Years ago I had a friend who rented a spacious, airy artist’s loft in lower Manhattan, and paid incredibly cheap rent. Why? He lived one floor below a dance studio. And no, they didn’t do ballet or modern dance or anything nice and mild and quiet. This studio specialized in clogging, that incredibly loud group Irish dance style that repeatedly pounds those hard heels directly into your auditory canal like a pneumatic jackhammer. Hence the low rent. My friend lasted six months in that loft, and they said it was an endurance record.
If you live in a multi-story home or condo, you probably already know how sound can travel vertically from one floor to another, and how incredibly annoying and disturbing it can potentially be.
If you’re remodeling a basement as a living space, and you have open floor joists above your head, you’re probably wondering how best to stop your home from sounding like a big kettle drum every time someone walks above you.
Quality new home construction uses various kinds of sound absorption and mitigation materials—sound-deadening foam underlayments, sound-insulating floor mats and special anti-sound boards that homebuilders install under new sub-floors all do a great job of containing noise. Rather than transmitting sounds from one floor to another, these technologies make for a quiet, well-damped aural environment.
But what if you have an existing house that transmits noise like my friend’s loft? Tearing out your floors probably isn’t a cost-effective solution. So let’s focus on what you can do to mitigate sound.
The easiest fix to a noisy floor is a good layer of thick padding and carpet. Even better—install a sound barrier product under the padding beforehand. If you’re installing new flooring, stay away from the hard plastic, fake-wood products that try to mimic hardwood—they’re cheap, but you’ll get all the noise you paid for. Also, while I personally like the look and the sustainability of bamboo flooring, some of the lesser quality bamboo products do transmit a fair amount of noise.
But let’s tackle that basement remodeling/refinishing project, and try to make it a peaceful refuge:
1. Seal Any Cracks and Holes
You want to seal any holes in the basement ceiling and fix any squeaks and groans in the floor above. Typically the holes in the ceiling are used to pass wiring, plumbing and HVAC ducting from the basement to the first floor of the dwelling. A simple silicone sealer caulk works fine for this step.
To fix the typical squeaks and groans in older houses with hardwood floors, recruit a helper to step on the places that make noise. In almost every case, a squeaky floor is caused by slight warpage of the hardwood boards in the flooring, made as the loose board moves against a floor joist. Occasionally they can come from a subfloor sheet of plywood, too. While your helper locates the squeak, find it visually and then slip a shim shingle into the open space causing the squeak. Lightly tap the shim into that space with a hammer until the squeak stops. As an alternative, you can use a drywall screw angled up through the joist and into the flooring material—just make sure you don’t screw it in too far and penetrate the floor above.
2. Determine What Type of Insulation You Need
If your basement has open joists in the ceiling area, you can buy and install a soundproofing insulation product that will fit between those joists and mitigate much of the sound from above. Thick sound-absorbing pads do not provide insulation from heat and cold, but they do block much of the ambient sound from the floor above.
3. Finish the Ceiling
Once you’ve installed your sound barrier in the basement ceiling, you’re going to want to finish your ceiling with drywall, plywood or some other kind of ceiling material. Don’t screw it directly to the floor joists above! This will only serve to transmit sound directly down into the room. Instead, use an isolating Resilient Channel to mount your ceiling material to the joists. The resilient channel will absorb impact sound from above, isolating the ceiling material from the joist you mount it to.
These three steps will give you a much quieter and calmer basement—unless Irish dancers live on the first floor.