Sound Solutions

Marilyn Zelinsky Syarto

Is your home office too noisy? We found a concert hall full of products to transform your workspace into a quiet zone

WORKING AT HOME MAY FREE YOU FROM HAVING to listen to your coworkers’ noisy phone conversations, but that doesn’t guarantee your home office will be a peaceful retreat. Each neighborhood has noises that are nearly impossible to escape–from buzzing lawn mowers to barking dogs to loud pool parties next door.

Although you can’t muffle 100 percent of the sound in your home or coming from outside your home, you can take effective steps to cut the noise. If your home office is full of hard surfaces, for instance, you might as well move into an echo chamber–acoustical experts suggest that at least 25 percent of your office should have a soft surface, such as carpeting, wall coverings, curtains, or upholstered furniture, to absorb sound.

Super Soundproofing, distributors of noise-fighting products, offers an information-packed Web site that answers many soundproofing questions, as well as a nontechnical book, Quieting: A Practical Guide to Noise Control ($15; 760-749-7049, If you’re looking for easy-to-install solutions to make your home office easier on the ears, here’s a selection of products designed to reduce the cacophony in any room.

Walls That Work Quietly Various types of wall coverings absorb sound–from fabric wallpaper to fabric-wrapped wall panels. The easiest solution is to buy acoustical wall coverings that can be applied on walls and ceilings; most come in solid colors with ribbing or texture.

Seabrook Wallcoverings’ fade-resistant Acoustic Wallcoverings Volume II ($32 per linear yard; 800-972-3492) and Acoustic Vertical Cord Wallcovering ($26 per linear foot) are lightweight and easy to install. Sorbere textured acoustical wall fabric ($11 to $13 per yard for a 30-inch bolt; Imperial Contract Wallcoverings, 800-441-2244) is another easy-to-apply sound absorber, as is Soundtex Fabric Wall Covering ($32 per linear yard plus vinyl adhesive; Acoustical Solutions, 800-782-5742,

For stronger sound absorption, try Acoustical Solutions’ AlphaSorb wall panels ($39 per two by two-foot, one-inch-thick panel). “You don’t have to cover your entire wall with the panels,” says company sales manager Don Strahle. “You can apply tiles three feet up from the floor to a foot shy of the ceiling in order to [effectively reduce sound]. The more mass you add to a surface, the more sound you’ll block.”

Sound-Sealing Doors and Windows Strahle also suggests installing a solid wood door, but says any door can benefit from a good seal to keep sound from coming in under the jamb. Acoustical Solutions charges $79 for an automatic door bottom and $15 to $20 per foot for seals.

As for your windows, double-paned and vinyl-frame windows are the best sound barriers, according to Super Soundproofing’s Web site. If a neighbor’s noise is so obnoxious you find yourself closing the window and pulling the shade, consider stuffing a layer of two-inch-thick Poly-Foam panel in the window ($14 per two by two-foot panel in various colors; Super Soundproofing) and putting shutters on the inside.

Step Softly Wall-to-wall carpeting minimizes noise, but if it’s too thick, you’ll have a tough time wheeling around in your office chair. There are alternatives.

Cork floor tiles will reduce noise to a minimum. Cork is quiet because 50 percent of its molecular structure is air. “But you won’t be walking on bulletin-board material,” says Bruce Graye, sales manager for cork floor maker Wicanders/Infocork ($6 to $8 per square foot, depending on finish; 800-828-2675). “You can buy a vinyl-wear layered cork tile or a natural cork tile that’s finished with polyurethane.” As for holding up to the traffic of an office chair, don’t sweat it: “Cork floors are [durable enough to be] installed in most airports,” he says.

If new floor tile isn’t in your plans, try a vinyl floor mat instead ($27 per running foot with foam backing or $18 per running foot without it; Super Soundproofing).

Silent Ceilings Ceilings can also be a gateway for noise, so add tiles made specifically to block or absorb sound. Acoustical Solutions’ AlphaTec tiles ($167 for six two by two-foot tiles) can be used in a drop tile grid or applied directly to the existing ceiling. Armstrong’s Sahara suspended ceiling tile ($1 per square foot; 800-233-3823, absorbs 50 percent of sound.

Soothing White Noise If you don’t want to alter your decor, try a white-noise machine to soothe your nerves. White noise won’t cut down unwanted audio, but it will mask many sounds. As an alternative to the sound of an air conditioner or fan, you can buy a sound conditioner–psychologists often use these to block sound from other offices. Brookstone’s Tranquil Moments Delux II digital sound conditioner offers white noise plus 12 nature sounds ($150; 800-351-7222,

MARILYN ZELINSKY SYARTO is the author of Practical Home Office Solutions and New Workplaces for New Workstyles (both McGraw-Hill).

COPYRIGHT 1999 Line56

COPYRIGHT 2008 Gale, Cengage Learning

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