Solve the Mystery of Those Weird Noises Your Home Makes

    lynette/morgueFileCreak ... squeak ... groan ... eek ... sometimes it sounds almost as if your house is alive. But that couldn't be. Or could it? Well, your home is built of materials like concrete, glass, and wood that expand and contract with each little change in the weather. The result is often a virtual symphony of lively hums, whistles, bumps, and bangs. Although they can be disturbing, even kind of frightening, don't lose sleep over these noises. Instead, learn to identify which are harmless and which need your attention ASAP.

    Heating and Cooling

    Grumble. The first time you turn on your home heating system this fall, you can expect to hear it "grumble" a little. Since the heating has been unused all summer, when it's pressed into service again, your ductwork will rub against the frame of your house as the warm air expands it. Nothing to worry about.

    Whistle. Do you have a strange whistling noise down in the basement? Your furnace could be trying to tell you that it has a clogged filter which is blocking the airflow. Change the furnace filter every 1-3 months, or according to the manufacturer's instructions.

    Knock. A baseboard hot water system is not the quietest form of heating. Don't be unnerved by a bit of knocking ... unless that knocking comes from the boiler. Should that happen to be the case, call an HVAC technician posthaste, because your circulator pump might well be on the verge of a breakdown.


    Running water. If it sounds like there's water running even when nobody is using the fixtures or appliances, chances are good that you've got a plumbing leak. How to check? Take a look at your water meter and find out if that is still moving. Alternatively, shut off the water at the main to see whether that stops the noise. A positive result in either case is not good news; it means that a plumbing repair will be necessary.

    Hammering. Your water pipes may tend to hammer like mad when you turn on the faucet or flush the facilities. This might be the result of air pressure, which can be fixed on a DIY basis by draining all the household water lines or installing water hammer arresters on copper pipes. Another area to investigate is whether the pipes are correctly anchored in place so that they do not hammer against the floor joists whenever you turn on the water.


    Grind, squeal, buzz, or rattle. A gentle hum from your refrigerator is normal, even one that gradually gets louder as the appliance ages. OTOH, a sudden increase in the volume or type of noise coming from your fridge can signal trouble. A common cause of grinding and squealing is an obstructed fan -- either the condenser fan (located at the rear of the refrigerator) or the evaporator fan (in the freezer). You can remove the obstruction yourself but be sure to disconnect the power supply first. If this doesn't work, the fan may need to be replaced. Buzzes and rattles are likely an announcement that your compressor is in bad shape.

    Bubble or crackle. You may hear a noisy outburst of bubbling and crackling from your natural gas-fueled water heater at the beginning of every heating cycle. The disturbance comes from mineral sediment and debris that has built up in the tank. Regular draining and flushing will get rid of the gunk and stop the sounds.

    Rattle or bang. A pronounced washing machine rattle while it's in operation might have a very simple source. Small objects like coins or plastic action figures can kick up quite a commotion during the spin or drain cycle. Solution? Have everyone empty all pockets before putting clothes in the laundry hamper. Extremely loud banging when your front-loading washer spins, however, might be an announcement that the shock absorbers need replacement.

    Laura Firszt writes for

    Updated October 29, 2018.

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