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The Productive Home Office - Stop The Noise And Enhance Productivity
By Brian Ravnaas, Technical Innovation Manager,
The Green Glue Company
Working from home is, for many, the ultimate work experience. No commute, no
dress code and no one looking over your shoulder. According to the 2000 U.S.
Census, 4.18 million Americans worked from home, almost 23 percent more than
reported in the last census. And that number is expected to continue to grow in
the 2010 census as companies cut costs and offer more flexible hours to
employees. Adding to this is the trend of those working in traditional offices
to "telecommute" by taking more and more work home with them.
Sound-based distraction and interruptions are a very real challenge for those working from home, and is
an often overlooked consideration when setting up a home office. Household and
neighborhood sounds can pour into a home office and disrupt work. Sounds of a
midnight conference call to far off time zones can escape from the office, waking
family members and even neighbors.
Many find out only after renovating a home
space into an office that all of the advantages of working from home are negated
by challenges presented by noise. Fortunately, soundproofing a home office is a simple and relatively
inexpensive way of fixing these problems. And, contrary to common
misperceptions, this solution is right for anyone not just Hollywood moguls and
wealthy recording artists. New technology has allowed soundproofing to be
possible for contractors and DIYers on modest budgets.
It's Easier Than It Sounds...
noise entering and leaving a home office has gotten easier as new technologies
have entered the market. The evolution of soundproofing technologies can be
generally traced from very bulky, material-heavy solutions that required a
complete renovation of a space to more advanced lighter materials that require
little or no deconstruction to an existing structure. What path you take
depends on budget and whether or not you are dealing with new construction,
heavy renovation or light renovation.
Sound-absorbing material, for example, can be stuffed between joists and
studs and then walled over. Many materials are available for this purpose,
including cotton batts, mineral fiber batts, and low-cost commodity fiberglass
insulation batts, which work as well as the others (to make sure it points back
to the other absorbing materials) at a very low cost. This is one of the rare
cases where pinching pennies won't put the pinch on your results! These
materials provide a very basic level of soundproofing that dampens many sounds
but tend to be less effective for lower bass tones. In addition, their use
depends on access to wall cavities, which exists only during new construction or
the other end of the spectrum, viscoelastic compounds (such as Green Glue) used in and between
drywall are one of the most effective means to eliminate the full spectrum of
sound frequencies, from high frequency sounds to low bass sounds that are
normally resistant to other forms of soundproofing. Viscoelastic compounds
dissipate vibrations in room structures by converting them into tiny amounts of
heat. The material comes in tubes that can be dispensed easily and applied with
a second layer of drywall right over existing finishes and textures..
Decoupling clips are another method of reducing how vibrations pass through a
wall. These clips separate two sides of the wall to reduce sound transmission
by allowing one side to vibrate independently from the other. Use of staggered
studs, double studs, resilient channels or sound clips can isolate sound and
reduce noise transmission. They work very well in tandem with viscoelastic
compound. In fact, using both methods can reduce 95 percent more noise compared
to conventional construction techniques alone.
Sealing any cracks or gaps between floors and ceilings using a special
soundproofing sealant will further reduce noise transference between floors.
Small cracks and gaps may seem insignificant, but can be major contributors to
What About The Doors?
Doors are the forgotten link in the soundproofing chain. To maximize
soundproofing, the doors may need to be modified or replaced.
There are interior doors available that are designed for higher sound isolation, but they
are typically very expensive so are beyond the budget of many people. For
example, a solid-core door (which can weigh over 80 lbs) offers much more sound
isolation than a lightweight hollow-core door.
less expensive route is too improve the door you have.
The first goal to decrease the amount of air movement around the door when
closed. (Yes, soundproofing and weatherproofing are similar in execution.)
There are typically three places on a door that need sealing:
- Seal around the door frame (graphic right).
This will require removal
of the door trim on one side, but it's worth it since there is usually a gap
between the door frame and the wall stud which allows sound to leak
through. Though you can use caulk or fiberglass insulation, a modern
low-pressure expanding polyurethane foam, available in aerosol cans at any
hardware store, will give you the best possible seal.
- Apply weatherstripping so the door seals tightly against the
frame when closed.
are various types of weatherstripping and ALL will work as long as they
firmly contact the door
completely around the perimeter. (TIP: Softer weatherstripping
works better since it will compress more easily and less likely to prevent
the door from latching if you install it a little too tightly.)
- Seal the gap between the door and the floor.
This is the biggest leak and is also the most involved fix. One way of
doing it is to add a board or threshold on the floor that the door closes
against. Add weatherstripping to this board as well. You can
also install a raised threshold that is under the door. You can
purchase an adjustable weatherstrip that will press against the threshold
when the door is closed.
If your floor is uncarpeted and smooth,
a rubber or brush-type gasket that is attached to the door bottom and "sweeps"
along the floor can be effective.
A second way of going about sealing the door is to use an exterior frame
with an interior door as exterior doors already come with weatherstripping
etc. Once the door is sealed, the next step to improve its sound isolation
is to address the door itself.
The most efficient way to improve the sound isolation of an existing door is to increase its mass and/or damping
This can be done by adding a layer of common plywood, osb, drywall, or
particle board etc to the door with a layer of damping material such as
Green Glue or Decibel Drop.
The downside is that you may have to refinish the door! If that's not possible, using a solid heavy core door
will be much better than a lightweight hollow or foam core door.
Replace the door?? It could be easier!
Replacing a typical interior door/frame with an exterior door/frame may work
in some situations and, since the frame includes weatherstripping completely
around the door and most hollow exterior doors are filled with expanded foam
insulation, adding more sound suppression than a wood door.
Decorating touches such as curtains, shades and carpeting or
rugs can further reduce noise from entering and leaving a room. All in
all, these are simple steps can maximize your investment in soundproofing.
Choosing What's Right
Depending on the stage of renovation you are in, you can make informed
choices about installing soundproofing. For example, if you are completely
gutting a room (i.e. removing the walls to the bare studs) you may want to
consider using all of the elements listed above. Gutting a room provides easy
and inexpensive access to most, if not all, soundproofing components from
batting to viscoelastic compound.
Take advantage of this opportunity to do everything you can to soundproof the
office if you're starting from scratch. Adding elements now will be easier than
down the road when walls will have to be torn down to achieve the same results.
If you're not planning on gutting a room or building a new home, you may want
to consider using viscoelastic compound alone. This compound can easily be
applied to drywall and then affixed to existing drywall. This step, plus adding
carpeting can significantly reduce noise entering and leaving a room for minimal
time and money.
Is it worth it? You bet!
Whether you are self-employed or working for a company that allows or even
requires a home office, investing in that environment certainly pays off in
productivity and flexibility. Soundproofing a room can be completed by a home
owner or contractor in a weekend with minimal skill level and budget.
These changes can ensure that the space is isolated from the rest of the
family and neighbors. In addition, most renovations to home offices are tax
deductible. Check with an accountant, but soundproofing an office is a business
expense that is 100 percent deductible while it also improves the rest of your
home and lifestyle. Finally, soundproofing adds value to not just business, but
also to your home. A soundproofed office could be viewed by potential buyers
not only as a workspace but as an ideal home theater or nursery. Whatever the
case it is a unique selling point.
For a relatively small amount of time and money, soundproofing a home office
offers improved quality of life, greater productivity and a higher home value.
That is an ideal combination that many do not consider when setting up shop from
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