“They told me the freeway would sound like the ocean,” griped Patrick’s friend Jon just after buying his first house. “It doesn’t. It sounds like the freeway.”
“A good solution might be our acoustical curtains,” said Scott Somit, owner of both Complete Soundproofing and Quiet Curtains in Pacific Beach (858-272-3615, completesoundproofing.com, acoustic-curtains.com). “They’re very effective for blocking residential noise — things like traffic and street noise. Lots of people can’t replace their windows, either for economic reasons or because they have site limitations — say, if they’re living in a historical site. The main thing is to cover the window and the surrounding area — noise leaks in, not only through the window, but also through the frame. These curtains have a unique lining, a very thin layer of mass-loaded vinyl. It’s the same material used as a sound-block inside walls and ceilings for the past 20 years, but we’ve rolled it out really thin, so you can use it for a curtain lining.”
Somit tells customers that the curtain lining will cut noise entering through their windows by at least half. “They measure this with what’s called an STC rating — it measures the average decibel reduction across a range of frequencies. The curtain lining was tested at 2 STC, which means it blocks 20 decibels. Every time you reduce the number of decibels a human hears by 10, it means the noise is cut in half. That’s why I say ‘at least’ — depending on how much there is, the curtain may even cut it in half again.”
The company offers a range of fabrics to serve as the actual curtains, “or customers can use their own fabric. But you can’t dry-clean them. We provide a cleaner — you take a sponge and soap and wipe. All our fabrics are easy-clean.” Somit estimated that “for a typical window, one that is four feet wide and up to seven feet tall, the curtains will run $350. Manufacturing takes about two or three weeks.”
The “complete soundproofing” side of Somit’s business comes in when people want to manage sound that’s already inside the house. “People want soundproofing for music practice rooms, but increasingly, they also want it for rooms with home entertainment systems.... I’ll use the sound-absorbing curtains, fiberglass panels wrapped in fabric, or panels of acoustical foam that can be put on the walls or ceilings....
“Also, there are some general rules for placement. Typically, you want to use sound-absorption materials placed at perpendiculars. You’re trying to reduce the reflection of sound — you want to keep it from bouncing around the room. Perpendiculars let you deaden a particular wall, sound-wise. It usually doesn’t take as much material as people think.” Somit estimates that sound conditioning a home-entertainment room will run, on average, $500 to $1500.
If more drastic measures are called for, Somit can retrofit and soundproof a room by placing sound-blocking material — usually mass-loaded vinyl — on the walls and ceiling and then drywalling or paneling over it. “In certain circumstances, you can even put the vinyl under carpets. We also offer a quietized sheetrock that you can paint right on. Either of those solutions will block up to 30 decibels. But,” he noted, “it’s cheaper to do that sort of thing during construction.”
Thinking along those lines, I spoke with Joel Fannin at Super Soundproofing Co. in San Marcos (760-752-3030, soundproofing.org). “We’re geared toward contractors and people who do it themselves,” he said. “There are four basic elements for soundproofing. First, absorb and block sound within a contained space — inside the wall or ceiling or floor. Insulation does that. The second is barrier the remaining airborne sound — that’s what the mass-loaded vinyl can do. Third, you can use something like padding tape between the studs and the drywall to isolate vibrating surfaces and eliminate structure-borne noise. Fourth is resonance — something you can fix with a damping compound. It lowers the resonant frequency of an assembly. We also have materials for sound conditioning.”
Fannin continued: “We make sure people understand what’s involved in their situation — what’s happening with the sound and how to solve it. We carry installation instruction sheets. We even have systems we don’t put on our website. We don’t charge for consultations we do here or over the phone. There is a small fee if we go off-site to somebody’s place.”