Create a Soundproof Garage A DIY Guide For Absolute Beginners
Do you, like me, find it difficult to have a good ‘n loud practise session because you know that someone, somewhere is moaning about the noise? I just can’t relax into it unless I know that no one but me can hear what I’m doing.
Of course in the early days when all I had was a bedroom with single-glazed windows and a flimsy door, I had no choice. If I wanted to get better I had to practise, practise, practise. And in the process make a few enemies. But when you’re a teenager everyone’s your enemy so who cares about adding a few more to the list?
As I grew up and eventually began a family of my own, I had to be a little more considerate. When I bought my first house, one of the prerequisites was that it should have a garage, preferably detached, so that I could play my drums without bothering anyone. Eventually we found the perfect place… the house was fine, but the garage was perfect! It was brick-built, detached with a solid concrete floor.
I suppose I was naive to think that just a detached out-house would be enough. The noise level when I played with no soundproofing was simply too much for the neighbours. I would have to think creatively, as I had absolutely no experience of building or construction, and very little cash.
I remembered reading somewhere that egg boxes were effective for soundproofing due to their shape, so I found a wholesaler and bought HUNDREDS of large, flat trays. I have always liked experimenting with something new, and if it doesn’t work, trying something else until a solution is found (as long as it doesn’t cost too much).
I would never have believed how many egg boxes it would take to line the ceiling and three walls of a garage. And how to attach them to bare brick? I ended up stapling rows of them together and literally hanging them from the ceiling down the walls.
Much to my disappointment, they made little or no difference. Only later did I realise that they were better for damping down the sound rather than reducing the noise levels outside. They are shaped in a similar way to modern soundproofing foam, and should be fitted to the internal walls and ceilings of the studio. On to something new…
I had two choices in creating a soundproof garage. I could get a builder in to construct a sound proofing insulated inner shell, or I could work out how to do it myself. I couldn’t afford a builder, so option 2 it had to be… or play on my cheap rubber practice kit. Where to start? First I needed to find out what kind of structure to build. I would then know what materials I needed to buy.
Bear in mind that I had NO prior experience of construction of ANY kind. It was daunting, but if I didn’t try, I wouldn’t be able to play the drums in the garage. So… I went to the library to look for information on creating a soundproof garage or room. Libraries are invaluable resources. Before I buy any books I always check out the library first. The range is enormous and you can borrow the books for a very small fee, if not actually free. I found two or three promising-looking books about soundproofing and insulating. I also found some extremely useful info on the Internet, showing diagrams of walls in progress and more. Hunt around and you’ll find more info than you need.
When it comes to home DIY I’m pretty lazy. I tend to look for shortcuts, so I might easily have been put off if the guidelines were too technically demanding. I had the vague idea that I had to construct some sort of wall, creating a room within a room. This was indeed the case. I soon found the info I was after. A couple of books gave me a rough idea of how to construct a simple stud wall using 50x50mm lengths of timber, 50mm rock wool (extremely dense insulating material) and sheets of plasterboard (drywall), perfect for a soundproof garage. If I created walls using these materials, leaving a gap of at least 6 inches between the existing brick inner wall and the stud wall, it would be an effective soundproofer. I could have used 20, 30 or 40mm specs instead, but I wanted to give the project the best chance of success, so 50mm it was. This made little difference to the cost of the timber, but the rock wool was significantly more expensive. I would have to measure up carefully and make sure I didn’t order more than I needed.
The important thing was that there should be no fastenings attaching the stud wall to the brick wall, as this would transmit sound to the outer wall through the fittings rather than trapping it in the gap. The ceiling of the garage had wooden beams (50mm deep) supporting the flat roof, so I decided to fasten the stud walls to these beams. Although this would transmit sound through the roof, the walls themselves would be free of any contact, which was crucial. I would have to get enough raw materials to build four inner walls as well as enough plasterboard to cover the ceiling. In addition I would need rock wool slabs to fill the gaps between the ceiling beams. The concrete floor would be fine left as it was, but I covered it with an old carpet before starting so it would absorb some of the potential resonance. I planned to take up about two thirds of the garage with the cell, leaving five or six feet between the front wall and the garage door for storage.
The actual structure of the walls for the soundproof garage (diagram below) was simple. Upright lengths of timber would be separated by 36 inch gaps, joined by staggered cross struts. The timber struts should be arranged so as to create the perfect rectangle shape to house the rock wool slabs. The slabs were 3’ x 4’ in size. Obviously some of the spaces to be filled would be irregular or smaller shapes, so the rock wool would have to be cut to size and shape. Two sheets of plasterboard would sandwich the timber/rockwool filling, creating a nicely insulated, sound-absorbing unit.
Sketch showing the construction of my soundproof garage
Once I had satisfied myself that I would probably be able to manage the job of creating a soundproof garage, I measured up and ordered the timber and plasterboard from a local builder’s yard (most of who will deliver for a fee). My advice is: get them to deliver. Trust me, unless you have a truck of your own or a very large trailer, you don’t want to be picking this stuff up. It’s big, cumbersome and extremely heavy.
The right kind of rock wool was little harder to come by, but once I found a decent wholesale insulation outlet, it was no problem. The slabs came in packs of six and I managed to squeeze them into my very small van, with a couple of packs tied to the roof. All the materials cost me approximately £500 (about $850). The rest was down to me.
The day the timber and plasterboard arrived was scary. I couldn’t believe how much stuff there was. I had measured up very carefully, however, and I was confident that I had the right amount. The whole lot was dumped outside the front of the garage, and it promptly began to rain. The plasterboard sheets were 6’ by 4’, 20mm thick and were extremely heavy. I began to have serious concerns about what I had taken on. There was no turning back though I had no choice but to press on.
It took me about an hour to move everything into the garage, out of the rain. I realised that I would have to work around the materials as I put everything together. Talk about making it harder for yourself! I started work.
I started by cutting the timber to the correct lengths, consisting mainly of several upright lengths of about 7’ and LOTS of 3’ lengths. Once I started work, overcoming one problem at a time, it became much more manageable. I started to enjoy myself, and couldn’t wait to get the job done so I could start playing the drums without fear of recriminations!
Once I had completed several sections of one side wall (each section the size of a single plasterboard sheet), I leaned them upright against the garage wall roughly in position. I moved the first section upright into position, resting it on the floor and securing it in position by fixing it to a ceiling beam. I then attached subsequent sections both to the ceiling and to the adjoining unit until I had completed one entire wall. Because a completed section was so heavy, initially only the outer plasterboard sheet was attached to the timber. Once the wall was fixed in position I inserted the rock wool slabs and covered it with the second plasterboard sheet to complete the wall. I repeated the process for the three remaining walls. The more I completed, the more space became available inside the garage as the materials were used up.
The only wall that was actually a partition wall was the one at the front of the room, facing the garage door. This was the easiest to assemble because it was the only wall I could access from both sides. I had to remember to leave a door-shaped opening though! I made this the same 6’ x 4’ size as a plasterboard sheet. I made a single stud unit exactly this size and used it as a door. I cobbled together a makeshift hinge, which would allow the unit to be opened and closed more like a door, but with more than a little effort. I originally intended this to be a temporary measure, but it stayed like that until I moved!
The ceiling for the soundproof garage only required a rock wool filling and covering with plasterboard, but it proved to be the hardest job of all. Plasterboard sheets of that size are extremely heavy and break easily. My advice? Get some help! You can get tools that support one end while you fasten the other, but if you have a friend who can help you finish this off, it won’t take long. The finishing touch was cutting a hole for the power. I made another small stud unit, which could be easily removed (providing access to the power points), and returned into position before the noise started!
Once I got under way, the whole process didn’t seem half as bad as I’d anticipated. I finished the entire unit in two or three days. I had barely hammered the last nail into place before setting up my Pearl Export drum set to try it out… It was a VAST improvement. I got a friend to play the kit while I listened outside. Standing about ten feet from the garage I could hear what sounded like a radio playing. It was well within acceptable limits. In fact, for about six months the neighbours didn’t even know I had a set of drums in the garage!
OK, so in this case I wasn’t too concerned about finishing touches. If you want to create a recording studio in your garage you’ll probably want proper doors and things… and maybe a lick of paint! But I was just concerned with the creation of a practise room, which is what I got.
Soundproof Floating Floors | top of page |
If the room you want to soundproof is in your house, you’ll have additional concerns the floor and the ceiling. It's possible to suspend fake ceilings and floors.
The problem with floors is that they are subject to impact noise as well as airborne noise. A common approach to soundproofing a floor is to install a second floor over the top, this is called a floating floor. Fortunately this was not a consideration for me, but if you need to know anything and everything about floating floors, check this e-book out: How to Expertly SoundProof Using DIY Tools and Materials.
If your garage is larger than usual, you might want to consider a “Camden” partition (something else I learnt in the library). This is basically exactly what I created… twice. You create a cell within a cell with two voids one between the outer wall and inner first partition and one between the first partition and the “inner sanctum”. This should make the noise reduction pretty well complete I didn’t have the space or the energy for this!
I used the soundproof garage for five years for drum and band practises (a little cramped!) with no complaints whatsoever. When I moved house, one of the conditions of the sale was that I dismantled all my good work! I advertised the materials in the local paper and within a day a fellow drummer was round with his van to pick it all up he was about to create exactly the same kind of soundproof garage and he paid me £50 for the pleasure!
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© Max B