eng. Mechanical Engineering, University of Victoria, 2018

EIT, BC

Kathryn Gulewich, B.Eng. EIT

Acoustic Engineer

Kathryn is a Mechanical Engineer who graduated from the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) with a Bachelor of Engineering degree. She pivoted to the field of acoustical consulting upon joining BAP Acoustics in 2022, embracing a transition marked by rapid expertise accrual—particularly in outdoor noise monitoring and HVAC noise control. Kathryn’s solid engineering background supports her technical approach to acoustic challenges, blending mechanical engineering principles with the specialized demands of acoustic consultancy.

 

Qualifications

B.Eng. Mechanical Engineering, BCIT, 2011

Nicole Yeung, M.Eng. EIT.

Acoustic Engineer

An Honours graduate, Nicole earned her M.Eng. degree in Acoustical Engineering at the globally renowned Institute of Sound and Vibration Research founded 60 years ago by the UK-based University of Southampton. Nicole’s project experience encompasses acoustic design, implementation and testing at all stages of work. Her project contributions include examining and optimizing: sound insulation between spaces; room reverberation time; and mechanical noise emissions. She is also experienced in outdoor noise propagation simulation and environmental noise study for: new residential developments; fitness facilities; office buildings; and industrial developments. Nicole has a strong foundation in outdoor noise propagation software Cadna/A. In addition, she is experienced in using programs such as Insul for sound insulation prediction and ODEON for room acoustics. 

 

Qualifications

M.Eng. Acoustical Engineering (Honours), Institute of Sound & Vibration Research, University of Southampton, UK.

EIT, BC