How Effective is Polystyrene for Soundproofing?

Soundproofing is the process of reducing or blocking unwanted noise from entering or leaving a space. It can improve the comfort and privacy of your home, office, studio, or any other place where you need to control the sound levels. There are many materials that can be used for soundproofing, such as foam, fiberglass, mineral wool, acoustic panels, etc. But what about polystyrene? Can you use polystyrene for soundproofing? And if so, how effective is it?

What is Polystyrene?

Polystyrene is a type of plastic that is widely used for packaging, insulation, and disposable items. It is lightweight, durable, and cheap to produce. It comes in different forms, such as solid, expanded, or extruded. Solid polystyrene is hard and brittle, while expanded polystyrene (EPS) is made of tiny beads that are fused together to form a foam-like material. Extruded polystyrene (XPS) is similar to EPS, but it has a smoother and denser surface.

Polystyrene as a Soundproofing Material

Polystyrene can be used for soundproofing, but it is not very effective by itself. Polystyrene has a low density and a high porosity, which means that it allows air and sound to pass through easily. It can absorb some high-frequency sounds, but it does not block low-frequency sounds, such as bass, traffic, or machinery noise. Polystyrene also has a low thermal conductivity, which means that it does not retain heat well. This can make your space colder or hotter than you want.

However, polystyrene can be combined with other materials to improve its soundproofing performance. For example, you can use polystyrene between two layers of mass loaded vinyl (MLV), which is a heavy and flexible material that can block sound waves. According to the National Insulation Association, this combination can achieve a sound transmission class (STC) rating of 50 or more, which is considered very good for soundproofing. Another option is to use polystyrene with drywall, plywood, or cement board, which can add mass and rigidity to your walls or ceilings.

Benefits of Using Polystyrene for Soundproofing

Despite its limitations, polystyrene has some advantages that make it a viable option for soundproofing. Some of the benefits of using polystyrene for soundproofing are:

  • Accessible: Polystyrene is widely available and easy to find. You can buy it from hardware stores, online shops, or even recycle it from old packaging materials.
  • Easy to Make: Polystyrene is easy to cut, shape, and glue. You can use a knife, a saw, or a hot wire cutter to create the size and shape you need. You can also use spray adhesive, nails, or screws to attach it to your walls or ceilings.
  • Affordable: Polystyrene is one of the cheapest materials for soundproofing. You can get a sheet of polystyrene for as low as $10, depending on the size and thickness. Compared to other soundproofing materials, such as acoustic foam, fiberglass, or MLV, polystyrene can save you a lot of money.
  • Easy to Work With: Polystyrene is lightweight and flexible, which makes it easy to handle and install. You do not need any special tools or skills to work with polystyrene. You can also remove it easily if you want to change or upgrade your soundproofing.

Challenges of Using Polystyrene for Soundproofing

Polystyrene is a popular and inexpensive material for soundproofing, but it also comes with some challenges that you should be aware of before using it. Here are some of the main challenges and how to overcome them:

Fire Hazards

Polystyrene is highly flammable and can produce toxic fumes when burned. This can pose a serious risk to your safety and health, especially if you use polystyrene in enclosed spaces or near electrical wires. To prevent fire hazards, you should:

  • Use fire-resistant polystyrene that has been treated with flame retardants or coated with fireproof materials.
  • Keep polystyrene away from heat sources, sparks, or open flames.
  • Install smoke detectors and fire extinguishers in your soundproofed area.
  • Follow the local fire codes and regulations for using polystyrene.

Environmental Issues

Polystyrene is a non-biodegradable and non-recyclable material that can contribute to environmental pollution and waste. Polystyrene can also release harmful chemicals into the air or water, affecting the quality of life for humans and animals. To reduce the environmental impact of polystyrene, you should:

  • Use eco-friendly polystyrene that is made from recycled or renewable materials, such as corn starch or wood pulp.
  • Minimize the amount of polystyrene you use and reuse or repurpose it whenever possible.
  • Dispose of polystyrene properly and avoid littering or dumping it in landfills or oceans.
  • Support the initiatives and organizations that aim to reduce the use of polystyrene and promote alternative materials.

Aesthetic Concerns

Polystyrene is not the most attractive material for soundproofing, as it can look cheap, bulky, or out of place in your interior design. Polystyrene can also collect dust, dirt, or stains over time, making it look dirty or unhygienic. To improve the aesthetic appeal of polystyrene, you should:

  • Cover polystyrene with decorative materials, such as fabric, wallpaper, paint, or wood panels.
  • Choose polystyrene that matches the color, style, or theme of your room or furniture.
  • Clean polystyrene regularly and remove any dirt or stains with a damp cloth or mild detergent.

Alternatives to Polystyrene for Soundproofing

Polystyrene is not the only option for soundproofing, as there are many other materials that can offer similar or better results. Here are some of the most common alternatives to polystyrene and how they compare:

Foam

Foam is a soft and flexible material that can absorb and block sound waves effectively. Foam is easy to install and can conform to any shape or size of your space. Foam is also lightweight and durable, making it a convenient and long-lasting choice for soundproofing. However, foam can also have some disadvantages, such as:

  • Foam can be expensive, especially if you need a large amount or a high-quality type of foam.
  • Foam can be flammable and emit toxic gases when burned, posing a fire hazard similar to polystyrene.
  • Foam can be susceptible to moisture and mold, which can affect its performance and hygiene.

Fiberglass

Fiberglass is a synthetic material that consists of fine fibers of glass. Fiberglass can reflect and dissipate sound waves efficiently, reducing the noise level and improving the acoustics of your space. Fiberglass is also resistant to fire, moisture, and mold, making it a safe and durable option for soundproofing. However, fiberglass can also have some drawbacks, such as:

  • Fiberglass can be difficult to install and require professional assistance or special equipment.
  • Fiberglass can be irritating to the skin, eyes, or respiratory system, causing allergies or health problems if not handled properly.
  • Fiberglass can be brittle and break easily, creating sharp edges or fragments that can cause injuries or damage.

Mineral Wool

Mineral wool is a natural material that is made from molten rocks or metals. Mineral wool can absorb and isolate sound waves effectively, creating a quiet and comfortable environment. Mineral wool is also resistant to fire, moisture, and mold, making it a safe and durable option for soundproofing. However, mineral wool can also have some disadvantages, such as:

  • Mineral wool can be expensive, especially if you need a large amount or a high-quality type of mineral wool.
  • Mineral wool can be heavy and bulky, making it hard to transport and install.
  • Mineral wool can be irritating to the skin, eyes, or respiratory system, causing allergies or health problems if not handled properly.

Acoustic Panels

Acoustic panels are specially designed panels that can reduce or eliminate unwanted noise and echo in your space. Acoustic panels can be made from various materials, such as wood, metal, fabric, or foam. Acoustic panels can also come in different shapes, sizes, colors, or patterns, allowing you to customize your soundproofing according to your preferences and needs. However, acoustic panels can also have some disadvantages, such as:

  • Acoustic panels can be expensive, especially if you need a large number or a high-quality type of acoustic panels.
  • Acoustic panels can be hard to install and require professional assistance or special equipment.
  • Acoustic panels can take up a lot of space and affect the functionality or aesthetics of your room.

How to Soundproof with Polystyrene

If you want to use polystyrene for soundproofing, here are some steps you can follow:

  1. Measure the area you want to soundproof and calculate how much polystyrene you need. You can use a tape measure, a ruler, or a calculator to do this. You can also use online calculators or apps to help you with this task.
  2. Choose the type and thickness of polystyrene you want to use. You can use solid, EPS, or XPS polystyrene, depending on your preference and budget. You can also choose the thickness of polystyrene, which can range from 0.5 to 4 inches. The thicker the polystyrene, the better the sound absorption, but also the more expensive and bulky it is.
  3. Cut the polystyrene to fit your walls or ceilings. You can use a knife, a saw, or a hot wire cutter to cut the polystyrene. You can also use a marker or a pencil to mark the lines and curves you want to cut. Be careful not to cut yourself or damage the polystyrene.
  4. Attach the polystyrene to your walls or ceilings. You can use spray adhesive, nails, or screws to secure the polystyrene. You can also use a level or a plumb line to make sure the polystyrene is aligned and straight. You can also use a hammer or a drill to make holes for the nails or screws.
  5. Cover the polystyrene with another layer of material. You can use MLV, drywall, plywood, or cement board to cover the polystyrene. This will add mass and rigidity to your soundproofing and also improve the appearance of your space. You can use the same method of attaching the polystyrene to attach the second layer of material.
  6. Seal the gaps and cracks between the polystyrene and the second layer of material. You can use acoustic caulk, foam tape, or weather stripping to seal the gaps and cracks. This will prevent sound from leaking through the edges and corners of your soundproofing.

Conclusion

Polystyrene is a type of plastic that can be used for soundproofing, but it is not very effective by itself. It can absorb some high-frequency sounds, but it does not block low-frequency sounds. However, polystyrene can be combined with other materials, such as MLV, drywall, plywood, or cement board, to improve its soundproofing performance. Polystyrene also has some benefits, such as being accessible, easy to make, affordable, and easy to work with. If you want to use polystyrene for soundproofing, you can follow the steps above to create your own soundproofing project.

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