Airborne vs Impact Sound: The Facts

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Last updated: January 4, 2020 at 21:07 pm

When soundproofing it’s critical to understand the difference between two types of noise. For us, the two important one’s are impact noise (or sound) and airborne noise (or sound).

What is Airborne Sound?

Airborne sound is the most common type of sound in a home environment and travels through air. If the noise is loud enough, and the structure isn’t soundproof to stop or muffle the sound, then this will easily travel through a structure.

This is very common in flats or semi-detached houses (through a party wall) and can cause an issue with noisy neighbours.

Examples of Airborne Sound

Any sound that travels through air and is not caused by two objects hitting each other is airborne sound. Examples of this are:

  • Talking/shouting
  • Dogs barking
  • TV noise
  • Coughing
  • Music

What is Impact Sound?

Impact sound is transmitted through a structure, also known as structure-borne noise, and travels through that structure through vibrations. When an object hits another object and creates vibrations, this causes it to travel through a structure.

This is common when you have noisy neighbours where noise travels through thin walls, floors or ceiling joists to create impact noise. This is also very common in flats when you have a neighbour above.

Examples of Impact Sound

Impact sound is the creation of sound hitting with another object. Examples of this are:

Footsteps
Dropping things
Banging
Doors slamming

How to Tell the Difference Between Impact and Airborne Sound

With the examples above you should be able to establish what kind of noise you’re experiencing and use one of our soundproofing guides for your needs.

Another great way to tell the difference is simply placing your hand on the wall/floor etc where the sound is getting through. If you can feel the vibrations, then it’s mostly likely impact. If there is minimal or no vibration, then it’s airborne.

However, airborne sound can cause impact and vice versa, so be sure to diagnose the noise properly before undertaking any soundproofing.

How to Soundproof Against Each Type of Sound

Once you’ve established which kind of noise you’re hearing, it’s time to do something about it! Depending what you’re looking to soundproof and whether it’s airborne or impact sound, will determine what kind of soundproofing you’ll need to do.

Walls

You can use various methods when soundproofing walls when you have noisy neighbours. Airborne noise is easier to soundproof against so start with acoustic panels on the party wall then gauge the difference.

Impact noise is harder to soundproof as the noise travels through the wall. This might require soundproof plasterboard or installing mass loaded vinyl. Joists can also to be insulated by removing the wall, insulating the joists then re-building. This is important with impact sound as noise often travels through shared joists.

Very extreme noise could require installing a fake wall to add another layer to the party wall. This allows the wall to be filled with dense insulation to fight against any airborne noise.

All these solutions can also be used together depending on the seriousness of the noise.

Floors

The easiest way to soundproof a floor from airborne or impact sound is with dense underlay and thick carpet. This will go a long way against airborne sound, especially if you currently have laminate.

Along with underlay and carpet, MLV can be installed as well to add an extra layer of insulation. MLV is designed to soundproof and is made with thick, dense rubber.

As with soundproofing walls, extreme cases could require a fake floor to pack extra soundproof materials on top of the problem floor.

Ceilings

Airborne sound from ceilings can usually be fixed by installing underlay and carpet in the room above. This obviously would only be possible in the same house.Acoustic panels can also be an option for airborne sound.

If you’re in a flat, it’s possible to remove the ceiling and insulate any shared joists for impact sound. As with walls and floors, extreme circumstances could be solved with a fake ceiling.

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About the Author: AJ

Hi, my name's AJ! I write about living a quieter life, soundproofing tips and recommending the best quiet products here on Quiet Living.