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I recently moved to a new apartment on a street that serves as an artery for commercial trucking in my area of Brooklyn. I’m particularly sensitive to noise pollution, and this permanent cacophony isn’t just caused by the rumble of big rigs: Every facet of urban life seems to seep its way into my bedroom. It’s as if my neighbors, the garbage trucks, the man blasting techno from his Hyundai, and the construction crews are all conspiring to sap the tranquility out of my daily life.
Luckily, my landlord has promised new, soundproof windows to allay the constant din. But if you don’t have that kind of one-shot solution at your disposal, there are ways to soundproof your windows to absorb some of the excess street noise. Here’s some things to know about making that happen.
Those familiar with home improvement already know this, but here’s a pearl of wisdom for DIY neophytes: If it’s particularly loud in your home, your windows might be trash. Cheaper windows with just one pane of glass are less likely to block as much noise as double pane windows. Plus, double pane windows are typically insulated further with argon gas injected between each pane. The chemical is used for thermal insulation, allowing the temperature of the glass to be more on par with the temperature of a room. This dual temperature regulation and noise cancellation is undeniably what you want in a window.
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There’s a similar difference between laminated glass and tempered glass, as the soundproofing gurus at Soundproof Cow explain:
Manufacturers engineer laminated glass especially with soundproofing qualities in mind. If you find your home or business suffering from unwanted vibrations and sounds that enter through your windows, laminated glass will provide you with the sound deadening properties you need. This is because laminated glass consists of an extra protective layer of plastic that provides an additional barrier between the two external glass sheets.
Tempered glass, on the other hand, does not offer quite as much soundproofing control. This form of glass is crafted with durability in mind, as the strong and sturdy external layers provide a resilient glass that can withstand use and force with robust strength. However, tempered glass does not offer superior sound reduction performance.
If you’re looking for the closest thing to a silver bullet, soundproof windows are the ticket. Most soundproof windows claim to cancel between 90-95% of street noise, which is ostensibly enough to satisfy even the most irritable among us.
There’s an economic hurdle, though, as most soundproof windows are going to crest upwards of $1,000 and above to purchase and install. Any window installation is going to vary according to the size and particulars of your living space, but this guide from HouseLogic can help you glean a sense of whether a full-on soundproof window will work for you.
Perhaps the next best item that you can purchase without much legwork are noise-reducing curtains. You don’t need an advanced understanding of physics to know that the greater density of a material probably means that it’s better at absorbing sound. Unlike soundproof windows, though, noise-reducing curtains aren’t going to cost you a four-figure outlay. There’s tons of options on the market, too, so it won’t be hard to find a set that you think might work.
Another option is placing a window inset in front of your more porous windows. These are custom-made glass panels that simply slot right over your existing window frame, used to control temperature and regulate noise. They’re proven to work, though not quite as effectively as an outright noise-cancelling window, and there are companies catering to the cause.
It’s possible that your windows aren’t completely flush with the window frame, allowing gaps between pieces of glass to let in excess noise. My current windows aren’t properly caulked, for example. Short of actually using caulk—the adhesive material used to seal gaps in a structure—to plug the gaps, you can try stuffing pieces of foam in any of the crevasses you suspect of leaking noise.
It’s not exactly an aesthetic asset, but there’s a reason foam is one of the most commonly used tools in soundproofing recording studios: It’s very absorbent.
Windows don’t have to be the sole focus of your quest to deaden the noise. Bookshelves, couches, carpets, and kitchen tables all do their part in limiting a deafening racket from pinging across your living room.
Godspeed, and perhaps invest in earplugs or a white noise machine for when you sleep. If needed, look to our other coverage on transforming your bedroom into a perfectly quiet sleep chamber.
This article was originally published in November 2020, and was updated on April 5, 2021 to reflect Lifehacker’s current style guidelines.