The easiest place to reduce or eliminate noise in the home is at the source. Once the noise occurs, heading it off before it reaches your ears may be difficult or even impossible without major structural changes.
If an unwanted sound takes place in a room or apartment next to yours, it can often be controlled with the cooperation of the persons who inhabit the noisy room. If they will install sound-absorbent materials in the room, such as carpets, drapes, upholstered furniture and acoustical tiles, a large percentage of the sound will stay in the room.
If the noise next door cannot be controlled, you can make it a little less annoying through the use of sound-absorbent material in your own area, but this method often fails to accomplish its purpose. If it is your house, and you want to go to the trouble and cost of installing specially constructed walls, you can prevent most noise from traveling.
But if you are in an apartment or if the remodeling is impractical, there is not much you can do.
If you plan on buying a house, building one or if you already own a house, the following suggestions from the Small Homes Council-Building Research Council at the University of Illinois may help.
The design and layout of your home can do much to control noise. Place quiet spaces (study, living, sleeping rooms) away from disturbing noise sources, and locate the less critical spaces (kitchen, bathrooms, utility room) on the noisy side.
Spaces with mechanical equipment are best located on an outside wall.
Plumbing risers and stacks to fixtures on the upper floors should not go through quiet spaces.
Buffers can reduce noise transfer between spaces. A bookcase or storage wall will help isolate a bedroom or study that adjoins a living space.
A closet will reduce noise between spaces if the door is kept closed. Back-to-back closets are even better. Doors opening into a hallway should be staggered and not located opposite each other.
Special types of construction can interrupt the path of sound. Common examples of unintentional sound paths are cracks at the top or bottom of a wall, electrical outlets, recessed cabinets back-to-back or installed in the same stud space, heating ducts or through attics, basements and crawl spaces. A very small crack under or around a door or window increases the sound transmission significantly. Sound transmissions through windows can be reduced by using more than one pane of glass. Transmission is reduced further if the panes are of a different thickness.
Heating and cooling equipment is a major noise source within a house. It should be carefully chosen and installed to minimize the sound transmitted from the furnace and through the ductwork.
Piping for heating systems should be wrapped with fibrous material not only for insulation but to reduce vibration. If a steam system is used, all pipes must be properly sloped to prevent water traps, which can be the cause of loud noises.
Return-air grills located near a furnace fan should be acoustically treated. Duct hangers should be lined with resilient material.
The report on noise control also makes this interesting observation:
"Complete silence seldom exists on our earth. A chamber deep in the earth, such as Carlsbad Caverns, is near to complete silence--no light, no life, no wind or water, no temperature change, no movement. Most of us would not like to be there for very long. Quiet is pleasant, but silence is not. The normal low-level sounds of life around us are welcome sounds.
"We become accustomed to the sound level in our environment. We are no longer conscious of certain sounds. This background sound masks unwanted noises, reducing their level in our consciousness. Background sound can supplement sound absorption and sound isolation in reducing the effect of noise."