Noise is a subjective phenomenon, says Joseph Drago of New England Soundproofing. A long-time general remodeler in the Boston, Massachusetts, market, Drago started to take on soundproofing jobs in the 1990s. He still handles kitchens, baths, room additions, and the like; but he has developed a special niche in the area of soundproofing.
Drago has the sensitive instruments and technical expertise needed to scientifically measure and quantify a noise problem, or its solution. But he says that satisfying customers is a little more nuanced than that. Different people perceive sound differently, he says, so understanding and meeting a client's expectations is a case-by-case personal process. "I've been in houses where the client says, 'There! You hear that?' … and I can't hear anything," he says. "Or for example, you'll meet a husband and wife, and there's a noise that she can't stand that doesn't bother him, or vice versa."
A crew from New England Soundproofing applies a sound-deadening, mass-loaded, sheet vinyl product called Sound Barrier HD to a party wall separating a condo stairwell from the unit next door. Materials like this vinyl and the special sound-absorbing rock-wool fiber insulation in the wall cavities can be used to absorb, deaden, and muffle sound vibrations from a variety of sources. Solutions are based on the nature of the sound source and the subjective perceptions of building occupants.
So Drago has to be careful about what he promises for results — especially when the circumstances, or the budget, may not allow him to deploy his full range of sound-deadening materials and methods. Take, for example, the stairwell shown in this week's slideshow. The sound is coming into the stairwell from the condo next door. Drago's plan was to strip off the existing drywall, remove rigid foam insulation, and install softer sound-absorbing rock wool insulation, plus a layer of noise-absorbing mass-loaded vinyl sheets, before putting drywall back up in the stairwell. If there were no stairs, the crew could go a step further, attaching standoff clips and metal channel to isolate the interior wallboard from the studs behind. But that would add thickness to the wall and there's no room to do that in this situation without demolishing and rebuilding the stairs — which, understandably, is not in the budget.
The chosen solution will go a long way to resolving the issue, Drago says. It may fall short of perfect silence; but, he says, in most cases clients are satisfied that they're getting what they paid for — as long as he's careful to explain in advance.
But Drago says that when the situation is right, he's often able to meet even the most ambitious project goals. He cites the example of a suburban client who wanted a sound-proofed "man cave" on the attic level of a home — a place where he could watch movies and listen to music on his beefy surround-sound system without disturbing his wife and daughters in their rooms on the floor below. Drago decoupled the entire attic space from the house below with a new framing system, isolated from the existing house using synthetic buffer materials. After the client moved in, he invited Drago over to see the results. "We were in the room downstairs, and you couldn't hear a sound from up above," Drago recalls. "When we went upstairs and opened the door, he had the system cranked. It was pounding."
The smiles said it all, says Drago.