Sound control is so important in building codes today that it is secondary only to mold as a consideration among tenants. The amount of sound a floor permits to travel through it must be regulated, and to do that a quality sound control product must be specified and installed.

“A building that has been equipped with sound-reducing technologies gives tenants peace of mind, knowing that they can feel free to enjoy their spaces without noise intrusions from all around them,” said Dan Gibson, national sales manager, Keene Building Products. 

An important distinction to note is that sound control is about working to limit the amount of noise to an acceptable level rather than soundproofing, which is working to eliminate the noise entirely. A general rule of thumb is that when choosing a floor covering to reduce noise, carpet is king. According to the manufacturers we spoke to, the softer the product the better the noise control, and carpet is able to absorb sound and limit the amount of vibrations an impact can cause. Of course, many people these days are opting for hard surface options, which is where sound control products come in.

When it comes to sound and noise reduction, first it is important to understand the two types that are rated. Impact noise, such as the sound of footfalls or objects falling against the floor, is rated in terms of its Impact Insulation Class (IIC), and that is the important rating for sound-deadening products under flooring. Airborne noise, which comprises the vibrations passing through walls and between rooms from things like radios or loud conversations, is rated under its Sound Transmission Class (STC). The highest allowable ratings for each of these two noise types will depend on the local building code and its primary use (residential vs. commercial).

While IIC is the important rating, some manufacturers claim their products can help with both noise types. According to Bill Devin, Sound Seal national sales and technical manager, his company’s Regupol ProBase recycled rubber product can help soften impact as well as airborne noise “due to its weight and mass.” (The product is available in thicknesses from two to 20 millimeters.)

Selecting the right product. The simpler the process in installing the product, the better for the installer and the end-user. According to Gibson, “Ideally, you want to select a product that has nothing fastening it down to the substrate or the product. The idea is that vibrations travel through connections; if you limit the amount of connection, the better the product will perform.”

Added Tom Wanders, director, sales & marketing for Homasote, “Ultimately you need something that will work for a long period of time. Ease of installation is important. Builders move fast so products that require exactness won’t usually work.”

When comparing IIC ratings of different products, Wanders offers these words of advice: “Walls and floors are tested as an assembly –all the products together, not individually. So demand to see the test conducted by an independent testing facility. Don’t settle for ‘estimated’ figures.” Doing this allows installers and contractors to determine the accuracy of the testing and whether or not the product is going to be a fit. Also be sure the product you choose can be installed under the flooring material. Some, like Homasote’s 440 SoundBarrier, can be installed with floors, walls and ceilings.

Providing the right type product for each flooring option will help to keep the sound under control. “Each type of construction is going to react differently to noise. Knowing that a product will perform in your type of construction is key,” said Gibson.

Since different types of flooring express different characteristics and require different installation methods, not every noise-control matting or underlayment can be used under every type of flooring. Some, like Keene’s Quiet Qurl line, can be installed under hardwood, engineered, laminates, vinyl and tile, according to the company. However, as with everything involved with installation, make sure to scrutinize the label carefully and follow all manufacturers’ instructions.