Soundproofing A Floor: Inexpensive Ways To Lessen Noise On Different Types Of Floor

Brown floor of an apartment

Last Updated: July 7, 2021

If you live in an apartment or a multiple-story house...

Chances are...

Your chatter and midnight dance parties are heard by the people above and below you.

Whether you have noisy neighbors, you’re the noisy one, or you want to keep your privacy you need to have a soundproof floor to maintain peace for everyone.

Rid yourself of noise complaints and keep reading to learn the proper step-by-step procedure on soundproofing a floor!

The Basics

glass windows and brown floor

First things first, you can’t just soundproof a floor out of nowhere.

There are crucial parts and functions you need to understand before taking action for better, more effective soundproofing.

Anatomy Of A Floor

Let’s start from the bottom. To better understand where the noises come from and determine the best floor soundproofing, it is crucial to know the different layers of a floor.

Joist

The joists are heavy-duty wooden beams in multiple rows under the floor of every room. They provide the structural support of the floor.

If you go to the basement (especially in old houses) and look above, you will see the joists as long as there’s no ceiling.

Subfloor

The subfloor is the layer that covers the joist. These panels are usually nailed to the joist and provide strength and rigidity to the floor system. Subflooring is usually made of wood or concrete slabs.

Together with the joist, the subfloor distributes the impact of the floor traffic such as walking and dragging furniture.

Underlayment

The underlayment is the layer between the subfloor and the floor surface. It can be made of different materials depending on the subfloor and floor covering.

Its main purpose is to provide a smoother and more adhesive surface for the floor covering if it cannot be attached directly to the subfloor.

An underlayment also improves structural stability and floor sound deadening.

However, not all floors have an underlayment. There are instances where the floor covering also serves as the underlayment, so this layer isn’t always necessary, albeit crucial for a soundproof floor.

Floor Covering

Also called flooring, this is the finished visible layer that you step on. The floor covering can be made of different materials such as wooden planks, tiles, vinyl, and more.

Identifying The Medium

Now that you know all the parts, it will be easier for you to target the area that is causing all of these inconveniences

Airborne Noise

Airborne noise is transmitted through the air. The sound waves are carried onto the atmosphere until they hit something solid like the walls or ceiling, then vibrate at a reduced volume.

This includes hearing your neighbors chatting and neighbors' bass is too loud, or your dog barking from the other room.

moving sofa around house

Impact Noise

Impact noise, also known as structure-borne noise, refers to a sudden burst of high-intensity sound from direct contact with two solid objects.

This includes footsteps or when you’re dragging furniture around.

This noise’s medium is the building itself. This creates more energy than airborne noise since the vibration from direct contact travels further throughout the building’s structure.

Wood Flooring Squeaks

When a building’s wood flooring is poorly made or the material has worn down, it creates a space for the floor to move to which produces a squeaking sound.

This may be caused simply by seasonal movement, especially during wintertime. The air becomes less humid which causes wooden floors to lose moisture and eventually shrink.

But this isn’t a cause for alarm since the humidity in the air rises during spring so the floor will expand again.

However, if the floor squeaks regardless of the season, it might be caused by a more serious issue such as a loose joist or an uneven subfloor. In this case, we recommend consulting a wood flooring expert to better identify and solve this problem.

Note:

These structural issues can’t always be remedied by the soundproofing methods listed below, so keep them in mind.

Targeting The Proper Material

After measuring and identifying where all the noise is coming from, it is now time to measure how effective your soundproofing materials are with the methods below:

Sound Transmission Class (STC)

An STC rating is a numerical measure of sound isolation. It determines the ability of a material to block sounds by reducing the decibels that pass through the object.

The higher the rating, the better soundproofing.

Impact Insulation Class (IIC)

On the other hand, IIC is a rating used for floor and ceiling assemblies (subfloor, underlayment, and floor covering) to quantify their shock absorption and vibration isolation.

Just like in STC, the higher the rating, the better.

Thickness / Density

When an object is thicker and denser, it has more mass. This makes it harder for sound waves to pass through an object.

When buying floor soundproofing materials, not all products have a visible STC and IIC rating, so check the product’s thickness instead. Of course, you should still read the product’s features to determine if it fits your existing flooring.

Methods Of Soundproofing

man putting joist

Now that you’re all set, it’s time to move forward to the main course of the solution— soundproofing.

Before you do these methods, make sure that you consult a professional first since the materials have to match your requirements. An expert will help you on how to soundproof a floor for cheap prices and avoid unnecessary purchases.

If you’re a tenant, get permission first since some apartments prohibit tampering with the prebuilt floors and ceilings. Don’t install permanent components to properties you do not own!

Additionally, make sure that you have the necessary safety equipment and tools. Do the proper floor measurements before buying any products.

Joist

If you are working on your basement or any other floor where the joist is exposed, you can install sound insulation and drywall components to cover this up.

Soundproof Floor Insulation

From the image, you can see that there are gaps between the joists. You can simply insert dense acoustic insulation into all the spaces which will absorb airborne noise.

Before doing this, make sure to cover up any holes on the subfloor with a sealant. Any holes from plumbing or wiring that are left unnoticed will result in a squeaky floor.

Dry Wall

After installing the insulation, you can now cover up the joist with drywall. This makes it harder for sound waves to pass through, enhancing the floor’s capacity against impact noise.

The first step is installing resilient channels, which are metal bars that prevent the joist and drywall from touching.

You want to screw them perpendicularly into each joist and make sure that they go across the entire floor. The image above shows the joists being vertical, so you have to install the resilient channels horizontally.

Repeat each step throughout the entire floor. Make sure that there is a 16-inch distance between the center of each channel. Think of this as another joist, just in the opposite direction.

Afterward, screw the drywall into the resilient channels (not the joists!) until it covers the entire area. Remember to use the proper screws when installing the channels and drywall.

Another Option

If you can’t access the joists due to an existing ceiling, you need to hire a professional. They will cut a hole through the drywall and pump the insulation inside. However, this can be invasive, albeit minimal.

man putting underlayment for flooring

Underlayment

The material you need for underlayment varies depending on the subfloor and floor covering you are using. 

Installing The Underlayment

This process is easier if you have a naked subfloor. If there is an existing floor covering, you have to lift it to install the underlayment.

Before installation, you have to seal any holes in the subfloor with a sealant if you didn’t do the joist insulation method. Also, clean the subfloor to remove any debris or construction residue.

Since the underlayment typically comes in rolls, make sure to read the instructions to avoid damaging the underlayment as you unroll.

One side of the underlayment has adhesive, so lay it down carefully and overlap some of the corners to the walls. Make sure that it is flat to the subfloor.

Do not overlap underlayments with each other, so you have to align the edges and then secure them together with a piece of tape.

Once you cover the entire subfloor, you can cut the excess pieces on the wall then either tack or tape them down.

You can now reattach the floor covering or install a new one as per the installation instructions.

Foam Underlayment

This is the standard type of underlayment since it is versatile - meaning it can be used for any type of floor covering.

Foam is also inexpensive and easy to work with which is perfect if you prefer a DIY underlayment project. It also provides some heat insulation for warmth.

This underlayment is especially effective for laminate and carpet floor covering. A memory foam carpet padding provides top-notch cushion and durability.

Although foam provides a bit of soundproofing, it may not be enough.

Moreover, basic foam underlayment typically lacks a layer of plastic which means it’s not waterproof. But there are foam underlayments that have a built-in vapor barrier.

Felt Underlayment

Felt is a dense material that makes it excellent for soundproofing. It is more expensive than foam but less than cork and rubber.

It can be installed anywhere, but it excels at floating hardwood and fastened hardwood floor covering.

If you want to use felt, we recommend getting a felt underlayment with a vapor barrier to make it water-resistant and long-lasting.

Cork Underlayment

Cork underlayment is known for being a great material for soundproofing a floor if you live in an apartment.

It’s effective, eco-friendly, and antimicrobial which is best if you have allergies. It also insulates and works well with in-floor heating systems.

Compared to felt, cork underlayment provides more cushion and sound dampening.

Although you can install cork anywhere, it works best for floating hardwood and laminate floor covering.

However, this material is more expensive than others. It’s also not water-resistant, so you might have to buy a brand that comes with vapor barriers.

Rubber Underlayment

Rubber is one of the best sound and heat insulation for floors compared to other underlayments.

It is also water-proof which is a feature that other materials lack.

Rubber underlayment works best for wood, tile, and carpet floor covering. Additionally, you can put rubber products on top of the floor covering for additional soundproofing, which we will discuss later.

However, rubber is as expensive as cork underlayment. It’s also not as versatile as others since you can’t place it under the vinyl floor covering.

Moreover, if you install rubber underlayment, you may have to live with the rubber scent but it will dissipate after a while.

Cement Board Underlayment

If you are planning to use a tile floor covering, then we recommend using a cement board underlayment.

You can’t put tiles directly on a wood subfloor since wood tends to contract and expand which causes tiles to crack.

Cement board underlayment is flexible enough to resist movement from the subfloor while providing a stiff and smooth surface for the tiles to adhere to.

This material is also water-resistant like rubber and is typically priced the same as felt.

Floor Covering

If you can’t disturb the inner layers of the floor or you want a quick noise remedy, you can resort to these materials since most of them can be simply placed on the floor covering.

woman stepping on rug

Carpet / Rug

Carpets and rugs are made of soft material that helps cushion and muffles the sounds on your floor. Proper carpeting will reduce impact noise by as much as 30 decibels!

Additionally, carpets come in different designs and thicknesses to match your preference. As we mentioned, thicker and denser objects have better soundproofing.

The same goes for rugs. The only difference is that carpets are meant to cover the entire floor, while rugs only cover a portion. We recommend placing rugs in high-traffic areas.

Rubber Mats

Rubber mats are best if you already have carpeting in your home but still experience issues. You can place them on top of carpeting for extra soundproofing.

These mats are commonly seen in workout gyms due to their water and shock absorbance. Additionally, rubber is an excellent floor soundproofing material.

Because of these qualities, you can put them under heavy appliances that vibrate such as television, washing machine, stereo systems, and workout equipment.

Interlocking Floor Mats

Have you seen those puzzle piece floor mats in a nursery or PE class? Those are interlocking floor mats.

Instead of being placed over the entire floor, they are placed on high-traffic areas and under heavy equipment for protection. The individual pieces are designed to interlock at the sides, so you can control their total coverage.

They are easy to install, durable, anti-bacterial, and easy to clean. When one of the pieces wears down, you can simply replace that individual piece.

However, they are not the best for soundproofing compared to other materials. They will only be effective when placed in conjunction with other components such as underlayment or carpeting.

Mass-loaded Vinyl (MLV)

Out of all the floor covering options, mass-loaded vinyl is the best for killing sounds.

It is a dense material with a high STC (Sound Transmission Class) that is thin and flexible which makes it easy to cut according to your floor.

MLV is not only for floors, but walls as well. If you want to soundproof the floor and walls, this material is the best and convenient option.

MLV is typically installed under carpeting for floors, and behind wallpaper for walls.

However, its biggest drawback is installation. Rather than being simply laid down on the floor, you have to screw these down. This can be problematic if you don’t own the property you live in.

Additionally, it is also expensive compared to other floor covering options.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is There An Inexpensive Way To Make A Floor Soundproof?

If you’re on a budget, the best option is to install thick carpeting and add a layer of either interlocking floor mats or rubber mats for high-traffic areas.

Because carpeting and mats are temporary installments, you can bring them along if you decide to move houses which saves you from buying a new floor installment.

Not only is this inexpensive and convenient, but a great option if you’re a tenant since temporary components won’t get you in trouble with your landlord.

What Type Of Flooring Material Is Best To Use?

You can use any type of flooring material depending on the type of room it will be in. Instead, the components that you install will make the difference when it comes to soundproofing.

What’s great is that none of the methods we listed are standalone. For example, you may install joist insulation, cork underlayment, MLV, and carpeting on your floor.

Here's a video showing how to soundproof timber floor:

Can I Do Floor Soundproofing Without The Help Of A Professional?

You can do simple soundproofing such as the ones listed in the Floor Covering section of this article as long as you have the proper tools.

However, for the Joist and Underlayment sections, you may need the help of a professional especially if you do not have experience with flooring. Not only will they help you install, but suggest the best materials for you as well.

Final Thoughts

Noise is everywhere - from you, your neighbors, or your environment. Soundproofing solves this problem but it may be a daunting task since there are many options to choose from.

Fortunately, as long as you know what your floor is made of and its layers, finding the best components to install can be narrowed down easily.

We hope that our guide provided sufficient information on how to soundproof floors. Before you know it, your home will be quiet and free from all those noise complaints!

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