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Readers' Renovation Tips

gmcauley's picture

Share your advice! We're writing an online article outlining the Best Renovation Tips. What's the number one piece of advice you would give renovators, and why? Please let us know which city you're in so we can include that, too! (Spam and marketing tips will be deleted.)

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lmurphy's picture

Thanks again for your advice, Nestor and Mrs. Peacock! Did you see the article, here:

Nestor_Kelebay's picture

Here's another renovation tip:
If you're renovating a room like a bedroom, children's room or media room where you want to keep external noise OUT of the room and internal noise from getting out of the room, then you need to use the basic principles of accoustics to accomplish that.
Sound is a wave, and it obeys all the same laws of physics that other waves do; it propogates through a medium and reflects off of solid boundaries.
When you have a source of noise on one side of a wall, an observer on the other side of the wall will hear that noise to a greater or lesser extent, depending entirely on the properties of the wall.  What actually happens when a sound wave hits a wall, floor or ceiling is that the wall, floor or ceiling moves in response to the changing air pressure (which IS the sound wave), and in so moving, recreates the sound wave on the other side of the wall.  It is this recreated sound wave that the observer hears, not the original.
This basic method by which sound propogates through walls, floors doors, windows and ceilings is the basis of something called "The Mass Law" of accoustics.  Simply put, the Mass Law states that for every doubling of either:
a) the mass per unit area of the wall, or
b) the frequency of the sound wave hitting it, then
The amplitude of the recreated wave on the opposite side of the wall is reduced by 6 decibels, or reduced to 25 percent of the former sound pressure level.  That sounds like a lot, but because our hearing isn't linear, and we hear quiet sounds much better than loud sounds, a reduction of 75% in the sound pressure level only seems like a small reduction in the apparant noise level.
The Mass Law can be understood intuitively if one considers that it's the movement of the wall that creates the sound wave the observer hears:
a) So, for example,  just like it's harder to push a big heavy car than a small light one, if you double the mass per square foot of the wall, then the wall simply doesn't move as far when the change in air pressure pushes or pulls on it.  The result is that the amplitude (or change in pressure) of the reproduced sound wave is smaller, and that means the observer on the other side of the wall hears a "quieter" reproduced sound wave.
b) And, if you double the frequency of the sound wave hitting the wall, the inertia of the wall makes it harder for the wall to change it's direction of motion fast enough to keep up with the sound waves hitting it.  As the sound frequency increases, the wall's own inertia prevents it from responding to the sound waves hitting it, the wall simply stops moving in response to higher frequency sound waves.  The result is that the observer hears a quieter and quieter noise as the frequency of the sound increases.
The Mass Law fully explains why, when someone in your University Dorm or apartment block was having a party at 2:30 in the morning, all you could hear was BOOM-BOOM-BOOM.  What was happening was the mass and inertia of the walls, floors and ceilings of the building were filtering out all the high and midrange sound and the walls were only able to respond  to the lowest frequencies.  That's why you heard only low frequencies coming from a party... until you got close enough to the door and heard the higher frequency sounds coming through the relatively light weight door.
So, how to use the Mass Law to reduce noise levels in your own home?
The most obvious thing is to use mass to your advantage.  If you're wanting to keep out traffic noise from outside, don't add another layer of glass to your windows, add heavy shutters on the outside and heavy draperies on the inside.  The heavier the shutters and the heavier the draperies, the less they will respond (and move) in response to sound.  And that means the sound waves they reproduce will be quieter and lower in frequency.
If you want to keep noise in and/or out of a bedroom, then set the electrical boxes for switches and power receptacles 1 full inch in front of the studs rather than just 1/2 inch, and put up TWO layers of 1/2 inch drywall on the studs instead of just one, thereby increasing the mass per square foot of the wall.  People wanting to build home studios will go one step further and spread a kind of gunk called "Green Glue" on the bottom layer of drywall before pressing the top layer of drywall into it and screwing it down.  This Green Glue remains a very viscous liquid that dampens the movement of the drywall in response to sound.  Movement of the double layer of drywall causes movement of the very viscous green glue between the layers of drywall, and that absorbs energy, thereby stifling the movement of the assembly.
If possible, build with heavier materials.   Use cement backer boards meant for ceramic tiling (like HardiBacker Board) instead of drywall.  If your existing walls are plaster (which is much heavier than drywall), try to preserve the plaster walls rather than tear down the plaster only to put up drywall.  And, where possible avoid the use of relatively light weight metal studs and thin (3/8 inch thick) drywall.  It's the use of these light weight materials that's the cause of noise complaints in apartment blocks, condominiums and hotels.
And, of course, using heavier building materials won't make much difference if you leave the door to the media room open when watching Independance Day while everyone else is trying to sleep.  So, keep doors tight fitting with minimal gaps between the floor and the bottom of the door.  And, where possible, use solid core wood doors instead of hollow core wood doors.

Nestor_Kelebay's picture

Here's my renovation tip:
If your plans to renovate include buying carpet, then spend the few extra dollars to get "100% Solution Dyed NYLON" carpet.  That means that all of the fiber in the pile is solution dyed nylon, and that there are no other kinds of fiber in the carpet pile.
There are three synthetic fibers (and one natural fiber, wool) that  all of the carpet sold in North America is made of; nylon, polyester and Olefin.  (Wool carpets are comparitively rare because of their relatively high price.)  Both nylon and polyester can be dyed by conventional methods, and accept the dye very well.  Olefin fiber cannot be dyed by conventional dying methods, and must be "solution dyed" to give it colour.  Solution dying simply means that tiny coloured particles (called "pigments") are added to the plastic as it's being drawn into a fiber.  The result is that the colour of Olefin carpet fiber comes from the pigments that are suspended inside the fiber very much like raisins inside raisin bread.  Until recently, only Olefin carpet fiber was "dyed" this way.
DuPont has spent a king's ransom trying to make their Antron nylon carpet fiber more stain resistant, and that's why DuPont's StainMaster nylon carpets are so expensive.  Quite frankly, a smarter way to make nylon carpets more stain resistant is to make them out of solution dyed nylon fiber.  Many companies (like Shaw) that make carpeting are now using solution dyed nylon fiber (produced by companies other than DuPont) to do just that.  Gazillions of microscopically small pigments are added to the nylon plastic as it's being drawn into a fiber to give it colour, and then that solution dyed nylon fiber is conventionally dyed with a clear and colourless dye to make it more stain resistant.  That's because those clear and colourless dye molecules attach themselves to the same sites on the nylon fiber where either conventional dyes or water based stains otherwise would, thereby occupying those sites and preventing the stain molecules from attaching themselves to the fiber at those same sites.  By preventing stain molecules from attaching themselves to the nylon fiber, the clear colourless dye renders the fiber more stain resistant.
By having the pigments which give the carpet fiber colour encased right inside the nylon fiber, you can use bleach right out of the jug to remove stains from the carpet, without affecting the colour of the carpet itself.  The bleach will break up the staining molecules which attach themselves to the OUTSIDE of the nylon fiber, but won't affect the colour of the pigments inside the fiber because of the thin film of impermeable nylon plastic between the bleach and the pigment.  The bleach simply doesn't come into contact with the coloured pigments encased within the nylon fiber.
However, the bleach will attack the clear colourless dye on the outside of the carpet fiber, rendering the carpet in the area exposed to bleach more susceptible to water based stains in the future.  But, despite that, bleach can still be used repeatedly to remove any subsequent stains on that same place on the carpet without affecting the colour of the carpet.  That is, by using bleach you remove the stain resistance of the area of carpet exposed to bleach, but you can still continue to use bleach in those same areas to remove stains.  So, those areas exposed to bleach on a solution dyed nylon carpet will become more susceptible to water based stains, but bleach will remain equally effective at removing stains from those same areas.
Nylon is the strongest fiber used for making carpets, and so nylon fiber makes for the longest wearing carpet.  Over 80% of the commercial carpet made in North America is made of nylon fiber.  You would loose little and gain much by asking the carpet store for their "floor mat" size sample of the solution dyed nylon carpet you're interested in buying to see how well it "matches your furniture" and how it "looks under your own home's lighting conditions".  When you get it home, dip one small corner of that sample in bleach straight out of the jug.  Squeeze the wet corner to work the bleach in.  If the carpet colour is unaffected by the bleach, then you know that you can use bleach to remove otherwise impossible stains from the carpet without harming the carpet.
The most effective way to actually do that would be spray bleach on the stain using a spray bottle, work the bleach into the pile with your fingers and allow a minute or two for the bleach to remove the stain.  Then, apply the suction hose of a wet/dry "Shop" style vaccuum cleaner directly to the carpet pile to vaccuum the bleach out of the carpet.  (Remember to remove the pleated paper filter from the vaccuum cleaner before using it to vaccuum up liquids.)  Then spray clean rinse water onto the same spot, work it in to the pile with your fingers, and vaccuum out the soiled rinse water.  Holding the vaccuum hose directly against the carpet pile will cause air flow through the pile which will remove most of the liquid in the pile.  Repeat the clean water rinse as many times as desired.
I own a small apartment block in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and I won't install anything but Olefin or solution dyed nylon carpets in my apartments so that I can remove anything my tenants leave behind on my carpets.  While Olefin carpets are also solution dyed, and cost much less than solution dyed nylon carpets do, Olefin fiber simply isn't as strong and Olefin carpets simply don't stand up as well or last as long as nylon carpets do.  A solution dyed nylon carpet combines the durability of nylon with the option of using bleach to remove ANY stain from the carpet yourself.

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