How to Soundproof an Apartment with a Piano; Unsolicited Love Advice

My dear readers, I bring you an obscenely late blog post with loads of extremely valuable information. For the apartment-dwelling pianists, I’ve got a how-to-esque guide on how to soundproof a door while only slightly violating your lease terms; for the perpetually lovelorn I have some romantic advice.* For all the rest of you who are curious about what I get up to, well, maybe my blog isn’t the best place to keep up, because I never update. (Ooh! Self-zing! Ouch.)

*If I’ve learned anything in life, it’s that the best love advice comes unsolicited from unconventional sources. For example, my high school pre-calculus teacher once told me that true love is when you fart in front of someone and neither of you are uncomfortable in the slightest, and, well, I suppose that’s true. 

Onward! Ladies (and gentlemen, obviously), when you are on the search for the perfect boyfriend, don’t settle. Don’t just go for the guy who brings you flowers and buys you jewelry. Though yes, my boyfriend does do that. Don’t just go for the guy who surprises you with gifts for no reason or takes you to Disneyland. Though yeah, Bryce does that too.

Don’t stop looking for that one perfect guy until you find someone who cares for you so much that they will 1) have no qualms about moving in with a piano practicing fanatic and 2) will take on a big DIY project to soundproof the apartment—on top of being a full-time accelerated program grad student and having a virtually full-time job, of course, because friends, your perfect guy is an overachiever. (Basically, this whole thing was more Bryce’s undertaking; I mostly stood around and took pictures.)

Also—before you go nuts sticking foam to the walls and getting sound insulation panels that cost more than your rent, 1) do some experimenting to find the weak points where sound escapes most easily, and 2) do your materials research. #1 is especially important—you could get state-of-the-art insulation for your walls and it wouldn’t make a difference if your door let all the sound through.

Because that’s what we found out, through thorough experimentation in which we took turns repeatedly running in and out of the apartment while one of us banged out Chopin on the piano. The walls are actually quite solid and don’t let that much sound go through—it was the door that needed some work. Which was a relief, as we were afraid that we would have to shell out tons of money on covering the entire wall.

So while we researched materials and brainstormed a million crazy ideas, this is what we did:

Yes, we clipped a blanket over the door. No, I don’t think it actually made that much difference.

Based on internet research, some helpful information from the university studio professor, and the few things I remembered from my physics of music class, we came up with a few layman’s-terms basic facts about sound insulation:

1. Air is, funnily enough, extremely sound-insulating; the ideal soundproof setup would be to create a “room within a room,” or to have sandwiches of air between walls. (It’s why double-paned glass, with a pocket of air between the panes, is more than twice more insular than single-paned glass.)
2. The more dense your material, the more soundproof it is. Thick concrete walls are great. Drywall is pretty good.
3. The most effective acoustic insulators are materials that absorb sound and turn it into heat.

Now, there are a lot of acoustically insulating materials on the market. There’s acoustic foam, which according to internet research isn’t all that effective, for the reasons above. I found a lot of rave reviews for Green Glue, which seems super effective but gets pricey for large areas. We found out about mass-loaded vinyl, which seemed promising, and operates on a similar concept to Green Glue.

We (and by we, I mean Bryce) came up with a design that used all three points as effectively as possible within our budget. The concept? A sliding panel that rolls in front of the door, with a frame to create a pocket of air between the door and the panel, using a layer of mass-loaded vinyl, and a panel of drywall.

This plan was particularly genius because a sheet of drywall is only $8 to $9, and we discovered that Home Depot sold a roll of 4’x8′ mass-loaded vinyl for $29.99, which is insanely cheap compared to pretty much everything else we were looking at. We ordered two rolls—one to go in the panel, and one to go between the two rugs under the piano. (We live in a third-floor apartment, so we have to be considerate of the person who lives below us, or something.)

Anyway, enough talking! On to the pictures, which tell the whole story:

The materials, ready to be loaded up into my little car. Bryce had to take the drywall back into the store to be broken up into little pieces because they didn’t fit, even with my back seats folded down.

The wooden frame on load-bearing wheels, lined up against the door.

This is what mass-loaded vinyl looks like. It is one heck of a [WORD THAT SHALL NOT BE PUBLISHED ON THIS BLOG] to work with. The stuff is dense—it’s so heavy that just getting it laid out flat on the floor is a significant endeavor. But it magically absorbs sound, so…worth it?

The frame sitting on top of the vinyl.

Laying out the drywall pieces over the vinyl and the frame.

Drilling them in. Thanks to a number of factors, Bryce had to take all the screws out, adjust things, and screw them back in, at least twice. Splitting a solid sheet of drywall into five pieces, and then trying to put them back together, greatly complicates matters, believe it or not!

There is something quite apocalyptic about having a giant ugly screwed-together panel covering your door. This thing is eight feet tall, so it was quite formidable and eye-torturing in real life. Oh, and I forgot to mention—there’s a metal hook on the inside of the panel, and it keeps the thing on that industrial steel rod that Bryce put together. No, we’re not sure if screwing giant steel elbow-joints into the wall is allowed in our lease, and we don’t care because THAT IS HOW WE ROLL.

 Here’s a pro tip—if you need a sheet of drywall in one piece for your project, save yourself a lot of trouble. Borrow someone’s van or truck and just haul it in as one piece. Not only did breaking it into pieces make construction surprisingly headachey, it also meant we had to buy all sorts of additional supplies to join the pieces back together, and it delayed progress by…a lot. This is what it looked like after the first layer of joint tape and joint compound, and before extensive sanding.

Bryce had the genius idea of turning our giant behemoth of a soundproof sandwich into a functional chalkboard—this meant that we had to prime the thing. The primer we used had crazy fumes, so I tied a T-shirt over my face as a mask. Bryce thought it would be funny to take a picture.

And then…we painted it! With chalkboard paint!

And this is what we ended up with—a lovely, humongous sliding chalkboard that lives a secret double life as a soundproofing panel over our extremely acoustically-leaky door. It’s pretty effective; it doesn’t block 100% of the sound, but when you’re outside, the sound of the piano is very faint (!) and when a car drives by, it drowns out the piano. (!!!)

(We also got cheap weatherstripping foam and sealed in all the space in the doorframe; it made a big difference!)

An added bonus: the neighbors across the hall have an extremely stir-crazy German shepherd that stays in all day and barks manically, non-stop, from early morning until past midnight. I have no idea how that thing is able to sustain such dedicated barking without stopping for oxygen. But when we’re inside the apartment with the panel over the door, we totally can’t tell that the dog exists. It’s magical.

Oh, and we haven’t gotten any complaints about the piano.

MISSION ACCOMPLISHED.

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A story about shoes

I, Sharon, am what is known as a Bad Blogger. I fail to blog frequently not because I have nothing to talk about or no interesting things to report or any deeply original thoughts to share. Over the past several weeks I have thought of about fifteen different things to write about and mustered up the energy to actually write none.

So it’s a little embarrassing when my dear boyfriend, who has taken to blogging with alarming gusto, diligently takes photos, writes blog posts, rattles off a list of upcoming post subjects in conversation, and—get this—has enough posts prepared to set several to auto-publish so that they appear spaced evenly throughout the week. This will not do, boyfriend. I can blog too.

So without further ado—today we went to the Alameda Point Antiques Faire, which occurs only once a month and is big enough to convince you that one could very plausibly repopulate the earth with antique buffs and hipsters. The website boasts that there are 800 sellers at the fair(e), but I’m fairly sure I entered a wormhole into a universe of infinite booths, because I found myself standing in the middle of the grounds and seeing what looked like miles of tents in every direction. We spent more than four hours there and barely saw half of what was there.

For two antique-buying greenhorns, Bryce and I did exceedingly well. I won’t spoil his fun by reporting what he got (as you might expect, he’s got a number of blog posts planned over this) and I’m proud enough of my little haul to spread it out over several posts.

So! If you ever find yourself at one of these antique shindigs, here’s a tip—you will get great deals at the end, when all the sellers are packing up and are tired and want to get rid of their stuff to the point that you could probably buy George Washington’s teeth for two cents. As sellers loaded their costume jewelry and typewriters and mahogany dressers into trailers, we somehow ended up in a little tent full of shoes. It kind of felt like this:

I’d been looking at vintage shoes and struck out all day. Maybe I have stupid taste, but I’m not a fan of the pointy-toed d’Orsay thing that all vintage shoes seem to have. But this tent—it was magical. Shelves of shoes of all different styles, many of designers I’d actually heard of. I made a beeline for one shelf and saw one thing: a pair of gray suede pumps with solid wooden heels. I’ve been wanting a pair of gray suede heels forever.

I couldn’t tell, just looking at them, what size they were supposed to be. My shoe buying experiences are somewhat limited to 1) filtering online selections by size and 2) spotting, in budget-fashion-ish stores (Ross, TJ Maxx, et. al) lonely left shoes plastered with giant “6.5” stickers wedged between a half-empty Burger King cup and a misplaced sneaker.

The tent owner, a kindly gentleman, came over. “They’re organized by size,” he said, gesturing proudly to the shelves.

“Where are the six-and-a-halves?” I asked, hopinghopinghoping and picking up the gray suede pumps. The soles bore Cole Haan’s logo.

“Well, these are the size sixes,” he said—my heart fell a smidge—”but a girl tried that pair earlier and said they ran big”—yes!—”so they’ll probably fit you if you’re a six and a half.” Thank you, fellow tiny-footed girl!

(Just for the record—yes, despite being reasonably tall, I have little feet, and sometimes even 6.5 shoes are too big for me.)

I tore off my sandals and stuck my foot in. The angels sang. I slipped the other shoe on and hopped around on the pavement. The four-inch heels felt like nothing. Guys, this is what happiness feels like.

“Looks great. She could be a foot model,” Shoe Gentleman said to Bryce.

Flattery aside, I knew the pattern. Girl finds shoes, shoes are perfect, shoes are expensive, girl leaves shoes, girl is sad, roll credits. “How much are they?” I asked Shoe Gentleman.

“Well…I was asking $35 for them, but since I’m closing up I’ll sell them for $30.”

“Could I have them for $25?” I asked tremulously. Yes, this is how I haggle. Yes, I am bad at haggling.

I could see Shoe Gentleman’s brain whirring as he quietly weighed the situation. Whir, buzz, clank.

“Yeah,” he said reluctantly. I knew not to push it. If I were my mom, I could probably have bargained my way down to nothing, but hey, I should support the local economy. I kept my face impassive as I dug around for my cash, but inside I looked like this:

Shoes! Shoes! Shoes! I got beautiful shoes! HAPPINESS!

As soon as I returned to the land of internet, I did some frantic Googling and discovered three things:

1. The shoes are Cole Haan “Josephine” pumps in Ironstone,
2. A pair in size 9.5 are going on eBay for $190, and
3. The original retail price, according to Neiman Marcus, is $248.

Boo-yah! I win.

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