Working from home can be both a blessing and a curse. The home office worker does not have to commute and can be right at hand for the family, but they also have to deal with interruptions and distractions. Noise is the number one culprit when work productivity decreases in a home office. Unfortunately, this is usually the last consideration when deciding to work from home. However, it is easily fixed with a few dollars and a moderate level of handiness.
Plans for any soundproofing project tackled by a DIYer will depend on whether this is a weekend project, full renovation, or a new build. Starting with a new build is going to be the easiest route, but each of the options below can stand alone or be combined as the project and time allows.
Overall, evaluate the room as a ship that is taking on water. Any place that is "leaking" is allowing noise into the room. Fix as many of these leaks as possible to cut down the noise problem. Even a crack that looks small can be a major contributor.
Doors allow the most amount of noise in from the rest of the house. Generally, interior doors are hollow core and do not seal tightly. This makes them more cost-effective, but noise vibrates right through them. Remove the existing door and install a solid core design or an exterior door. The exterior option will come with the solid jamb and required weather stripping. Follow the kit manufacturers' instructions for installation procedures.
Once in place, seal it with an acoustic viscoelastic compound, filling any small gaps or open spaces left in the adjoining wall space. For extra buffering, seal any gaps between the door jamb and drywall a second time with foam insulation before mounting the decorative molding.
An interior solid core door will work just as well, but will require the extra steps of measuring and fitting the weather stripping and door sweep. Measure and cut the weather stripping to fit, then simply apply in place. It may take a few tries to get it just right, so be sure to purchase more than needed, and keep at it until the door fits snuggly in place.
Finally, measure and cut the door sweep to fit along the bottom edge of the door. It should hang off the door just enough to cover the threshold when the door is closed, but not so much that it scrapes the floor when the door is opened.
Windows allow sound in from the outside world, however, they are usually hard to tackle during a weekend project. If building a new home or planning a major renovation, consider installing sound insulated windows. Then follow the same installation process as a door to reduce noise leaks. The best part about noise blocking windows is that they are usually energy efficient as well and will reduce heating and cooling costs.
For the weekend project, remove the existing molding (and possibly drywall) and fill empty spaces in the walls with a soundproofing material such as, cotton batts, mineral fiber batts, or fiberglass insulation batts. All will work equally well for this size of a project. Follow up with the same sealing procedure used for the door: viscoelastic compound first, then foam insulation. After reinstalling the molding, check all weather stripping for cracks and flexibility.
Replace any that is rigid and no longer gives the window a tight fit. Measure carefully, and cut the stripping with a utility knife. Clean the surface the stripping will be applied to for a long-lasting stick. After application the window may be difficult to close, but this is a sign that it's working.
Walls can be the most time-consuming area to soundproof, but can be done at virtually any stage of the job. In a new build, request staggered or double studs, resilient channels, or sound clips to reduce the noise that is allowed to vibrate from one side of the wall to the other. A variety of insulation options will also reduce noise transfer from room to room. Fill any space between the two interior walls for the best effect. For a renovation, any of these options can be added by removing the existing drywall, or piecemeal if the drywall is removed for another purpose.
The simplest solution is to again evaluate any cracks, crevices, or larger holes and repair or fill them will more acoustic viscoelastic compound. This also includes the seams between all drywall pieces if they have never been sealed. Drywall itself is a great sound barrier as long as it is intact. Once the first layer of drywall is sealed, a second layer can be added to increase the soundproofing and hide the "fixes."
A more expensive option is to glue a layer of acoustic board to the existing layer of drywall before adding new drywall. Acoustic board can be purchased in tiles and strategically placed around the room or as full board that then needs to be cut to fit.
Other options that add thickness to an existing wall include OSB, plywood, or particle board. However, these are heavier options that may damage the existing wall. Either way, be sure to seal cracks at each layer to make it fully soundproof.
Before placing molding around the floor, door, and windows, seal the little space between them and the walls. A small gap at the floor or ceiling will let noise in from upstairs and/or downstairs. Then make sure the molding is flush to the floor and fits well.
If carpeting is available, this is usually the best option for soundproofing. Existing carpeting can be buffered with new carpet padding and acoustic tiles. This requires pulling back the carpet and tearing out the current tack strips and padding.
Then, loose lay the tiles and layer new foam on top. New tack strips will need to be placed and the carpet re-stretched, but this is a must for an upstairs office. When the existing flooring is wood or carpet, noise can be reduced with area rugs, however, this option is not as effective.
Soft furniture can be effective in sound reduction simply by lessening any echo effect. Consider couches with soft cushions and thick area rugs. Then top the room off by adding large framed pictures to the walls and thick curtains. Many home decorator stores sell noise and light reduction curtains that will help seal off the outside world. Darker shades are also heat blocking, which will increase the room's energy efficiency.
Mix and match any of the above options as time and money allows until the office space reaches that perfect quiet. Reducing noise will help stem the tide of distractions and increase worker productivity.