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  • Writer's pictureMatt Weber

14 Spooky House-Settling Noises Homeowners Should Know

(guest post by Courtney Klosterman)

Houses can make many noises, and knowing how to identify them is important for any homeowner. Sounds can indicate that there’s an issue with the health of your house and can range from benign noises to potential issues that require immediate attention.

Here are 14 house-settling noises homeowners should know, their possible meanings, and the steps homeowners should take to address them effectively.

1. Creaking floors or stairs

Creaking floors and stairs are common occurrences in many homes. These noises can result from the natural expansion and contraction of wooden materials due to temperature and humidity changes as well as the shifting of the house's foundation over time.

Level of urgency: Low

Actions to take:

● Step 1: Check for signs of pest infestation and damage or shifting in support beams.

● Step 2: Apply appropriate lubricants to wooden joints to minimize friction and noise.

● Step 2: Tighten any loose screws or nails contributing to the noise.

● Step 3: Muffle creaky sounds with rugs or carpets.

When to seek professional help:

● Persistent noise: If creaking persists despite your attempts to address it.

● Visible structural Issues: Any visible damage to your floors or stairs, or if you notice any structural instability.

● Safety concerns: Creaking could indicate other safety concerns, such as wobbling stairs or sinking floors.

2. Popping or cracking noises

Popping or cracking sounds can arise from the expansion and contraction of building materials due to temperature changes. While these noises are generally harmless, homeowners should be proactive about ruling out any potential structural issues.

Popping and cracking sounds are often more noticeable during temperature fluctuations, such as the transition from fall to winter. Building materials can emit sounds when expanding and contracting occurs depending on the makeup and age of the home. Common areas where these sounds are emitted include basements, attics, or the first floor.

Level of urgency: Low

Actions to take:

While most instances of popping and cracking require no immediate action, here are a few steps to ensure your peace of mind.

● Step 1: Inspect your home for any visible signs of damage. Document any new cracks, shifts, or irregularities related to the noises.

● Step 2: Keeping your home at a relatively stable temperature can help minimize the frequency of these noises.

When to seek professional help:

● Frequency and intensity: If the noises occur frequently and are uncomfortably loud.

● Associated with other signs: If popping or cracking is accompanied by visible damage, such as cracks in walls or ceilings, indicating underlying structural issues.

● New developments: If you suddenly start hearing these sounds, consider checking for any changes in your home's environment or foundation.

3. Hissing or running water sounds

Hissing or running water sounds can indicate leaks or plumbing issues within walls or floors. Water damage can quickly become costly if not acted on quickly. If the noises are occasional and not accompanied by other problems, there might not be an immediate need to worry. However, there are signs to look for where professional help becomes necessary.

Level of urgency: Moderate

Actions to take:

● Step 1: Watch for any unusual increases in water usage either on your water utility bill or water meter that could indicate a problem.

● Step 2: Inspect exposed pipes, joints, and fixtures for signs of moisture or corrosion.

● Step 3: If there are any spikes in water usage or signs of pipe corrosion, contact a plumber.

When to seek professional help:

● If you suspect leaks within your walls or floors that you can't access or fix yourself. Look for signs of water stains or discoloration on walls, ceilings, or floors. Moisture from leaks can also cause peeling paint or wallpaper. If you smell a musty odor, it may come from mold and mildew that arose from a hidden leak.

● Complex repairs: If the sound’s source requires intricate plumbing work that requires specialized tools and knowledge.

● Persistent problems: If the noises persist despite your attempts to resolve them, seek a professional assessment.

4. Loud banging or clanking noises

Loud banging or clanking sounds are alarming and can indicate problems with your HVAC systems or pipes. These sounds should not be ignored, but there are situations where banging noises are normal.

For example, people in apartment buildings can hear loud banging noises when water hammer occurs. This scenario can happen in shared plumbing systems between units when there is a sudden and abrupt stop or change in the flow of water, which results in loud banging or thumping noises in pipes. If you need to call a professional, contact HVAC technicians or plumbers who specialize in diagnosing and repairing complex system issues.

Level of urgency: High

Actions to take:

● Step 1: If the noises are coming from your HVAC system or pipes, turn off the HVAC system or water supply to prevent worsening the problem.

● Step 2: Objects near your HVAC system or pipes can rattle and create noises. Ensure that everything is secure and not causing disturbance.

● Step 3: If the noises are related to plumbing, check for exposed pipes that might knock against surfaces due to water pressure changes.

When to Seek Professional Help:

● Loud banging and clanking noises persist after turning off the system and attempting basic troubleshooting. Many manufacturers provide specific instructions on how to address common issues or noises related to their appliances. These guidelines offer step-by-step solutions to resolve problems before seeking professional help.

5. Gurgling or cracking noises

Gurgling or cracking sounds can come from the plumbing system and indicate water flow or air issues in the pipes. Catching plumbing issues quickly can be tough since pipes are typically hidden behind walls. However, it’s important to take action quickly as these sounds could lead to water damage if left unaddressed.

Level of urgency: Moderate

Actions to take:

● Step 1: Identify the source. Pay close attention to the areas where the noises are most noticeable. Determine which fixtures, drains, or pipes are producing the sounds.

● Step 2: Check for blockages. Inspect sinks, toilets, and drains for clogs or blockages. Sometimes, gurgling noises can indicate slow drainage due to debris buildup.

● Step 3: Look for water backflow. If you notice water backing up or draining slowly in sinks, showers, or toilets, you may have a plumbing issue.

When to seek professional help:

● When gurgling noises persist despite your efforts to unclog drains and improve ventilation.

● If the gurgling or cracking noises suddenly become louder or more frequent.

● When the noises are not limited to a single fixture or area but affect multiple fixtures, drains, or pipes throughout your home.

6. Whistling noises near windows and doors

Whistling noises around windows and doors can come from drafts or gaps in the ceiling. These disruptive sounds impact comfort and air conditioning and heating efficiency which can lead to increases in utility bill costs.

Level of urgency: Low

Actions to take:

● Step 1: Conduct a visual inspection of windows and doors, paying close attention to the frames, sashes, and weatherstripping. Look for any visible gaps or areas where the sealing might be compromised.

● Step 2: Check the condition of the weatherstripping around windows and doors. Worn-out or damaged weatherstripping can allow air to enter, causing whistling sounds.

● Step 3: Use appropriate sealing materials such as weatherstripping, caulk, or door sweeps to seal gaps and prevent drafts. Focus on areas where air infiltration is likely to occur.

When to seek professional help:

● Despite your efforts, whistling noises persist and affect your comfort.

● Visible gaps and sealing issues have been addressed, but the noises continue.

● You suspect hidden gaps or structural issues contributing to the noises.

7. High-pitched ringing or buzzing

High-pitched ringing or buzzing sounds can indicate electrical issues such as loose wiring or a malfunctioning electrical component. These noises can lead to safety hazards if left unaddressed, increasing the possibility of house fires.

Level of urgency: High

Actions to take:

● Step 1: Turn off circuit breakers. Immediately turn off the circuit breaker associated with the area where the noise is heard. This precautionary step can prevent electrical accidents or fires.

● Step 2: Carefully inspect the area for visible signs of electrical issues such as flickering lights, burn marks, or damaged outlets.

When to seek professional help:

● High-pitched ringing or buzzing continues after turning off the circuit breaker.

● You identify visible signs of electrical issues, such as burn marks or damaged outlets.

● You're not experienced in handling electrical problems and want to ensure safety.

8. Gurgling noises in drains

Gurgling noises from drains can indicate poor drainage, venting issues, or larger plumbing problems within a plumbing system. Coverage for water backup isn’t always covered by homeowners insurance and can be costly to cover without appropriate coverage.

Level of urgency: Moderate

Actions to take:

● Step 1: Determine which drains are producing the gurgling noises. Check sinks, showers, toilets, and other plumbing fixtures.

● Step 2: Inspect drains for visible blockages and debris. Slow drainage or standing water can cause gurgling.

● Step 3: Poor plumbing ventilation can lead to gurgling. Check vents on your roof or exterior walls for potential blockages.

● Step 4: If a minor blockage is causing the noise, use a plunger to try and clear it.

When to seek professional help:

● Gurgling noises persist despite clearing visible blockages.

● Multiple drains or fixtures are gurgling simultaneously.

● You suspect ventilation issues or complex plumbing problems.

9. Rattling or vibrating in ductwork

Rattling or vibrating noises from your HVAC ductwork can be caused by loose components or debris. These noises can impact indoor comfort and HVAC system efficiency. On average, a new HVAC unit can cost $2,500 - $5,000. However, before considering a costly replacement, you should address the source of the noise issue.

Level of urgency: Low

Actions to take:

● Step 1: Visual Inspection: Carefully inspect visible sections of the HVAC ductwork for loose components, gaps, or debris. Look for any areas where the ducts might be contacting other surfaces.

● Step 2: If you identify loose duct components, secure them using appropriate fasteners. Make sure that all duct sections are properly connected.

● Step 3: Clear any debris, dust, or foreign objects from the ductwork that might be causing the rattling or vibrating noises.

When to seek professional help:

● Rattling or vibrating noises persist after securing loose components and clearing debris.

● You suspect the issue is in sections of ductwork that are not easily accessible.

● The noises are affecting the efficiency and performance of your HVAC system.

10. Screeching dryer vent

Screeching sounds from the dryer vent can signal issues with its belt or components. Homeowners should address these sounds before they could lead to dryer inefficiency or malfunction. Not only that, fire hazards from dryer vent issues are a serious concern. Lint buildup and reduced airflow in the dryer vent can cause the dryer to overheat, potentially igniting lint and leading to a fire. Regular cleaning can help protect your home and continue the safe operation of your dryer.

Level of urgency: Moderate

Actions to take:

● Step 1: Immediately turn off the dryer and unplug it from the power source to prevent further damage or accidents.

● Step 2: Inspect the rollers and bearings around the dryer interior where you place your clothes. For most dryers, these components can wear out over time and cause screeching noises.

● Step 3: Carefully examine the dryer belt for wear, fraying, or damage. A damaged dryer belt can cause screeching during operation.

When to seek professional help:

● Screeching noises persist after inspecting and lubricating the dryer components.

● You're uncomfortable performing repairs on the dryer's internal components.

● Odors, smoke, or other signs of malfunction accompany the screeching.

● You can also consider hiring a professional like an appliance repair technician to adequately clean your vents.

11. Cracking sounds in the fireplace

Cracking sounds in the fireplace happen as it heats and cools. However, persistent cracking sounds may require chimney inspection and maintenance. Common chimney hazards caused by cracking sounds include temperature fluctuations and structural integrity issues. Metal flue liners, the protective channels or tubes inside the chimney and firebox, contract and expand with temperature changes, creating a cracking noise. This is usually normal and not disruptively loud, unlike structural integrity issues which usually produce loud cracking noises, with louder cracking indicating larger damage.

Structural integrity issues such as collapsing chimney masonry will likely produce loud disruptive noises, but to assess these issues accurately, we suggest seeking professional help like a certified chimney sweep.

Level of urgency: Low

Actions to take:

● Step 1: Recognize that some cracking sounds are natural due to temperature fluctuations causing masonry materials to expand and contract. To confirm if this is the case, check the firebox (the part of the fireplace where the fires come out from) and chimney interior for any signs of cracks. If there are no cracks yet noise persists, it’s likely due to temperature.

● Step 2: Watch for visible signs of chimney damage, such as cracks and gaps increasing in size, or leaning structures. Narrow hairline cracks between bricks and stones can be handled easily with sealants, but larger structural damages should be handled by professionals.

When to seek professional help:

● There are visible interior signs of chimney damage in the firebox or flue lining.

● If the visible damage is large cracks closer to the base of the chimney, this may suggest house foundation shifting, which is a structural issue.

● You aren’t familiar with chimney maintenance and want to ensure the fireplace's safety and structural integrity.

12. Squeaking doors or hinges

Squeaking doors and hinges can be annoying and can be due to friction or lack of lubrication. Even though bigger problems aren’t prone to occurring from squeaking hinges, regular maintenance h can easily improve the functionality of doors and reduce wear.

Level of urgency: Low

Actions to take:

● Step 1: Locate the specific hinges causing the squeaking noises. Open and close the door to pinpoint the source.

● Step 2: Apply a lubricant, such as silicone-based or WD-40, to the hinges. Open the door several times to allow the lubricant to work into the hinges.

● Step 3: Inspect the hinges and screws for any loose components. Tighten any loose screws to ensure the hinges are secure.

When to seek professional help:

● Squeaking persists despite lubrication and screw tightening.

● You suspect the door or hinges have structural issues that require expert attention.

● You're not comfortable performing maintenance on your doors or hinges.

13. Scratching, rustling, or thumping in the walls or attic

Scratching, rustling, or thumping sounds in the walls or attic can be due to the presence of insects or animals. If unaddressed, these issues can lead to more significant repair problems, such as damage to insulation, electrical wiring, and structural components of your home.

Insects and animals can settle within your home’s insulation which can impact temperature regulation. They can also gnaw at electrical wiring which leads to short-circuits, electrical malfunctions, and fires.

Level of urgency: Moderate

Actions to take:

● Step 1: Pay close attention to the sounds and try to identify their location and frequency.

● Step 2: Safely investigate the area where the noises are coming from. Use caution and appropriate protective gear.

● Step 3: Check for any visible openings or gaps in walls, roofs, or foundations where animals or other insects might be entering.

When to seek professional help:

● You hear scratching, rustling, or thumping noises persist and can’t identify their source.

● You suspect pests or animals might be in your walls or attic and don’t have the proper gear to safely apprehend the intruders.

14. Scratching in your gutters

Scratching sounds in your gutters can be due to small animals seeking shelter such as squirrels or chipmunks. While not always harmful, it's important to ensure that your gutter system remains functional. Damage to your gutters can create a ripple effect of potential problems, from water leaking into the siding of the home, roof or foundation.

Level of urgency: Low

Actions to take:

● Step 1: Pay attention to the location and timing of the scratching sounds to identify their source.

● Step 2: Inspect your gutters from a safe vantage point to determine if there's any visible debris or signs of animal activity.

● Step 3: If you identify debris in your gutters, safely remove it using gloves and appropriate tools.

When to seek professional help:

● Scratching sounds persist even after clearing debris from your gutters.

● You're unable to identify the source of the scratching or suspect animal infestation.

● You're uncomfortable with heights or handling potentially harmful debris.

Homes produce many house-settling noises, and understanding what they mean can make the difference between a lasting home or one with serious issues. With the right knowledge, homeowners can take the initiative to help preserve their homes.

Editor's Note: Courtney Klosterman is Home Insights Expert at Hippo, a company focused on delivering proactive home protection. To learn more about how Hippo can support your homeownership journey, download the Hippo Home app for free from App Store and Google Play.

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