How to Soundproof Your Windows Without Actually Renovating

Photo credit: NICHOLAS GLIMENAKIS for Ahmad Abouzanat

I'll just get straight to the point: I live in a New York City rental on a busy street with single-pane windows that don't properly close—it sounds like I'm in the middle of rush hour BQE traffic at all hours—and here's the kicker: My apartment super is, well, super slow-to-respond when I request some help addressing noise-reduction options. As a result, I've just about given up hope on a window replacement. So I've embarked on my own research expedition to figure out the best solutions for noise control in a rental, but the information I discovered would be great for anyone who needs a change but isn't ready for a full-on renovation. Here are some tips for anyone who needs a less permanent but still helpful solution.

First, you may want to check if it's really the windows that are failing to perform properly before you move forward, and then figure out why. "Maybe they leak water, air, or just aren't nearly as insulated as they should be," ponders architect RD Gentzler, the founder of FW Architecture. You can pretty easily tell if there's an air-infiltration issue and whether that's one of the main causes of all the noise coming through because you'll quickly notice a draft in cooler months or see window curtains moving in the breeze. Anywhere there's air getting in, there's outside noise coming in with it. Gentzler also notes that "all single-pane windows should be replaced with double- or triple-pane windows to reduce energy consumption," when possible.

Photo credit: Framework Architecture

But when that's not possible (for instance, if it will cause too much disruption, isn't within your budget, or like me, you just can't get a text back from your super), Gentzler recommends looking for some good window inserts. Though not as permanent a solution as an actual swap and upgrade, they're almost as effective and you'll likely still get your security deposit back if you're putting them up in a rental. Basically, your windows probably just need to be tighter, and window inserts can help close the gaps.

Photo credit: Ngoc Minh Ngo

Gentzler recommends Indow Windows and assures us that they "significantly improve insulation and leakage," as well as noise reduction. It's easy to navigate their site and find the right solution based on your needs, too. You can select between a variety of issues, the most common being drafts and energy savings, noise reduction, and light and UV ray filtering. The company's acrylic glazing material is made of silicone compression tubing that results in a tighter seal, closing the dead air space between the insert and your window.

And you can count on their starter option to reduce about 50 percent (or more) of the outside noise when you secure them to a single-pane window. Another company, City Proof, helps with sealing windows with AC units during the summer months, which is another common issue here in New York City.

Photo credit: Björn Wallander

Of course, while you wait for the right window insert to seal the deal, you can also make some other adjustments in the meantime, and absolutely should if the problem is particularly pressing in your bedroom and your sleep is suffering as a result. Things like roman shades, internal shutters, and curtains with blackout linings as well as wallpaper, rugs, and plenty of soft items around the space (like tapestries) are great because they help absorb more sound (while hard surfaces bounce sounds around and create an echo chamber). There are also some less effective though still helpful self-adhesive strips. A fan and/or white noise machine will add another layer of sound to soothe you to sleep and cover up other distractions.

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