Whether you want to create a more comfortable and soundproofed band room, practice or rehearsal space or home recording studio, this article will help you understand everything involved. You’ll quickly realize that there’s a lot more too it than you initially realized. Soundproofing a room is not as easy as adding insulation inside your walls, and acoustical foam to your walls, as many people believe. It’s all about maximizing mass and using air gaps wisely.
You’ll need to employ the use of some specialized building techniques, coupled with basic construction plans to get the job done. If you don’t have construction experience, then you’ll need to hire a contractor. Either way, you’ll be managing the design and making decisions on the construction project details as you go through each phase.
Phase 1: Initial Studio Project Planning
Do Your Research
There are a number of very helpful resources that both offer advice and sell products for making a home studio. I’ll save you the time of finding them on your own. Spend some time exploring these websites:
- Acoustical Surfaces
- Trademark Soundproofing
- Soundproofing Company, Inc
- Super Soundproofing Co.
- Acoustic Fields
- Green Glue
Design a Basic Blueprint or Floor Plan
Hiring a freelance architect to do a basic blueprint can be one of the best ways to ensure that the home studio you build is going to be a quality room that delivers upon your expectations. With help from a local architect (with soundproofing experience), you can have a professionally drafted blueprint that will ensure that your new room is well-thought out, and you (or your contractor) has clear direction for the project. To help you, view the plans laid out for this particular home studio project.
We’d like to offer a big thanks to my friend, Melissa Baker, the professional architect who created these floor plans!
Identify Your Resources & Set Expectations
If you have experience with construction, you may be able to complete this project on your own. If you don’t, you’ll want to hire the help of a local contractor, friend or family member who can take the lead on the construction, consulting with you on the design throughout the project. We worked with Dave Demaria, our friend and a professional contractor who has an excellent team of carpenters and sub-contractors. Dave and his team did an excellent job executing Melissa’s floor plan and ensuring top quality work throughout the length of the project.
You’ll want to talk about the estimated length of the project to ensure that everyone is on the same page regarding completion date. That may mean communicating your timeline to your wife, agreeing to a target deadline with your contractor or simply setting your own expectations. Then, add a month or two to the end of your timeline. It always takes longer!
Plan for Heating & Cooling Your Studio
You must determine how you plan to keep your studio at a steady temperature, year-round. Guitars and other instruments can be seriously damaged if internal temperatures get too hot or cold.
If you’re tapping into your home’s furnace and/or air-conditioning unit, then you’ll need to have a separate thermostat to keep your room at a steady temperature (@ 70 degrees is ideal), as well as a soundproofing solution for your ducts.
If you need an independent HVAC solution, then you’ll want to strongly consider a ductless mini split that can provide both heat and cooling for your room. The Mitsubishi 9,000 BTU Unit is an excellent choice for a small/medium-sized room.
Price Out Your Building Materials & Hired Help
You need to set a budget, and one that is realistic. This project, if done right, will probably cost $5,000+ if you’re doing the work, or $10,000 – $20,000 if you hire someone. There are a lot of building materials needed for building a home studio…some unique and hard to find. Here’s what you’ll need:
- Lumber for framing in your “room within a room”, baseboards, shelving, window hatches, etc.
- Insulation for climate control and minor soundproofing
- Dry wall for your walls…twice as much as you would normally use since you want at least two layers
- Whisper Clips & Hat Channel for decoupling your stud framing and drywall
- Green Glue for reducing vibrations between two layers of dry wall
- Solid Core Door for minimizing sound transmission through your entry point
- Acoustical Caulk & Putty Pads for sealing up door frames, joints and electric boxes
- Flooring material such as hardwood or carpet depending on your desired resonance of the room
- Acoustical Foam to dampen internal sound vibrations such as drum cymbals, electric guitar, etc.
Phase 2: Structural Work for the Home Studio
Now that you’ve done your homework (seriously, there’s a lot of it), it’s time to get started. Let’s talk through the various steps of construction to build your studio.
Framing a Room Within a Room
You’ll want to get all of your initial lumber ordered, along with your needed hardware (screws, nails, etc), as soon as you (or your contractor) are ready to start the job. You will need enough to frame in a “room within a room” as they call it. So, if you’re building your home studio in a garage (like we did), then you’re stud framing will be (nearly) flush up against your walls, ceiling and floor (if you build a floating floor).
Remembering that “mass” and “air” have the biggest impact on soundproofing, you may want to consider 2×6 top and bottom plates for your framing. This will give you nearly two more inches of air space to help trap sound. But, consider your desired square footage before making this call. An additional advantage of using 2×6 top and bottom plates is that you can then stagger your 2×4 studs, alternating front and back placements, which will allow you to weave your insulation through the studs (horizontally) for a little more soundproofing boost. Minor, but every little bit helps.
Here’s some photos from the framing of our home studio project.
Framing Custom Doors to a Tight Fit
You’ll want to order a solid-core, wood door for maximum sound transmission prevention. This is where we f**ked up with our studio, and got a hollow-core (just foam insulation) steel door. As a backup plan, it might be possible to cut and attach a 1/2″ thick slab of MDF board on one side (inside) or both sides of your solid-core door with green glue and screws. We have not tried this yet, and have some concern about the door hinges sagging over time, but it’s a common recommendation to further reduce sound transmission through hollow-core doors.
Your best plan (for maximum soundproofing), however, is to build two doors, with an air gap in between. Or, build a multi-layered, thick custom door either in pocket door construction or in-swing/out-swing style. Either of these routes for your door can allow for increased soundproofing.
Running Electric & Setting HVAC Lines
Once you’ve framed in your “room within a room”, you’ll want to wire up the room with all the outlets, light switches and potentially an HVAC unit. We recommend using putty pads behind the electrical and light outlets to help seal up these air leaks…like these from Soundproofing Company Inc (shown to the right).
We’d like to offer special thanks to Eric Graybill (our neighbor), who is a masterful electrician and has one of the best attitudes of anyone we’ve met. This guy can run wire and thinks “big picture” like no other electrician I’ve met. Finding yourself a good electrician is critical. Ensure you run clean power.
We used R-19 insulation for the ceiling and R-13 insulation for the walls. The insulation was weaved through the staggered stud walls and fitted into the ceiling framing. Note that fiberglass insulation does not offer much soundproofing, but it does help a bit. It’s simply not dense enough to hold back bass frequencies, which is why you’re going to want to use two layers of drywall (to add mass). It will keep your room climate-controlled, however, so don’t overlook this step.
Phase 3: Creating Soundproofed Walls & Floors
Attaching Whisper Clips & Hat Channel
The key to soundproofing walls and ceiling is not only creating a thick layer of mass, but also decoupling the walls from the stud framing. To do this, you’ll need to use Whisper Clips and Hat Channel (shown to the right). Whisper clips attach to the studs, and Hat Channel attaches to the drywall to the whisper clips, effectively decoupling whatever is attached to the hat channel from the stud framing. This helps to reduce vibration through the walls and is a key element in soundproofing walls and ceilings.
Adding Two Layers of Drywall
Now it’s time to construct your walls. You’ll want to use 5/8″ drywall as opposed to 1/2″ drywall, for your walls and ceilings since the extra mass will help with soundproofing. There are more expensive solutions such as QuietRock, but…it’s very expensive. If you have the coin, you can save a little square footage by going that route.
You’ll also want to use soundproof glue (such as Green Glue) and acoustical caulk to seal up your joints and seams. Be careful with Green Glue as it’s very sticky. You might choose to roll it on (if you buy the 5 gallon tubs), or you can buy tubes of it and use a caulking gun to apply it (liberally) to first layer of drywall. The acoustical caulk will remain permanently flexible and thus keep your cracks, joints and seems airtight for much longer than normal caulk.
Laying Down Floors
You’re free to choose your flooring of choice. Carpet will provide a dampening effect that could be desired for controlling reverberations within your room. However, installing hardwood (save cost with engineered hardwood) and using rugs will help you control reverberation to your preference.
Have a room beneath you? Well, you would have built a floating floor back in Phase 1 when framing your room within a room since you’ll want to minimize vibrations and sound waves transmitted through your floor and into the room below.
Phase 4: Trim it Up…Window & Door Treatments
You’ll want to use soundproofing gaskets and a door bottom for your door to help seal up the door for maximum sound proofing. Trademark Soundproofing and other soundproofing supply companies sell these to order for your custom door size.
You can alternatively buy a custom-sized door panel sound barrier like the one shown here from Trademark Soundproofing. They are not cheap (@ $500), but they can drop your db level by a fair amount according to this video.
Keep in mind, however, that a door panel sound barrier will still struggle to block out all of the bass frequencies that you’re most concerned about. It will help muffle snares and other midrange frequencies, and be most effective with higher frequencies. To stop bass, you need more mass…and air…and mass!
While the door panel sound barrier is a good option if you have no other options, you best bet is to build it right the first time. Remember that you need mass to really stop low frequencies. Air helps too. So, either buy a thick, solid wood door, build an even thicker custom door, or build two pocket-doors with an air gap between. Remember to use gasket to tighten up the door frame.
There’s really no good way to soundproof glass without spending a bunch of money on custom soundproof windows. Once again, if you have the coin…go for it. An alternate option, however, is to build a window hatch out of MDF board like the one shown here.
Use weatherstripping around the inside edges to create an airtight seal with the wall/window cavity. Lock the hatch into place with window latches and add some handles to it for easy removal.
The cool thing about building a window hatch is that it allows you to have full privacy…and you have some options with aesthetics. You can paint it the same color as the walls, or you could get creative and paint it with chalkboard paint or cover with whiteboard material for writing out chord charts during rehearsal.
Phase 5: Sound Dampening & Finishing Touches
Using Acoustical Foam for Ceiling & Walls
Once your room is fully built, you’re going to need to get a fair amount of acoustical foam to cover at least 25-50% of your walls (and ceiling). While acoustical foam does not stop sound from traveling outside the room, it’s critical to control echoes and reverberation within your room. Sure, the room may sound “alive” without it, but midrange frequencies from guitar and snares/cymbals from drums are going to be a bit unpleasant without acoustical foam on the walls.
For recording, it’s an absolute must since you want the room as dead as possible in order to control the reverberation and echoes with your recording software. Otherwise, all of your recordings will sound like your room. If you want that, that’s your call. Most musicians, producers and engineers want a blank slate to work from.
An easy way to test how much reverberation and echoes your room has is to use the “clap test.” It’s just what you think. Walk around your room and clap. Listen for echoes. Keep applying sound dampening foam on the walls an ceilings until you reach the desired amount of reverberation. Also be sure to apply bass traps in the upper wall corners in order to keep bass frequencies from getting…well…trapped.
A good way to apply acoustical foam to your walls is with velcro. We recommend using the 3M Command strips to apply the foam to your walls and ceiling in order to prevent damage to your walls. Using spray adhesive will ruin the finish on your walls and require you to sand and paint the walls if you wish to reposition or remove the acoustical foam. This is a really important consideration!
Now that your ceilings and walls are treated, consider any finishing touches that you’ll need for soundproofing, functionality and aesthetics. If you have hardwood floors, you may need to lay down some rugs in order to dampen the floor. Having hardwood floors allows you to control the amount of “woody” reverberation that you may want on some recordings (acoustic instruments in particular). But, you will likely need to add at least a few rugs to keep reverberation under control.
You might think you want beers in the fridge, right? Well, consider that refrigerators are NOISY! You might just want to forget that one and take a trip inside the house for refreshments. Think about other electronics that can add hum and white noise to your room. You don’t want any of that. Keep it simple.
Consider getting some cloth furniture, as it will help further dampen the room. What about a humidifier? If you’re hanging acoustical instruments on the wall, and if it’s dry where you live, then you’ll need to get a large humidifier such as this 5-gallon humidifier. You don’t want to have to fill it up often, and this humidifier will last nearly two weeks for a 200 square foot room. Of course, if you live in a humid climate, then you’ll want to consider a de-humidifier.
All Done! Enjoy Your Room
Now that doesn’t seem so bad, or does it? That depends on your construction skills, professional resources and how your project management goes. There’s always going to be hitches in the process, but be sure to order your materials well before you or the contractor are expected to do each phase of the job. Waiting on supplies to arrive can seriously delay your project. All in all, enjoy the process. It’s going to be a learning experience. Call up some of the soundproofing companies (who you plan to buy from) and ask their advice. They are happy to help as long as they feel you may purchase from them. Want more advice? Wayfair has an excellent article on designing a music room that showcases some advice from industry experts.
Feel free to share your own insight and experiences in the comments below. Each project is unique and we can all help each other with how we solve our unique problems during the project. Good luck!