Although hanging acoustic panels is not rocket science, it does require a little thought and planning. I have used foam panels and DIY panels in this article, for illustration purposes. But most of the information should be usable when hanging multiple types of panels.
Attaching Foam Acoustic Panels
Probably the most popular type of acoustic panels–lightweight, easy to use, multiple styles, sizes, colors, and are relatively inexpensive.
Note: If you are going to the trouble to acoustically treat a room, get 2″ foam panels. They may cost a bit more, but you will put in the same labor as with thinner product. And they perform better.
How to Mount Acoustic Panels on the Walls
Although covering the entire wall is optimal–it is not strictly necessary. About 30% coverage produces good sound. Whichever method you choose tends to be ‘wall damage dependent’. Meaning: How much effort do you want to put in to repairing walls if you decide to change things? Or take them with you when moving?
General Mounting Instructions
- Decide where you are mounting the panels. Ear height or microphone/speaker height is preferable.
- Clean the wall–or at least the attachment area–with rubbing alcohol or a 50/50 vinegar/water solution. (Regular household cleaners and soaps can leave a residue which reduces the effectiveness of glue and tape.)
- Find the center point of your panel array by measuring total wall width, dividing by two, and marking at whatever height you are using. Measure up from center mark half the height of a panel. This is the top of your first panel. Use a level (preferably a 4′ level) to draw a horizontal line at the top mark. Hold the level vertically on the center of wall mark and make a center-line ‘x’ above your horizontal line–so you can see it when applying the first panel. Once the first panel is installed level with the line and centered on the ‘x’, you should not have to be concerned about level, plumb, and square if you just butt adjoining panels–in any direction–to the first one. Continue adding as many panels as you like in all directions.
- If you have to, or want to, cut panels, place them pointy face down on something you do not mind cutting on, place your level on your cut line, compress the foam by kneeling on the level. Then, using a long-bladed utility knife with a sharp blade (like the Olfa 5003-my favorite for years), held vertically against the level, cut off the excess. Don’t be shy–one strong, straight cut will give you a clean edge. (Note: I have seen suggestions about using an electric carving knife. I have stayed married a long time by not doing dumb things like that.)
- Directly to the Wall. This is the “I am never going to move them” or the “I don’t care about the drywall” mounting method. This is a quick and easy application method. Use 3M Super 77 Spray Adhesive (according to manufacturer’s instructions) on the back of your foam and stick them on the wall. The glue tacks quickly, but allows some re-positioning early in the process. Make sure you follow the general mounting suggestions above. And make sure they are where you want them. (Note: You are probably going to be working in the room, so protect the floor from overspray with cheap 2 mil poly, or painter’s drop sheets. Sticking to the floor after you are done might not be a good option.)
- Onto Backing First. This is a more thoughtful and time consuming process. But it can save your wall, and the panels will be re-usable if you change your mind or you can take them along when moving. You will need reasonably stiff cardboard like cardboard boxes or sheets. Cut the cardboard about 1/2″ smaller than the foam (example: 12″ x 12″ panel=11″ x 11″ cardboard). Place panel face down on the floor and attach cardboard to the back using 3M spray glue. (Note: Make sure you cover the floor, and maybe everything else with 2 mil poly to keep the glue off it.) After they dry, stick 2″ long removable double-sided tape on each corner of the cardboard and apply to the wall using the instructions above. (Note: You can also spray glue the cardboard to the wall–but why? If you were going to do that, there is no need for cardboard.)
Mounting Self-Adhesive Panels
Self-adhesive acoustic panels are available. If you opt for this product, you can use either of the mounting methods described above. Both will work and eliminate the need for spray glue and 2 mil poly.
They also offer another option for mounting panels directly to the wall–without doing near as much damage. Instead of peeling off all of the craft paper backing to expose the adhesive, just tear off about 4 square inches from each corner. This will allow you to adhere the panels to the wall, and cause less damage during removal.
ArrowZoom Acoustic Foam Adhesive Pads are made for attaching acoustic panels to your wall. They are basically double sided tape in pad form. Peel the paper off one side, stick them to all 4 corners of the foam, then remove the paper from the other side, and mount them to the wall following the general instructions above.
If you have mounted your panels to cardboard (following the suggestions above) you would be better off using removable double sided tape. Apply the tape to 4 corners of the cardboard, then attach the panels to the wall.
Note #1: You can use Command Strips instead of double sided tape. I have never used them, and the reviews range from good to useless, making me want to stick with something I consider more reliable. And the tape is way less expensive.
Note #2: Full disclosure. The reviews for the ArrowZoom are also all over the place, and I have never found a tape that would stick long-term to foam. So, I am a little skeptical of the pads, also.
- T-Pins. Very inexpensive, quick, and easy to use. Four 2″ T-pins (one close to each corner) should easily hold a 12″ x 12″ panel to the wall–whether, or not you glued cardboard to the back. If you are having trouble pushing them through the drywall, give some consideration to pre-drilling holes at a slight downward angle–then inserting the pins. (I don’t think it matters if they are not tight in the holes. Gravity works by pulling things straight down.) They only leave a small 1/16″ diameter in the drywall, so there is minimal damage to repair if you decide to remove the foam panels.
- Self-Impaling Clips. These galvanized metal plates (approximately 2″ x 3″) are manufactured by Primeacoustic specifically for hanging acoustic material on a wall. Each one has 4 sharp metal darts protruding from the plate, and 2 slotted screw holes. You will probably want to use screws with drywall anchors to hold them on the wall, because you will not hit a stud every time. And you have to exert a little pressure applying the foam panel to ensure it is seated properly. Install one plate at each top corner. Make sure they are 1 inch from the top and sides of your foam panel to get good seating. Once the center panel is installed plumb, level, and square (see General Mounting Instructions above) it is only a matter of measuring and adding panels. You will have more holes to patch using this method, but they only require a touch of spackle, and a little sanding, and paint touch up.
How to Hang Acoustic Panels From the Ceiling
The most important thing to keep in mind about attaching acoustic panels to ceilings is ‘Gravity Works’.
Note: Because you have to get high enough to do the ceiling work safely and efficiently, I suggest investing in a couple of Werner 3′ Work Step Ladders. Investing is the proper term. You will find yourself using these things regularly–from scaffolding to instant work bench. I have had 8 of them for years and find them practically indestructible and constantly in use.
For any glue mounted panels on the ceiling, you have to hold it up until the glue sets. For a quick and easy ‘foam panel holder’, measure ceiling to floor. Cut a 2 x 4 two inches shorter. Screw a 1/2″ piece of plywood on one end that is 11″ x 11″ square. Place under each panel until glue dries, then move to the next one. Because you do not want to be standing there for an hour.
- Smooth Ceilings. Smooth, painted ceilings can be treated in the same way as walls. But because of gravity, I think that the only method that will be successful is glue or self-adhesive panels. Follow the general installation instructions, and use 3M Super 77 Spray Glue. Because the glue tacks quickly, you should be able to position the panels without having to hold them in place for too long. (Super 77 also allows for re-positioning early in the curing process.)
- Textured Ceilings. You can glue acoustic foam to textured ceilings, but you will need something like Liquid Nails because it can be applied thick. (This stuff is permanent, so make sure you really want to use this method.) Apply a 1/4″ bead of Liquid Nails around the perimeter of the foam panel–staying about 1 inch inside the edges–and either an X in the middle or four 1 inch spots. Determine the center of your panel array, put up the first one, then build it out to the size you want.
Because I do not have a lot of faith in taping foam on walls, I will not make any suggestions for ceilings because of that ‘Gravity’ thing. It is probably a waste of time, money, and effort.
First you will have to glue, your acoustic panels to a rigid substrate, using Liquid Nails. Corrugated plastic sheets would be my choice. They are available in 4′ x 8′ sheets and you can easily cut them down with your utility knife to accommodate the number of acoustic panels you are using. Glue a prime pine 1 x 2 frame to the back perimeter of corrugated sheet. Install 4 eye hooks–2 on each side–2″ from each corner.
Hold the panel in position and mark eye hook locations on the ceiling. These are not very heavy, so if you do not hit ceiling joists every time, drywall anchors are probably sufficient to keep them up there. (Probably not for me. I would attach 1 x 2 primed pine to the ceiling perpendicular to the ceiling joists along the line of eye hooks–screwing them into each joist. Then install ceiling eye hooks into the 1 x 2.
Install another set of eye hooks in the ceiling where you made your marks. Now hang the panels from the ceiling using twine (colored, or otherwise), picture wire, ribbon, or whatever suits your taste–as long as it will hold the acoustic panels up. Hang them level about 5″ below the ceiling.
How to Attach Bass Traps
While technically not a panel, you should definitely have bass traps in your foam acoustic plan. Bass frequencies (usually considered to be under 160 Hertz) have a tendency to gather in corners of the room, making wall and/or ceiling acoustic panels less effective.
Bass traps are made to fit tightly into room corners. Spray the back of them with 3M Super 77 Spray Glue, and install them in all 8 corners. The ones sitting on the floor should pose no problems, but those in the upper corners will have to be held for a few minutes until the glue holds. Some bass traps come with self-adhesive pads. Not sure I would have complete faith in them to hold the upper ones. You can try, but if they fall off, you will have to use the glue.
Best Hanging Methods of DIY Acoustic Panels
I will give you suggestions on hanging them. But if you want, or need, information on building your own panels, you will find no better resource than our article–DIY Acoustic Panels: 21 Plans for Making Sound Absorbing Panels. Complete with YouTube videos for each plan. (Possibly I am a little prejudiced. But if you can find more comprehensive information in one place, please let me know.)
Acoustic panels are up to 50% more effective when there is a space between the panel and the room structure. This is more difficult to accomplish with foam panels. If not hung properly they could end up looking like Christmas tree decorations. Any panel you build is heavier, more rigid, and easier to position while leaving space behind them.
Securing DIY Panels
Depending on the size of your panel, they can weigh up to 30 lb. I would use mechanical fasteners (nails, screws, picture hooks) mounted to the studs and/or ceiling joists. (I am only willing to accept tape and glue strength claims to a point. That point comes when something weighing 30 lb. can fall on my head.) Using a stud finder will make you life easier.
If there is absolutely no way to hit a stud, consider painting a decent piece of wood long enough to span at least 2 studs, screw it into the studs, then hang your panel wherever you need to.
Note: Patching a few screw holes with spackle is pretty easy.
Hanging DIY Panels on the Walls
Realistically–once you have constructed the panels–this is no more complicated than hanging a picture. On the back of the panel, measure down about 8″ from the top on each side, install 2 eye hooks, string picture hanging wire between them (not so long that it shows above the panel), install a hook on the wall, and hang it up. You can hang as many, or as few, as you want, or feel you need.
If you opt to space them out from the wall for better acoustic performance, give some consideration to using a spot of Liquid Nails glue to attach 2″ x 2″ x 2″ BXI Anti-Vibration Pads to each back corner. These are quick and easy to use, will not mark the wall, and keep the distance from the wall consistent.
Hanging DIY Panels From the Ceiling
Because almost all DIY panels are made with a wooden frame, hanging them from the ceiling can follow the same guidelines. Install 4 eye hooks–two per side–about 2″ from the corners on the back. (Use 1″ eye hooks and pre-drill the holes to prevent splitting the frame.) Hold the panel up to the ceiling and mark the positions of the eye hooks. (Get help with this. Holding a 2′ x 4′ x 30 lb. panel in place with one hand and marking with the other is not impossible; close though.)
If all 4 ceiling eye hooks do not hit joists, install a 1 x 2 piece of primed pine perpendicular to the the joists in line with where the eye hooks will be installed. Screw it into each joist with minimum 2 1/2″ screws (pre-drill everything to prevent splitting.) Install eye hooks at your ceiling marks (absolute minimum 1″ long). Now hang the panels from the ceiling using twine (colored, or otherwise), picture wire, ribbon, or whatever suits your taste–as long as it will hold the acoustic panels up. Hang them level, about 5″ below the ceiling.
Attaching DIY Panels in the Corners
One of the big advantages of acoustic panels is the elimination of standing waves. Standing waves are soundwaves bouncing back and forth between 2 hard parallel surfaces. For more information about standing waves please see this linked Wikipedia article. A 2′ wide x almost 8′ high floor to ceiling panel that can be placed across each corner not only breaks up parallel sound waves, but absorbs a lot of bass frequency.
These can be fairly large panels that you are going to put up in an awkward location. So I would not fool around with glue, tape, hangars, etc. I would just pre-drill 2 holes in the frames on each side about 12″ from the corners (countersink the holes so you can fill them), and screw them into the wall. (Note: If you do not hit studs–which is quite likely–take the screws out, insert drywall anchors in the holes, and re-install.
Why Bother Mounting Acoustic Panels
Sound waves not only penetrate walls, floors, and ceilings to annoy your family and neighbors, they echo and bounce around in an untreated room making a recording, band practice, or listening way less than optimal–if not a waste of time. For more information on room acoustics please see our article How to Sound Treat a Room.