Is your next-door neighbor learning to play electric guitar? Maybe there’s a busy intersection right outside your bedroom window? As more of us flock to urban areas, sound complaints are bound to increase, too. In fact, the EPA officially classifies noise as a form of pollution, as problems with excess noise can cause stress and lost sleep. And in more severe cases, it can even contribute to hypertension, hearing loss, and other maladies.
But the good news is, you don’t have to just put up with outside noise. Window manufacturers have gotten word of customers’ noise issues and now offer many products with acoustic features. In fact, lots of windows offer soundproofing qualities—but not all of them are worth the additional cost. Let’s take a look at some of the basics of window soundproofing, and find out which windows and features work the hardest to block out that noisy neighbor of yours.
What Are STC Ratings and How Do They Affect Windows?
How successfully an object blocks noise can actually be measured using what’s known as the sound transmission class (STC) scale. Taking their queue from the acoustics industry, many window manufacturers have adopted the STC scale as a way to indicate the soundproofing qualities of their products.
To be considered “soundproof,” a window should block somewhere around 90 to 95 percent of outside noise. Typically, that rates them around a 45 or 50 on the STC scale. By comparison, your average single-pane window has an STC of around 27, while a double pane window rates around 28.
However, windows that are classified as soundproof usually come with a price to match. You can often get quality sound reduction, though, just by understanding different window features and what makes one window better at blocking sound than another.
A couple of factors can affect a window’s sound transmission, namely the thickness of the glass and the amount of space between the window panes (for double and triple pane window glass.) Laminated windows also have additional soundproofing qualities that can further reduce excess noise.
What Are Laminated Windows and How Do They Block Noise?
Most experts agree that if you want superior soundproofing in your windows, you should go with laminated glass. Laminated windows have a transparent layer of plastic sandwiched between two outer layers of glass panes. This plastic insert works to deaden noise and vibrations that are more easily transmitted through glass.
However, laminated glass is typically considered a high-end window feature, so adding it can bump up the cost of a window replacement project. In fact, luxury laminated windows sometimes cost upwards of $9,000. For a laminated insert on a standard double pane window, you can expect to spend around $950. For that price, in addition to high-quality soundproofing, you’ll also get safety features, since laminated glass is typically much more difficult to shatter than standard glazing.
Does Triple Pane Glass Reduce Noise, Too?
As mentioned previously, the amount of space between the panes of glass works to block excess noise. Knowing that, it would be easy to conclude that triple pane windows offer better sound protection than their double pane counterparts—and cost much less than laminated windows.
Not all experts see it this way, though. Some professional window dealers believe that triple pane windows do very little to improve the acoustic quality of a space. However, there are still others who think the low STC numbers for triple pane windows are misleading. According to these pros, most homeowners see significant noise reduction when they choose to install triple pane glass. Unless you live in an exceptionally noisy area (think next to the train tracks or across from an airport), triple pane windows get you most of the soundproofing benefits of laminated glass for a much lower price.
What Are Some Other Options to Reduce Outside Noise?
Soundproof glass won’t do you much good if your windows have gaps or cracks between the seals. An airtight install, complete with adequate weatherstripping, creates a barrier to keep out unwanted noise. Additionally, insulated vinyl frames, which are filled with foam, also block outside sound and help soundproof your window frames.
Also look for windows that have a nonmetal window spacer system. What does that mean? The window space is the piece that keeps the two panes separated. In a nonmetal spacer system, this part is composed of silicone rubber covered with sealant. That means it has better insulating properties than its metal counterparts.
Essentially, anything you can do to better seal and insulate your home also improves its sound performance. So as a bonus, when you soundproof your home, you’ll also get better overall energy efficiency and lower utility bills as well. Now that’s definitely a reason to make some noise!