Most homes or apartments are multi-level, so soundproofing ceiling has become an important consideration when building living and working spaces. Having your sleep or thought process disturbed by people walking, running, or even babies crying above your head can be frustrating.
The most effective way to soundproof a ceiling that is also the floor for the next level is:
- Add mass to decrease sound penetration
- Use viscoelastic products to damp resonance vibration
- Insert materials to absorb sound
- Leave “dead” air spaces between layers to help absorb or trap low frequencies
- Decouple the ceiling from the floor above to reduce sound movement
- Add more mass and viscoelastic material
This article discusses how you can soundproof the ceiling and prevent noise from the floor above, disturbing your relaxation or focus. I’m not going to teach you how to soundproof your ceiling by installing acoustic foam panels, installing foam panels on the walls, using decor, or bookshelves and furniture because none of these “options” are very effective.
Why Do You Need to Soundproof the Ceiling?
Living in a multi-story home, condo, or apartment means the ceiling of one level is the floor of the next. If your peace is disturbed by noises from above, you need to soundproof your ceiling.
Whether it’s people walking on your head, conversation, music or TV, or furniture moving, if you can’t relax in your home or apartment, then it needs to be fixed. If you own your home, that’s not a difficult decision.
However, if you rent or have covenants restricting improvements in a condo, then you need to get permission in writing to soundproof your ceiling.
There are three main ways that sound travels. It can be airborne and travel through the air, and also through most materials, be mechanically generated, or flanking.
Airborne sound refers to talking, music, television, vehicles, and other irritants. Mechanical is also known as impact noise such as feet on tile or hardwood resonating into your space through the floor-ceiling connection.
Flanking is the most difficult to control since it is indirect. It likes to sneak through ductwork, pipe and wire openings, outlets, and any gap it can vibrate its way through.
Most Common Types of Residential Ceilings
The ceilings of most residences or apartment buildings are constructed in similar ways that allow them to meet safe building codes but minimize material costs. Current building techniques are slowly changing to include some soundproofing, but historically it wasn’t a consideration. What we see when we look up at the ceiling is the dressing, it may look great, but we can’t see beyond it.
The most common ceiling material since the ‘60s is drywall. It is commonly attached directly to the joists, or to strapping that is attached to the joists. Seams are taped and along with the screws, covered with plaster or “mud” and sanded smooth after it dries. It is then finished with paint, stippled or slapbrush, plaster swirl, or popcorn finish.
A typically constructed wood joist-drywall ceiling-floor (before the advent of soundproofing) has a Sound Transmission Class (STC) rating between 32 and 37.
Before the 1960s, lathe or mesh and plaster were the finishing choice. Paper wallboard or tin was used too, but lathe and plaster was the more prevalent choice.
Thin strips of wood or lathe were nailed about a quarter-inch apart to the joists, or a webbed steel mesh was used. Typically there are three layers of plaster, and it can range from half an inch to an inch in overall thickness.
Plaster ceilings were often ornately finished in principle rooms, and smooth in others.
Plaster is stronger than drywall and has greater mass, so is more soundproof with an STC rating as high as 52 with the wood lathe and 63 with mesh.
Concrete floor-ceilings are typical in high rise apartments and condos, but less common in low-rise and home construction. They may have steel or concrete beams or walls to support them, be precast or poured in place on wooden or steel forms.
The thickness of the concrete depends on the construction techniques, and the period the building was made. Older is typically thicker.
A 6-inch concrete slab deck has an STC of 53 for airborne noise but has an IIC (Impact Insulation Class) of 27, which means impact sound will resonate through.
Suspended or Drop Ceilings
A more modern construction technique for wooden or steel ceiling joists, and for concrete ceiling decks, is suspended or dropped ceiling. Suspended ceilings are more common in institutional, commercial properties, or basements than in residential construction.
Drop ceilings may be suspended from the joists by wire steel, or wood. The distance from the joist can vary from less than an inch to 2-feet or more. It can be hung in wooden or steel ‘T’ frames and may be fibrous tile or drywall. There is a marginal improvement in STC rating, but an increase in flanking sound.
Depending on construction, a concrete floor-ceiling with a suspended ceiling can have an STC between 47 and 94, plus an IIC range of 54 and 82. Unfortunately, the higher values require modern building processes and materials and are unlikely in older construction.
Types of Noise We Try to Reduce
The types of noise we want to reduce are airborne, impact or mechanical, and flanking. The type of noise that disturbs us most is the sound we should focus on decreasing. Often when we reduce one type of sound, it also lessens disruption from the other types too. However, it is better to try and prevent all three for the best results.
Impact or Mechanical Noise
Impact noise is commonly referred to as footfall noise because that’s what we hear. It is soundwaves originating at the floor and radiating downward through all the floor and ceiling components that are connected.
Impact noise can be the sound of walking or running feet striking the floor, a spoon or book falling, and children’s toys rolling or crashing on the floor. Mechanical sounds may also be transmitted from other sources too.
The refrigerator or air conditioner cycling on, the vacuum, even plumbing can create a vibration which will travel through connected structural members and transmit sound into other spaces.
Sound travels through the air and any openings it can find, including windows, doors, halls, stairwells, and elsewhere. It can even vibrate through solid materials too.
Airborne noise is any of the thousands of sounds we commonly hear. It may be voices chatting or shouting, music or TV, planes, trains or automobiles, and dogs barking or other animal sounds.
Flanking sound is often impact or airborne noise that doesn’t follow a direct path from one-floor level to another. It may vibrate along pipes, ducts, or joists that connect living spaces or resonate through holes, voids, or ductwork. It can even bounce down halls and under doors, making it more difficult to control.
Basic Elements of Soundproofing
The four basic elements of soundproofing are absorption, damping, decoupling, and mass.
Many building materials or structures are rated with a Sound Transmission Class (STC), and most floor assemblies also have an Impact Insulation Class (IIC). The greater the rating, the better it blocks sound movement. The best results are achieved by adding all four elements when soundproofing.
Soundwaves travel through materials as sound wave vibrations, so a dense product can trap the sound vibration and turn it into heat. Dense, rigid fiberglass or stone wool, heavy mass loaded vinyl (MLV), MDF (medium-density fiberboard), and even a layer of drywall or two can reduce the sound transfer of airborne or impact soundwaves.
Noise waves are vibrations that can travel along or through building members such as joists and studs. To decrease vibrational movement, viscoelastic compounds like GreenGlue can be applied between layered materials. It creates a flexible layer that damps or reduces the ability of vibrations to pass from one layer to the next.
Anything that can be used to prevent the transfer of soundwave vibration from one layer or material to another will improve soundproofing efforts. Decoupling is a building practice that creates a gap or space between joists or studs and solid surfaces, including ceiling and wall layers. It separates construction materials, so vibration doesn’t have a path to travel along, making it the best soundproofing solution.
Adding mass is another way to block sound vibration movement. Sadly though, it requires a lot of mass to decrease sound transfer. Adding a second layer of 5/8” drywall will silence about 3dB of sound. If the STC of the ceiling was 32, the added layer would improve that to a rating of 35. A baby crying is often as high as 115dB!
STC Rating for Ceiling
The STC (Sound Transmission Class) is a comparative rating of how well materials like a sheet of drywall or a barrier assembly such a floor-ceiling of tile, subfloor, 2×12 joists, drywall ceiling prevent sound transfer. The material or barrier is tested with sixteen different standard frequencies between 125Hz and 4000 Hz.
The sound is sent from one side and measured for transmission loss (TL) on the other side. The results are graphed and compared against a reference curve, and the STC derived.
The STC rating for standard construction, uninsulated (no soundproofing) drywall ceilings is between 32 and 37. A 7/8” plaster ceiling can have STC ratings around 52 with lathe and 63 with mesh, and a concrete slab floor-ceil 6” thick has an STC of 53.
Unfortunately, impact noise resonates through concrete, giving it an IIC of 27, equivalent to drywall.
The building code requires a minimum floor-ceiling STC of 50 if lab-tested, and 45 if field-tested, which means conversation won’t be heard, but loud noises will. It is possible to soundproof ceiling-floor partitions to an STC of 80 or higher.
How To Soundproof a Ceiling
Noise entering your living, sleeping, or workspace through the ceiling-floor connection can be a real headache. The goal when soundproofing a ceiling is to prevent the transfer of soundwaves from one floor level to another. The best way to do that is to add mass, decouple the pathways, damp and absorb the soundwaves.
Your options depend upon the construction of your ceiling, and if you own or rent the property.
I’ll take you through different solutions and explain the pros and cons to help you choose the solution that best suits your needs. If you want to jump to the best option, click here.
Soundproofing a Drywall Ceiling
Adding insulation to new construction is much easier than adding it to existing buildings. Common construction practices for years has been to attach ceiling drywall directly to the joists, or furring strips attached to the joists.
The result is an STC between 32 and 37 and an IIC of 32. Sound is a vibration and travels freely and easily through empty spaces. If the void between joists and the floor-ceiling connection has insulation in it, it will reduce the vibration movement.
To check if there is insulation in your ceiling, drill or cut a 1-inch hole in the drywall and look inside with a flashlight. If there are 3-inches of fiberglass insulation, then the STC could be 43 and the IIC 37. You’ll still be able to hear loud voices, but not make out what is being discussed.
If you’ve determined there is no insulation between joists, and you have decided to add some, (and you have written permission from the landlord if needed), then locate where the joists are using a stud finder. Once you’ve found and marked where they are, you have to decide what type of insulation to add.
The cost of the retrofit will depend upon the ceiling area being insulated, how thick the insulation will be, type of insulation. Remember to include acoustic caulking, viscoelastic material, drywall, screws, tape, mud, and paint.
Oh, and labor if you have someone else do any work. Figure the spend $3 to $4 if you do it yourself, and $6 to $8 a square foot if someone else does the work. These are rough estimates based on where I live. Your costs may be more or less.
Unless you want to rip out the existing drywall, then you’re looking at blowing insulation into the voids. Loose-fill cellulose fiber insulation can be blown through a hole (or holes) cut into the voids between the joists – remember to save the cut-out pieces.
Cellulose can improve STC ratings over 55. Blown-in fiberglass or stone wool have STC ratings of 43 and 47 respectively. Cellulose and stone wool are 3X denser, so have better sound attenuation than fiberglass.
Once the insulation has been blown in, replace the plugs and caulk the cuts with an acoustic adhesive. Add a layer of viscoelastic material like GreenGlue to the ceiling to help damp sound vibrations and covering with a second layer of drywall to add mass.
The viscoelastic material and extra drywall further improve the fiberglass insulated STC to 49 and the IIC to 42, which means even loud noises, will be muted.
The drywall should be screwed to the original drywall and not the joists to decrease sound transfer further. Caulk the ceiling perimeter and seams with acoustic material, before taping and mudding. Finish the ceiling to suit your decorative flair.
Pro Tip: Do not use expanding foam to fill the voids. It will leave resonating air pockets and also further couple the ceiling-floor connection and transfer even more noise.
There are different methods of construction and materials that may be used to improve the soundproofing of a ceiling-floor connection. Ideally, discussing your requirements with your builder and upgrading to soundproofing materials and techniques should be easier than a retrofit.
Unfortunately, the costs of material and labor increase, and you may find yourself paying custom home versus standard home costs.
Almost everything that goes into soundproofing a new build is behind the walls and ceiling finishes. It will cost more, and you won’t see it. However, the experience of relaxing in a room with an STC rating of 76 and an IIC of 64, compared to one with an STC of 37 and an IIC of 32 is almost priceless!
The following will identify different construction techniques and materials and how well they can improve the soundproofing of a new build. The fluctuation of material and labor costs from region to region, and even month to month make providing costs difficult and unreliable, so I’ll rate how expensive instead.
I’ll provide STC and IIC of different ceiling construction, plus the pros and cons, and leave you to source the costs for your location.
1. Single Drywall – Standard Ceiling Assembly
Standard ceiling-floor construction with a subfloor and hardwood floor resting on joists and a 5/8” layer of drywall for the ceiling is standard construction. It has an STC of 32 to 37, and an IIC of 32. Adding 3” of fiberglass insulation in the voids between the joists is a standard soundproofing practice and absorbs sound waves and some impact vibrations, improving the overall soundproofing of the floor-ceiling assembly.
Complexity and Cost
- Easy or straightforward addition of insulation.
- A fairly quick addition in most ceiling cavities.
- Low cost on material and labor.
Adding insulation improves the sound absorption and decreases some of the sound vibration transfer. Cellulose and stone wool are denser than comparable fiberglass, so that they will improve the STC more. The denser insulation usually provides better sound absorption.
Floor joist spacing (12”, 16”, or 24”), thickness (8”, 10”, or 12”), and composition (dimension lumber, I-joists, engineered, or laminated) also can impact the STC and IIC values by up to 5 points. The type of flooring also affects the IIC rating too. The addition of 3-inches of fiberglass between the joists will improve the STC to 43 and the IIC to 37.
2. Two Layers of Common Drywall
Adding a second layer of drywall will improve the mass of the ceiling and block more sound vibration. If the ceiling is also insulated, the benefit of the second drywall layer also improves, as there is both mass and absorption working together to decrease sound transfer.
Use a stud finder to locate the joists. Add the second layer at 90-degrees to the first, and try to avoid putting screws into the joists, thus reducing some vibrational noise transfer.
Complexity and Cost
- A simple addition.
- Quick installation.
- Low cost on material and doubles the labor if just the drywall, triples if drywall and insulation. Soundproofing more than doubles the cost of the ceiling with the addition of fiberglass and drywall compared to a standard ceiling-floor.
The addition of the second layer of 1/2” or 5/8” drywall to the standard, uninsulated ceiling will raise the STC by about 5 points to between 35 and 39. The IIC will improve marginally to 34 since the sound vibration still moves through the framing connections.
If the cavities between joists have fiberglass insulation and you add a second layer of drywall, the STC values move to between 40 and 44, and the IIC to 39.
3. Two Layers of Common Drywall with Green Glue
If you have uninsulated spaces without insulation, and you add a second layer of drywall to improve the mass, it’s recommended that a layer of viscoelastic material like Green Glue be spread on the surfaces between the two layers.
The Green Glue will improve the sound transmission class significantly from a single layer value. However, the IIC won’t improve much above that of adding a second drywall layer without the viscoelastic layer. If there is insulation in the cavities and you add the two layers with the damping layer, both the STC and IIC rates improve.
Complexity and Cost
- Triples or quadruples the labor involved depending on insulating or not.
- Time increases, which delays completion.
- The cost of labor and materials increase. GreenGlue adds between $0.60 and $1.00 per square foot, plus the extra drywall and insulation. Costs are between $3 and $8 a square foot depending who is doing the work.
The addition of a viscoelastic layer between the two layers of drywall helps to damp vibrational movement, and the double drywall increases the mass of the ceiling, blocking more sound. The STC improves to 46, and the IIC to 34.
If the cavities are also filled with a 3-inch layer of fiberglass, the STC climbs to 49 and the IIC to 42, which mutes most loud noises. Unfortunately, the sound still travels through the framing members.
4. Three Layers of Common Drywall with Green Glue
The addition of the third layer of drywall adds more mass to the ceiling but not much blocking. Unfortunately, the noise from above still travels through the framing members.
The extra layer of viscoelastic material improves the damping, but the cost to value ratio isn’t very good. Mass and damping are only two of the elements of soundproofing, so it isn’t as effective as it could be. If there is fiberglass between the joists, then absorption of sound is added.
However, the 3rd layer of drywall doesn’t make much, if any, improvement.
Complexity and Cost
- The complexity isn’t increased much, but it adds more mass to the ceiling and doesn’t do much to improve the sound control.
- The extra layers increase construction time and not much benefit.
- The cost of 3 layers of drywall and double the GreenGlue, increases the material and labor costs significantly. The additional noise control isn’t enough to justify the cost.
For a ceiling without insulation between the joists, the extra layer of drywall improves the mass, but the STC rate remains around 46. The additional viscoelastic layer offers a marginal improvement to the impact control, moving it to IIC36.
If there is a layer of insulation between the joists, there isn’t any improvement over the use of 2 layers, so the STC is still approximately 49, and the IIC climbs to 44. Loud sounds are still muted, but impact vibrations continue to travel through connected structural members.
5. Clips, Channels and Drywall Only
To improve the soundproofing of a ceiling more than just the drywall barrier, you may want to remove the existing ceiling if there is one.
If there is insulation between the joists, you save time and money. If not, add stone wool or fiberglass to absorb sound, and air gap above and below the insulation helps trap and deaden sound. Attach IB-1 resilient channel clips to the joists to form rows 24-inches apart.
The clips have rubber and springs to help decouple the ceiling from the joists, preventing sound vibration movement. Slide in the 7/8” Hat or resilient channels and then attach 5/8” drywall to the channels. Leave 1/4″ gap between the perimeter wall and the ceiling drywall.
Fill the gap and seams with acoustic caulk to prevent air and noise leakage, and to avoid soundwave vibration seeping through. Crown molding can be used to hide the caulked perimeter.
Complexity and Cost
- Using clips and channels is more complex and requires accurate measurement when placing the clips.
- If you need to remove existing drywall, there is a greater mess and more time required.
- The resilient clips cost between $3.25 and $7.00 based on quantity, and the 7/8” furring hat channel is about $0.92 a linear foot. It will cost between $220.00 and $250.00 for clips and channel to do a 10’x10’ ceiling, or about the same as adding two additional drywall layers with two GreenGlue layers to an existing drywall ceiling.
The resilient clips and channels, coupled with the insulation, greatly improve the soundproofing of the ceiling-floor strata. The STC advances to 56 and the IIC to 43.
Three of the four elements are in play with this style of floor, but the decoupling of the ceiling from the floor makes a significant impact. Impact noise will be almost muted, but most other sounds will be indistinguishable.
6. Two Layers of Drywall Decoupled With Clips & Channels
To improve the soundproofing of a ceiling, adding two layers of drywall will result in greater mass. If the ceiling has gypsum attached to the joists, it is better if it is removed. That will permit rock wool or fiberglass batts to be installed in the joist cavities, improving the sound absorption.
Connect the IB-1 clips, every 24-inches apart. Install the 7/8” hat channel perpendicular to the joists, and screw the first layer of drywall to the channel. Leave a 1/4″ gap around the perimeter of the ceiling.
Apply a generous coat of Green Glue or other viscoelastic material to the drywall, and then secure the second layer perpendicular to the first. Ensure no screws connect with the joists or other floor-ceiling connecting members.
Seal all seams and the ceiling perimeter with acoustic caulking to prevent noise and air moving between floor and ceiling. The addition of the GreenGlue puts all four soundproofing elements to work improving sound control.
The insulation absorbs sound, the drywall adds mass to block sound, the clips and channels decouple the floor and ceiling, and the viscoelastic material damps the sound.
Complexity and Cost
- Resilient clips and channels add a level of complexity due to accurate measuring and aligning drywall edges with the channel.
- Applying GreenGlue and another gypsum layer increases the work and adds to the costs.
- The addition of GreenGlue or another viscoelastic material, plus the second layer of drywall make this a more expensive solution. The cost of the clips and channels remain the same for a 10’x10’ room, between $220 and $250.
The new ceiling uses the four elements of soundproofing to decrease noise movement and impact disruption. The STC improves marginally to 65 and the IIC to 53.
The added mass, damping, and decoupling provide excellent results. Loud sound is muted, including most impact noise.
Pro Tip: Always leave a 1/4″ gap around the ceiling perimeter, and seal it with a high-quality acoustical caulk.
7. Subfloor Above and Ceiling Below – Best for Footfall Noise
If it sounds like a herd of elephants running over your head every time anyone walks on the floor above, you may want to do some serious soundproofing from below. The best solution for impact or footfall noise that can be done from the ceiling side of the barrier is to increase the mass and damping directly at the subfloor. Employing all 4 elements of soundproofing will result in a much quieter environment.
It is easier if the ceiling is unfinished, otherwise, remove the existing ceiling drywall. If you can, try to save the old ceiling drywall by using a knife, saw, or rotary saw to cut it into strips between the joists. It can save the cost of one gypsum layer.
Cut strips of drywall to fit between the joists – measure each one since there can be a discrepancy between joists.
Install two layers of 5/8” gypsum directly to the subfloor enhances the blocking mass. Spreading a coat of GreenGlue between the subfloor and first drywall layer, and between the two gypsum layers, improves the damping of impact vibration. The seams should be offset, not on top of each other. Use acoustic caulking to seal cracks and seams.
Fit rock wool or fiberglass batts between the joists to absorb sound. Fasten the resilient clips to the joists every 24-inches, and affix the hat channels to them, so they run perpendicular to the joists.
Screw the first layer of drywall to the channels. Leave a 1/4″ gap between the wall and ceiling to separate the two structures.
Spread GreenGlue onto the ceiling and attach the second drywall layer perpendicular to the first, so no seams align. Fill all seams and the perimeter gap with acoustic caulk.
Complexity and Cost
- The complexity of the soundproofing is higher with the extra thicknesses of gypsum and viscoelastic material. The strips have to be fitted, damped and caulked too.
- Plumbing, wiring, and ductwork can increase the material and work involved too.
- The cost increases with labor and materials required. A 10’x10’ ceiling will set you back between $500 and $1000.
The impact sound is controlled through the application of the GreenGlue and the added mass of drywall. The dead airspaces between layers of material help to absorb sound, as does the insulation layer.
The resilient clips and track decouple the sound vibration pathways between the ceiling-floor connections, while the two ceiling gypsum layers with GreenGlue finish off any noise seepage.
Sealing the ceiling perimeter and seams with acoustic caulk prevents noise and vibration to outflank the other sound barriers installed. Not only is airborne noise significantly decreased, so is impact sound. The STC rating climbs to 76, and the IIC to 64! You’re not likely to hear anything through this floor!
8. Mass Loaded Vinyl
Mass Loaded Vinyl (MLV) is composed of vinyl polymer mixed with a dense material like calcium carbonate or barium sulfate and rolled into a flexible rolled sheet. The calcium carbonate and barium sulfate give it the heavy mass, which makes it an excellent noise stopping material for ceilings, floors, and walls.
It can be cut and fastened quickly, but seams should be overlapped according to the manufacturer’s specs.
MLV is available in 1/16” material that weighs 1/2 psf (per square foot) and has an independent STC of 21. The 1/8” product weighs 1 psf and rates between 26 and 27, while the 1/4″ sheet is 2 psf and rates between 31 and 33.
It is flexible and can be nailed, screwed, tacked or otherwise secured to the joists, or directly to an existing drywall ceiling. The MLV will damp the sound like viscoelastic materials.
For STC results better than 50, attach 1/8” or 1/4″ MLV to the ceiling or joists, install IB-1 clips, resilient channels, and then attach 5/8” drywall. Caulk the seams and perimeter gap with acoustic caulk to seal the sound out.
The MLV is more effective at blocking low range frequencies than drywall and does the sound blocking work of multiple gypsum layers.
Complexity and Cost
- MLV reduces the complexity; it can be installed directly to the joists or ceiling, saving time and mess.
- Aligning the clips, channels, and drywall is the most complex part of the installation.
- The cost of the MLV depends on its thickness and the amount ordered. For the 10’x10 ceiling 1/8” is $1.15 psf, 1/8” is $2.09 psf, and 1/4″ is $3.80 psf. Using 1/8” MLV will cost the same as two additional layers of drywall and GreenGlue. However, it will save significantly on labor!
The performance of the ceiling depends upon how many soundproofing elements are in play. Using MLV and the resilient clips and channels with one layer of drywall will improve the STC by decoupling the ceiling-floor structures, adding mass and damping sound.
Using 1/8” MLV will bring the STC to between 50 and 52 and 1/4″ to between 53 and 55. If insulation is also used to absorb sound, the results will be higher.
9. Sound-Engineered Drywall
Sound-engineered drywall that has a layer of viscoelastic sandwiched inside between two thin layers of gypsum; for example Quietrock and Silent FX. The product is designed to absorb and damp sound. It is heavier and denser than standard drywall sheets, decreases echo and resonance, and claims to provide an equivalent STC value of 8 stacked gypsum sheets.
The sound-engineered drywall can be attached to the joists, existing ceiling drywall, or resilient clips and channels. The latter will result in better STC values.
Adding insulation between the joists further improves sound absorption and the STC rating.
Complexity and Cost
- Using drywall with a viscoelastic layer inside reduces the number of steps involved in applying GreenGlue and another drywall layer, so it is less complex.
- The Complexity increases if resilient channels and clips are used and if insulation is inserted between the joists.
- A sheet of sound-engineered drywall is between 3 and 5 times the cost of a regular sheet, making it an expensive option. However, depending on what you want to achieve with soundproofing, it may be just what you need.
Attaching sound-engineered drywall to the joists with R13 insulation will produce STC values between 52 and 56. Loud voices and noises will be almost inaudible at this level. Adding resilient channels decouples the ceiling-floor connection and improves the STC by 5 to 7 points and the IIC as well.
10. Install Acoustic Ceiling Tiles
Installing acoustic ceiling tiles is another option for soundproofing a ceiling. Some tiles attach to the existing ceiling, to wood furring strips, or steel ‘T’ grid. They can have a commercial-industrial look but may suit modern home décor. Some tiles are available in different colors and surface profiles.
Acoustic tiles are made of fiberglass or polypropylene and absorb or reflect sound waves. Some tiles have foil backing to interrupt noise, or MLV or insulation to absorb sound.
The support grid may also be suspended, which adds dead airspace to baffle sound further. The panels are washable and mold resistant, so are often used in basements or bathrooms.
Complexity and Cost
- Adding a grid and acoustic tiles is simple, and don’t take much time.
- Additional layers of insulation or MLV add to the work but aren’t difficult to accomplish.
- The cost of tiles and grid depend upon the type, style, thickness, and even the quantity required. The cost will range between $2.00 and $8.00 per square foot.
The performance of the acoustic tile varies from product to product. Some will block 25% of the noise, and others 50%. The best and most expensive tiles can prevent up to 85% of the sound movement, and improve the STC to between 50 and 55.
11. Soundproof the Floor Above with Underlayment
Soundproofing the ceiling is one way to decrease sound transfer. However, in addition, or instead of renovating the ceiling, you can prevent impact sound from where it begins on the floor above.
This is easier during the construction or renovation phase but can be accomplished without a large budget as an add on. The solutions have a similar effect on impact vibration whether the floor-ceiling structure is wood or concrete.
The simple addition of a hallway carpet runner can soften the pitter-patter of the herd over your head. The thicker the carpet, the addition of MLV or rubber underlay between the floor and carpet, or even foam carpet underlay can significantly mute impact noise.
The addition of carpet and rubber underlay can improve the IIC to 67! It will also damp down airborne noise too.
Soundproofing a private residence is much easier than an apartment or condo where privacy is important, anonymity common, and paperwork is more important than people. If you know your overhead neighbors, a simple chat or shared expense for underlay and an area carpet or runner may do the trick.
Involving the Condo Board or apartment manager may be a long process with no results.
While carpet and underlay offer a quick, easy solution to impact volume, vinyl, hardwood, and tile floors can be installed and also be quiet floors. Gluing MDF, sound-damping plywood, or rubber sheeting to the subfloor before tiling, laying hardwood or vinyl will stop impact vibration. Don’t screw it down, use glue to decouple the layers.
Complexity and Cost
- An area carpet or runner with underlay is pretty low easy.
- Laying a floating floor with vinyl, hardwood, or tile is a complex task.
- The cost of carpet and underlay can be less than a dollar a square foot, to $2 or $3. Adding MDF is about $1 psf, sound-proofing plywood almost $2 psf, 1/2″ self-adhesive rubber between $0.50 and $1.50 psf, and 1/4″ MLV $2.50 psf. The hardwood, vinyl, or tile treatment will add to the cost too.
The performance of different floor treatments varies and depends upon what is added and whether it is full floor treatment or just an area. Impact control where the treatment is will improve, but the airborne noise requires broader coverage. The IIC improvement can range from 55 to 74 and the STC between 42 and 60.
12. Advanced Method – Independent Ceiling Joists
New construction practices and methods continue to develop that enhance soundproofing. They tend to be more practical during renovations or initial construction, but are possible on a room by room needs.
One method is to build an independent ceiling that is decoupled from the structures ceiling-floor. Another method is to build a room within a room, which separates the walls and ceiling from airborne, impact, and flanking vibrations.
Adding offset joists within the existing joist cavities means the new ceiling meets building code requirements for span and loads, plus minimizes the loss of interior ceiling clearance. Although this will decouple the ceiling from the floor construct, it won’t lessen airborne or impact noise unless all four soundproofing elements are applied.
Complexity and Cost
- Adding a new ceiling and isolating it from the existing walls and ceiling is a complex process.
- Constructing a room within a room isolates wall and ceiling noise transfer, but must still meet building code requirements. It is complex and makes rooms smaller.
- The costs associated with either method exceed most other soundproofing strategies and are more practical for single room application.
The performance of the isolated ceiling construction varies with the use of insulation, MLV, and resilient channels and clips. The STC rating will be between 51 and 53 if only insulation is used and the drywall attached to the new joists.
However, the IIC still depends on how the floor in the room above is finished. A standard wood floor with the separated ceiling results in IIC values between 42 and 45, a soundproofed floor rockets to an IIC of 80! For all the work and expense, similar STC and IIC values can be achieved through other methods.
Soundproofing Drop Ceilings
A dropped or suspended ceiling can be used for both wood and steel joists, or concrete deck floor-ceiling construction. Section 10 above, “Install Acoustic Ceiling Tiles,” addresses information for wood joists, and steel would be similar; that leaves concrete.
Soundproofing Concrete Ceiling
Most apartment and condo complexes over 3 floors have concrete floor-ceiling construction. Some have exposed concrete ceilings, while others may have a dropped ceiling in one form or another.
A 6-inch slab concrete ceiling with no treatment has an STC between 48 and 55, and an IIC of 34. If the floor above has an MDF underlay glued to the concrete with carpet and underpad on top, the STC is still between 48 and 55, but the IIC jumps to 81.
The common practice in most older construction was to attach the carpet, tile, vinyl, or hardwoods directly to the concrete deck. The STC flexes between 48 and 55, and the IIC between 36 and 51.
The four elements of soundproofing are required to control the impact and airborne sound vibration. If you can’t do it from above, then you’re left with soundproofing your ceiling.
Attaching spring ceiling hangers or resilient clips to the concrete or use steel ‘C’ channel (3-1/2” steel studs on edge), or another method for decoupling the new ceiling from the old. Minimizing the connection between old and new will better prevent impact noise.
Add stone wool of fiberglass battens or rigid insulation to absorb the sound. Finish with resilient channels and a layer or two of drywall.
Complexity and Cost
- Getting permission may be the most difficult part of this improvement.
- Connecting anything to the underside of a concrete deck isn’t easy. Securing enough connections to carry a new ceiling will be fun! You may require a Structural Engineer to sign off on the project too.
- The cost of labor and materials will be higher than for wooden floor-ceiling construction.
Controlling the impact vibration and airborne sound is possible. The process is similar to soundproofing a wood joist ceiling-floor but can be more difficult.
The reward of dressing your ceiling in the 4 attenuation elements is close to silence. The STC is between 69 and 84, and the IIC 60 to 70.
Check Owner Rules and Regulations
If you reside in a condo or an apartment, regulations may exist that if carpeting is removed, and replaced with tile, hardwood, or vinyl, a high-density absorption material or underlay must be installed to prevent impact vibration penetration. If such a regulation doesn’t exist, you may want to lobby for it to be added.
Soundproofing the ceiling-floor will control impact and airborne noise from above. Unfortunately, it may not give you a quiet room. If you want to prevent noise leaking in from walls, doors, and windows, check out these articles: How to Soundproof Walls, How to Soundproof a Door, and How to Soundproof a Window. And if you have access to the floor above–as in: It is your house–give some consideration to soundproof underlayment in the room above. See our article Best Soundproof Underlayment.
To put an end to disruptive noise from above, you need to add mass, absorb soundwaves, damp vibrational movement, and decouple the different layers and levels. I hope you found this article helpful. If you know someone who would be interested, share. Your comments and suggestions are also appreciated.
20 thoughts on “How to Soundproof a Ceiling: Best, Cheap and Effective DIY Solutions”
I am living in First floor and my tenant is complaining always when my kid is running! Is there any cost effective means that he can avoid by doing something his ceiling? Whom to contact and how much it will take?
Thank you posting this grerat article. I have a few questions for you. I am trying to reduce noise from my second floor in a residence with carpet upstairs. The house is wood joists with with drywall ceiling on the downstairs and particle board on the upstairs floor with padding and carpet. I am getting ready to replace the carpet and was thinking of removing the particle board to install some insulation. My next step was to install viscoelastic layerm then put down the padding and carpet. Would this work ? I want to try this first before adding a second layer of drywall to the dwonstairs ceiling. Thanks
Thank you for your advice.
I bought into a retirement village and the ceiling in my ground floor unit is not soundproof.
Masonite floor with carpet on top .I don’t get a decent nights sleep as I can hear the smallest sounds made upstairs, mainly footsteps, weights being put down, doors banging. So I’m trying to get the management to rectify the problem, so wish me luck.
I printed out your soundproofing notes and hopefully that they will use your advise.
Hi Eugene, great article. My wife and I have moved to a loft with 15 foot ceilings and we are wondering what to do regarding impact noise, there is no ambient noise. The ceiling has insulation and single sided metal channels. I was thinking to ad a second layer of 5/8 drywall and a layer of green glue. Do you think it will make a difference? I read that using metal channels with just one layer of drywall doesn’t really help with impact noise and that you do need a second layer with green glue to absorb impact noises. Thank you.
Mr. Sokol, these were very thorough explanations, thank you very much. Do you or a company you know of perform soundproofing of condo ceilings ? would you have any
EXCELLENT article – thanks for this. I am looking to soundproof an existing acoustic tile dropped ceiling in a basement apartment which is directly under our kitchen. When we have guests stay they often rib us about clomping feet above their bedroom. By the sounds of it, we should just upgrade the existing tiles and perhaps add cellulose insulation into the void. Does this sound like the best approach?
I am a cellulose type of guy for lots of reasons, so that sounds like a good plan. Another option is to eliminate the tiles, if possible, and either double drywall with Green Glue sandwiched between or QuietRock applied directly to the joists with cellulose in the cavities of course.
Outstanding article! Super helpful and informative. Thank you!
Thanks for the kind words.
The downstairs bedrooms have a tongue and groove wooden ceiling which would be the upstairs bedroom floor if it wasn’t carpeted. The noise from downstairs seeps through the floor boards. Would felted ceiling tiles stop this noise transfer. It is a fairly expensive diy that I don’t want to undertake if it is not likely to fix the problem. Thanks for your input!
You might be better giving some consideration to lifting the carpet and putting down 1/2″ RugPadUSA or QuietWalk Plus, then replacing the carpet. Please see our article Best Soundproof Underlayment for more floor soundproofing ideas. I think either of these are less expensive and will provide more soundproofing.
If the T & G ceiling is the bedroom floor, then your floor joists must be exposed. You might get better soundproofing by attaching double 5/8″ drywall with Green Glue sandwiched between, to the undersides of the floor joists.
Great summary of options. I have an up and down duplex which was recently built. We did everything I thought reasonable to get superior STC and IIC ratings (above 60) . As it turns out my architect did not clearly call out the rubber sound clips to go with the hat channel and sound channels were screwed directly to the joists. The homeowners on the lower level hear the footfalls upstairs but no other sounds. I think I need to tear down the ceiling and redo the sound channel with the clips… you mentioned a way to salvage the sheetrock- could that be done with a double 5/8 ceiling? Any other thoughts about how best to leave the existing ceiling and add a new ceiling to add about 10 to the field tested IIC result of 54.
Thank you so much for the wonderful article. I live in the lower of a 2-unit wood frame house built in 1989. The sound of a herd of elephants running above my head is driving me crazy. From your article, it sounds like my best option is to blow cellulose into the ceiling, and add a second Quiterock sheetrock along with greenpaint applied in btwn. Could you plz confirm? If so, what kind of Quiterock should I use, or any other ones you recommend?
The insulation company I contacted tells me they can do cellulose but recommend Fiberglass. You recommend cellulose. Which option should I go for? Price difference is negligible.
Thanks in adavnce.
QuietRock is a brand name for a drywall product with a viscoelastic polymer layer inside that dampens sound. Another product with the same properties is manufactured by Certainteed. Both are excellent products. They are more expensive than standard 5/8″ drywall. You can sandwich Green Glue between any 2 layers of drywall.
Cellulose is better for soundproofing and insulation. Some companies prefer fiberglass because cellulose is a little dustier.
Great article. I’m not much of a do it yourself guy. I called 1 company about soundproofing a ceiling in my bedroom that is about 230 Square feet. I’m in California. They quoted estimate of $12,650. This would be tearing the. Ceiling off and putting in “brackets” I think it’s called and separate 2nd ceiling.
Is that reasonable estimate? Do you know anyone you could recommend?
Thanks in advance
The quote sounds a little rude. But keep in mind the work of moving furniture, ripping and tearing, clean-up, new installation with insulation, painting and finishing. I do not have a suggestion for someone in California. I strongly suggest that you get 3 quotes–preferably from companies that are at least familiar with soundproofing techniques. Hopefully the brackets you mention are sound isolation clips or resilient channel. If so, they do know what they are doing.
This article is really helpful. I have been suffered from the footstep noise from the floors above and I am always seeking a solution to it. My ceiling is the dry-wall type ceiling which has roughly 1.5” mineral wool insulation between the wood joist and half-inch resilient channels below and 5/8” gypsum board. However, I can still hear every footsteps from floors above. What are my best choices? Will the dense-pack cellulose help with the situation or should I re-assemble my ceiling to include the isolation clips?
You’ll have the best results doing both, but of course, replacing the sheetrock is a lot of work.
Building a theater in the basement. Living room directly above. Planning to replace carpet in living room so I’ll put some very absorbent underlay. In addition will screw a couple layers of drywall directly to the subfloor with green glue from underneath. Then fiberglass or rock wool. The last step is the one I have a question on. I don’t have much ceiling space so I can’t really afford the height of clips plus hat channel on the bottom of the existing joist. Easiest would be resilient channel with 5/8 drywall. If I had to I could use low profile clips on the side of the hosts and put hat channel in the same direction as the existing joists keeping the face of the hat channel just below the current joists. Or alternatively, I could try to run parallel joists off the currently open and decided walls a quarter inch below the existing joist with 5/8 drywall. How much benefit do you think the latter two options would get versus just the easy resilient channel on top of the things I’m going to do for sure?