Here are steps you can take to reduce noise inside your apartment. Remember: always consult your landlord and lease terms before making physical changes to your apartment.
Windows transmit a lot of sound and should be your first line of defense. First, investigate the seal around the window itself. An inexpensive, easy-stick weatherizing strip can seal noise leaks. In addition, it can be easily removed without damaging a window. Next, install a clear window film. A good window film will not obstruct your view but will provide a sound-wave buffer. Several window films on the market are easily installed or removed with soapy water. One brand, Energy-Film, insulates from heat loss in the winter and solar gain in the summer.
Finally, invest in heavy curtains made up of multiple layers. For example, you might select a lighter curtain to give privacy but allow light inside. Then, add heavier curtains on top. Look for dense, heavy fabrics with a lot of textured surface area. Some curtains and blinds are marketed as noise reducing; these may be helpful. If you are crafty or frugal you can sew an extra layer of dense fabric on the back of any regular curtain.
Weatherizing strips, window film, and curtains also have the added bonus of blocking drafts and potentially reducing your heating and cooling costs, too.
Unfortunately, you cannot correct poor construction, insufficient insulation, or impolite neighbors. Yet, there are still strategies you can employ to reduce noise coming in from the walls. The most immediate is to hang tapestry, quilts, or other textured cloth on the offending wall. (Note: be aware that sunlight can severely damage these collectibles; be sure to place them carefully). You can also rearrange furniture. For example, you could place a filled bookshelf in front of the noisy wall. Depending on severity and aesthetic concerns, you can purchase and neatly conceal thin acoustic foam or foam board behind furniture.
Acoustic panels can be pricey, and, may work better at muffling your noise, not preventing incoming noise.
A fun project is to create some "sound-buffing artwork." Buy a pre-stretched canvas frame with a depth of several inches at an arts supply shop. Buy some egg-crate shaped foam online or from an electronics store. Glue acoustic foam into the back and decorate the front as you like. Not an artist? No problem. Wrap the canvas in a decorative fabric of your choosing. Group several of these "sound-buffing works of art" together on your wall and you've got custom artwork that works to muffle noise. Cool!
Like walls, floors should be covered. Area rugs are a popular choice. Rugs absorb some of the noise you make as well as provide another sound cushion between you and your neighbors. Home stores also sell padding for rugs. This too will reduce sound vibration. Another good choice are mats made of cork or other cushy material.
One way to get around a noise problem is to make your own noise. The gentle whirl of a fan can help obstruct noise. So can a "white-noise generator," a device typically marketed as a sleep aid. Caveat? Some claim that you can get so accustomed to your white noise generator that you'll have difficulty living without it!
If you are fortunate enough to have green space you can block noise by carefully arranging tall potted plants. The plants themselves will not reduce noise, but, the perception of noise also depends on if you can see the noise source. Visually blocking the source of noise is a psychological trick, but, a helpful one in the pursuit of calm and quiet. An added benefit of plants are their beauty and ability to improve air quality.
We live in a noisy world, so, do what you can to keep the noise distractions at bay. Good luck! And let us know what tricks worked for you.
Katie McCaskey experienced apartment living in three major cities - Sydney, Los Angeles, and New York City - and can assure you: a quiet apartment is a well-loved apartment.