The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we do a lot of things. We’re spending a lot less time browsing through our favourite department stores and a lot more time “clicking” our way down the virtual aisles. We’re carefully sticking to our social bubbles and limiting our exposure to large crowds. But perhaps the biggest shift has been in the way we work.
More people are working from home now than ever before. This shift towards “telework” seems like it’s going to stick around long after the pandemic and it’s not hard to see why. Workers are loving the short commute from the bedroom to the home office and the fact that every day feels like “Casual Friday”. Businesses love saving money on office space and are happy to provide their employees with a real opportunity to strike a sustainable work-life balance. However, for all of its perks—such as staff meetings in sweatpants—working from home presents its own unique set of challenges.
In the early weeks and months of the pandemic, many homeowners discovered that their neighbourhoods are a lot busier—and a whole lot louder—during the day than they would have imagined when they worked in a cubicle. There’s the would-be Formula One racer with a cheese grater for a muffler that comes clangouring through the neighbourhood every day at noon and the non-stop snowblowers, lawnmowers, or leaf blowers echoing through the streets. And that’s to say nothing of the noises coming from within the house. Who knew that our children’s virtual classrooms could be as loud as an arena full of laughing hyenas?
Trying to find a quiet place in the house to call a “home office” can be challenging enough to make anyone long for the days of rush hour traffic. Ok, maybe not. But it’s definitely difficult to concentrate on work when it sounds like your neighbour has taken up tap dancing… to heavy metal music, in clogs on an aluminum floor.
Fortunately, it’s easier to find some peace and quiet—and peace of mind—than you might think. The solution for a soundproof home office could, surprisingly, be hidden in your walls and ceilings.
Normally, contractors talk about the temperature retaining properties of insulation but there are more benefits than simply keeping your home warm in winter and cool in summer. In addition to their primary function, different types of insulating materials provide various benefits, including varying degrees of soundproofing.
When talking about the soundproofing capabilities of various types of insulation, contractors and other industry insiders will likely use the term STC (Sound Transmission Class). In short, STC is a rating that measures the sound dampening potential of a given window, wall, door, floor, or ceiling. The higher the STC rating, the more soundproof the surface. As a reference, the typical interior drywall has an STC rating of approximately 34. That’s low enough to permit someone on the other side to hear loud voices to clearly and intelligibly.
A contractor might also throw around the term NRC (Noise Reduction Coefficient). NRC is measured on a scale between 0 and 1, with 1 being perfect noise reduction. For reference, painted drywall has an NRC of 0.05 or 5%.
Armed with these soundproofing terms, we can begin to explore the sound dampening benefits of different types of insulation.
Glass isn’t great at absorbing or dampening sound. All of those sound waves just reverberate right off our windows. Not surprisingly then, fiberglass—or glass wool—insulation doesn’t make for great soundproofing insulation either.
The standard fiberglass insulation installation only raises the average drywall’s STC rating from 34 to approximately 39. Furthermore, fiberglass’ light and airy fabrication permits more low-frequency sounds to travel through walls, ceilings, and floors more readily.
Foam Insulation Boards
Expanded foam board insulation such as polystyrene can be an affordable and effective soundproofing solution. That being said, not all foam boards are made equal. Extruded Styrofoam, for example, only has an STC rating of 37—that’s only marginally better than a paper wall with some paint on it.
If properly installed, however, polystyrene boards can have an STC rating of between 55-57. That’s quiet enough to drown out the parade of sirens working its way down your street or the budding rock band jamming out in your basement.
It’s worth noting, however, that foam boards—polystyrene in particular—aren’t the safest options. The styrene found in polystyrene is a potential carcinogenic with links to increased incidences of lymphoma, leukemia, and various types of organ cancer. Furthermore, polystyrene products are not biodegradable and have a negative toxicological impact on the environment.
Certainly, soundproofing a room in your home such as your desired home office doesn’t have to cost a biopsy.
Spray Foam Insulation
Spray foam insulation isn’t just great at filling in your wall cavities and preventing wintry drafts from sweeping through your home. This form of insulation is an excellent soundproofing solution and is particularly effective at reducing airborne noise transfer. However, spray foam insulation can get expensive quickly. Your soundproofing budget could expand almost as much as the foam does.
It’s better to use spray foam insulation in conjunction with other forms of insulation to get all of the benefits without all of the costs.
Cellulose insulation is a cost-effective and eco-friendly soundproofing solution. This blown-in insulation of recycled paper materials and fire retardants won’t just boost your home’s energy efficiency rating but will also absorb sound.
Cellulose insulation has an STC rating of 44 and an NRC of 0.80. All on its own, it dampens sound enough to create a quiet, Zen-inducing home office—just don’t fall asleep. Combining cellulose insulation with another insulating material such as spray foam could reduce noise even further.
There’s no reason that your home office can’t be as quiet as it is convenient. Upgrading your home insulation with a high-quality, sound-blocking material such as cellulose can reduce the noise that enters your home and travels within it. Even insulating interior walls could have a major impact on noise reduction.
Learn more about how Tropical Insulation can help you work in peace.