Dealers who are looking to supply multifamily builders or increase their share of that market should consider stocking sound-deadening products.

Multifamily buildings are required by code to block airborne sounds—think conversation, music, the rattle of pots and pans—as well as impact sounds—footsteps, furniture being moved—that are transmitted through floor and ceiling assemblies. There are a slew of products that dampen sound on the market, ranging from sound-deadening drywall, acoustic glues and sound-absorbing panels to underlayments and sound-isolating clips for walls and ceilings.

However, putting a lid on the noises of daily life is more complex than it may appear. Sounds are not created equal, and the bass tones of sub-woofers are very different, and call for different techniques and products to isolate, than the sound of conversation. Builders—and the dealers who supply them—need to educate themselves on which products will best isolate the particular sounds that are creating a problem.

Sometimes, says acoustical engineers, it’s a mix of products that are needed.

Sound transmission class (STC) is the measure of airborne sounds; impact isolation class (IIC) is the measure of impact sounds. The STC and IIC are expressed as a numeric value that quantifies the sound reduction that occurs when airborne or impact sounds pass through an object. In multifamily construction, in most jurisdictions, there are minimum IIC and STC values, which the floor/ceiling assembly and walls must achieve to meet the building code standards. Both the Uniform Building Code (UBC) and International Building Code (IBC) call for minimum values of IIC 50 and STC 50.

For multifamily buildings, the most noise complaints come from hearing your neighbors, particularly the ones overhead, says Lisa Schott, acoustical engineer and owner of Quietly Making Noise, an Oviedo, Fla.-based consulting firm. In fact, the biggest litigation issue in condo developments has to do with floor-to-floor noise, she says. That poses a problem for builders, since it is easier—and cheaper—to mitigate side-to-side or partition wall noise than it is floor-to-floor noise. For single-family homes, noises from the outside are usually the biggest issue, Schott says, and 90% of the time, windows are the weakest link.

Unless a housing development is HUD-financed, the IBC does not address sound deadening for single-family homes, and builders certainly aren’t lobbying for further regulation. The call for sound blocking in single-family homes tends to come from architects, who may specify sound deadening in specific areas, like a home theater, or to isolate a master bedroom from the children’s rooms, or as retrofits from homeowners who move into a house and find unacceptable noise levels that have to be addressed.

Custom Opportunities

There is an opportunity here as well for dealers who supply high-end custom builders, who may be offering sound deadening as an add-on to their clients.

Builders in competitive markets—and the dealers who supply them—might also want to investigate adding sound-deadening products to their inventories as a way to differentiate themselves from their competition. Helping your customers navigate the sea of sound-deadening products may earn your yard more coin at the cash register.

LBM dealer Jay Piovarcy has firsthand knowledge of the value of sound-deadening products, having lived in a metropolitan area with lots of city noise constantly in the background. Piovarcy, general manager of Parkes Lumber in Lawrenceburg, Tenn., believes the primary residential customer would be the homeowner moving from a rural environment into a suburb.

“This customer will not expect the noises to be as loud or as potentially annoying as they can be, especially at 2 a.m.,” he says. “It’s a great opportunity to upsell, provided we ask thorough questions and get to know our customer.”

As cities and suburbs become increasingly dense, noise control takes on a greater importance, says Steve Haas, president of SH Acoustics in Stamford, Conn., whose company specializes in high-end residential projects.

“There have been so many studies about how noise affects stress levels and blood pressure,” says Haas. “Think of someone who has to get a great night’s sleep to perform well at their job, whether they are titans in the financial industry or running a big piece of machinery on a job site.

Ways and Means

“There are a couple of easy things to do in walls. Add insulation in interior partitions, it does give you a modest increase; that’s a no brainer,” Haas says. “Then add a second layer of drywall in all critical walls. If you have a hardwood floor or tile floors in a bath or kitchen, you can use resilient underlayment.”

For those headache-inducing bass sounds, sound absorption panels can help. Mass loaded vinyl—available from various manufacturers—is a useful sound-deadening product, says Haas.

But Haas cautions that mass loaded vinyl is not the universal panacea for noise problems that some manufacturers would like you to believe. (American mass loaded vinyl is made of a high-grade vinyl impregnated with barium salts and sand, and the seams sealed with acoustic glue.) “If you are selling, do some research,” he says. “There are some good resources online that can give you a primer on materials.”

Sound-absorbing products really do work, but they need to be accompanied by the proper knowledge of how to use them, echoes Michael Rosenberg, CEO of Fellert Acoustical Ceilings, Boras, Sweden. “An acoustic engineer should be involved in the design phase to ensure that.” Builders tend to value engineer these products out when they want to save time and/or money, and they have been far too successful on doing that so far, he says.

Sound control does come with a price tag, sometimes a significant one, which is why it tends to be a consideration primarily in upper-end construction projects. “When we do global sound control in a house,” says Haas, “it can increase the cost of the home anywhere from 2% to 6% or 7%.”

Wouldn’t your yard want a cut of that action?

A Quiet  Storm of Products

There is no dearth of sound-deadening materials on the market. The trick is selecting the right one to dampen the noise (or noises) that has your client up in arms.
Acoustic caulk Flexible caulk that doesn’t fully dry and shrink. Example: Green Glue’s Noiseproofing Sealant.

Acoustic doors Usually solid-core doors with an acoustic door sweep. Example: Acoustical Surfaces’ Studio 3D Noise S.T.O.P. door.

Pipe and duct wrap Typically, composite material combining a mass loaded vinyl bonded to fiberglass. The fiberglass absorbs noise and provides thermal insulation. Example: Sound Seal’s Pipe and Duct Wrap.

Resilient underlayments Used to reduce the sound of floor-to-floor impact noises. Example: Ecore International’s QT sound control underlayment.

Sound-deadening drywall Regular sheetrock (also known as drywall, gypsum board, or plasterboard) that has been factory treated to block the path of sound. Example: Serious Energy’s QuietRock.

Sound-deadening insulation Available as batts and sheathing. Structural sheathing is good for damping exterior sounds, like street noises. Examples: Roxul’s stone wool insulation batts and Bonded Logic’s UltraTouch denim insulation; Temple-Inland’s QuietBrace structural sheathing.

Sound-isolating clips Along with furring channels, these products decouple walls and ceilings from the structural members and can effectively reduce low-frequency noise. Example: Kinetics’ ISOMax sound isolating clip.

Sound-isolating panels Panels made of fiberglass, cellulose, or cotton fibers that are mounted on walls to absorb sounds. Often used in home theaters or media rooms. Example: Acoustical Surfaces’ CFAB cellulose panels.