From Horse Barn to Wellness Center, Part 9: Considerations for Sound-Proofing Materials

Reader Contribution by Adam D. Bearup and Hybrid Homes
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Photos by Adam D. Bearup

Following the journey to remodel a horse barn into a commercial wellness center on a Midwestern property zoned for agriculture. This multi-part series recounts the considerations, pitfalls and ultimate successes of a green-building project with an ambitious scope to bring a defunct farm building new life as a natural health destination.

The Township meeting to change the zoning for ground-mounted solar arrays was a few months away (see the previous installment for how we overcame solar power barriers). Our focus switched back to the physical work needed to change the horse barn into a wellness center.

Our plan was to re-side the entire structure after we finished framing the additions onto the barn. The structural engineer required us to remove the existing pole barn’s steel siding and nail up ½-inch-thick oriented standard board (OSB) sheathing in its place. We added the sheathing to strengthen the exterior wall framing of the barn, because according to the engineer, the metal pole barn siding screwed to purlins did not provide the required strength for a commercial building.

We feared taking all of the steel off at once and having the barn basically shift to one side and collapse. To avoid this, we removed only a few pieces of the existing steel siding at a time and added the wall sheathing to make sure that the existing structure would not collapse. We continued this process of removing only enough of the existing steel siding to get up our next pieces of wall sheathing installed until all sides of the barn, including the walls that would now become interior walls, were re-sided. The wall sheathing on the existing barn walls continued over onto the new addition walls. Finally, we installed house wrap and taped all of the seams.

Sound-Proofing the Wellness Center

One of the most important features the owners requested was sound-proofing. When I drew the wellness center plans, I drew every interior wall as 2-by-6-foot. The exterior walls were 2-by-6-foot with spray foam and when all of the walls were tipped up and nailed together, we might hear, “Those walls are overkill, don’t you think?”

My reasoning for the 2-by-6-foot interior walls was so that we could have thicker insulation to help deaden the sound. A technique that we could have used was a staggered stud design. To do that, we would have used 2-by-8-foot top and bottom plates and staggered 2-by-4-foot studs so that none of them touched. We couldn’t build a staggered wall, because we didn’t have the room. The interior rooms were sized the way that they were to hold specific pieces of equipment.

I started to research what options were available for sound-proofing a room. I learned that there are different kinds of sounds and each one of those sounds travel through the air and building materials differently. The information was intriguing, and I wanted to know if there was a huge difference in performance between the expensive materials and the more reasonably priced materials. After I learned the basics of sound proofing, more commonly known as sound transmission, I contacted one of the best resources that I have: our lumber company representative, Mark.

In this era of lumber companies getting bought up by large companies and contact with the sales force increasingly automated, Mark stands out. He takes a very hands-on approach and lets his select number of builders have access to him at any moment of the working day. Mark and I talk several times per day about everything from specific materials to daily conditions at a job site.

I asked Mark if he knew anything about sound-proofing walls and he recommended I call an insulating company that he knows of. I immediately called the insulating company to pick their brains about limiting sound transmission, or as the guy on the phone replies, “You mean sound proofing?” I had tried so hard not to come across as a person new to sound-proofing and he caught me right off the bat.

We had a nice conversation about what works and doesn’t work with regards to using insulation for limiting sound transmission through walls. The insulating representative told me several options and made sure to mention multiple times that insulation doesn’t play as big a role as many people think when it comes to limiting sound transfer through a wall. I was impressed at his knowledge and ask him if we should still insulate the interior walls. He said that we should definitely insulate the interior walls and to use normal fiberglass insulation with 5/8-inch-thick drywall over that insulation.

Drywall for Sound Proofing

My next call was to our drywaller. After I told him what our schedule was and got into his calendar book, I asked him about sound-proofing rooms. He replied, “You mean limiting sound transfer?” I just can’t win in conversation with these different subcontractors sometimes no matter how hard I try.

We had a lengthy conversation about what he has seen used in health buildings, apartments and hotels with regards to limiting the transfer of sound through walls. He would check with his supplier about sound board drywall and see if the price was worth it for the performance. The supplier said to use normal 5/8-inch-thick drywall on the interior walls, because the sound board was twice the price and didn’t supply much more sound-limiting properties than the conventional drywall. He said to use the 5/8-inch-thick drywall on both sides of the interior walls with fiberglass insulation and that is a great way to limit the transfer of sound through the walls.

Limiting the transfer of sound is really the proper way to say what we were trying to do in the wellness center. Sound-proofing implies that not one sound can be heard anywhere, and that is not what we were going for. There is a difference between the sound of someone’s voice in conversation and the sound that a machine makes. With the machine sound, there is also vibration that transfers through framing members and anything attached to those framing members. The same holds true for footsteps from people on floors above the floors that we were trying to limit the sound in.

Pouring concrete pad

Considerations for Drop Ceilings

The upper floor of the wellness center was, in part, a hay loft. When people walk around upstairs, we can hear them if we are standing on the main floor. The more we insulated each room, the more that the sound of footsteps amplified. We were leaning heavily toward using a drop ceiling system in order to lessen the sound of footsteps on the upper floor. I didn’t know much about drop ceilings, looked for a mention of limiting sound transfer from above as part of my research.

I called Mark from the lumber company up looking for an idea of price. Were drop ceiling panels that helped block sound from above expensive and was the performance good enough to justify us using them? We made a shortlist of materials in order to narrow the selections down. Our list included desires such as color, sound-limiting ability, paint-ability, environmentally and inhabitant friendly materials, and decorative features. The owners were not that happy to have a drop ceiling but understood the importance for access to everything that was run in that space including network wiring, electrical and mechanical system components.

Mark mentioned that he was going to contact the drop ceiling representative so that they could help us understand what product would be a best fit for the wellness center. I reminded Mark that my goal was to learn price first and that I didn’t want anyone spending a bunch of time on this until we knew price. I was excited to learn more about drop ceiling panels. (It doesn’t take much to get me excited — I love this business when I get to learn about new things.)

I went back to work and kept my phone near me in case the drop ceiling representative called.

Follow the full series as the saga of the horse barn to wellness center transformation unfolds.

Adam D. Bearup is a designer, green builder and farmer, who learned about biodynamic and regenerative farming for a project he built in Northern Michigan, The Earth Shelter Project MichiganAdam has degrees in marketing and management and a Masters of Science in Green Building. Read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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