8 Pesky House Noises Explained (and Solved!)

Alison Kasch
Written by Alison Kasch
Updated March 9, 2022
 A rustic kitchen with a vintage farmhouse table
Photo: Andreas von Einsiedel / Corbis Documentary / Getty Images

Highlights

  • Scratching sounds often point to a pest or wild animal problem.

  • Dripping noises can come from HVAC or plumbing systems.

  • Many toilet-related sounds can come from overfilling or issues with pipes.

  • Knocking or whistling windows indicate worn weather stripping or other repair needs.

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Playing “What’s that noise?” is never fun when you’re a homeowner, yet it’s a game many are all too familiar with. Don’t worry, though. In many cases, your home’s bark is worse than its bite. Still, it’s important not to turn a blind ear—investigate ASAP. Here’s what your home could be trying to tell you with all its creaks, bangs, and moans.

1. Dripping Sounds in the Ceiling

Diagnosing a dripping sound in the ceiling can be tricky, as it can come from many different sources. There may be an issue with your HVAC system, particularly if you hear the noise only in the summer. It might also just be the natural sounds from your pipes when they drain or expand.

In the winter, the sound might be a result of frozen pipes, so you’ll want to call your plumber immediately. Your pipes might also be cracked. Look for wall stains, ballooning paint or plaster, and signs of mold. Again, call a plumber right away if you think this is the issue.

2. Squeaky Floors and Stairs

While they might make it impossible to sneak into the kitchen for a midnight snack, squeaky floors are more of an annoyance. This often occurs when a wooden floorboard becomes unfastened and moves up and down adjacent to a nail. In other instances, the cause is wooden planks rubbing up against one another.

You often find this issue in historic homes, which some even find charming. However, if you’re not one of those people, a top-rated local contractor can step in and fix it up.

3. Knocking or Whistling Windows

Most window noises mean the weather stripping around your windows has worn out. With strong winds and other environmental noise, gusts of air push through the windows and cause whistling or rattling sounds. To quiet things down, you’ll likely need to either repair or replace the problem windows, depending on their age and condition.

4. Different Sounds in Your Attic

A scandinavian style attic bedroom
Photo: imaginima / E+ / Getty Images

If you’re sure your house isn’t haunted, the scritch-scratching, thuds, and other noises in your attic are most likely coming from critters. An attic is like a hollowed-out tree for a squirrel, making it the perfect spot to raise its young. Or, if you’re mostly hearing noises at night, it’s possible a nocturnal creature (like a raccoon) found its way up there.

Either way, it’s time to check it out and start the eviction process. Watch for ceilings with chewed holes or stains—these are signs you’ve got non-paying tenants. Because of the threat of rabies and other diseases, it’s crucial to have a local pest control pro assist you. In the meantime, consider installing a chimney cap to seal up that point of entry.

5. Strange Sounds Coming From Inside Your Water Heater

There’s a plumbing myth that the banging noise from your water heater means it’s about to blow. While it sounds intense, there’s no call for alarm. Those sounds are coming from sediment, a result of loose minerals in hard water (mostly calcium). Sediment collects at the bottom of the tank, preventing the heat from rising properly. This causes air bubbles to make those loud popping noises.

Unfortunately, even though there’s no immediate danger, this is a tell-tale sign it’s time to replace your water heater.

6. Vibrating Sound or Noise Event in Your Walls

Hearing vibrating noises in your wall could mean a number of different causes. These include:

  • Overloaded or loose circuit breakers

  • Loose pipes

  • Loose electrical outlets 

If you’re handy around the house, you can inspect your pipes near the source of the vibrating sound effect (if it’s accessible). For suspected electrical issues, always opt for the help of a local electrician.

7. Water Sounds in Your Walls

If you can hear water running when nobody is using it, a few culprits could be responsible. Make sure the following items aren’t running:

  • Toilet

  • Dishwasher

  • Sprinkler system

  • Washing machine

If you can rule all these out, know this could be something more serious, such as a broken pipe, which needs the attention of a local plumber ASAP.

8. Noise When the Toilet Flushes

There are several reasons why you could hear a noise when your toilet flushes. Here are the most common sounds and what usually causes them.

Foghorn/Vibrating/Groaning Noise

Vibrating noises when the toilet flushes usually indicate there’s an issue with the fill valve. There’s likely a problem with the diaphragm, the soft rubber or neoprene piece that prevents the tank from overfilling. Luckily, this is a relatively straightforward and wallet-friendly DIY toilet repair if you’re up for it. Otherwise, have a plumber come and take a look. 

Knocking Noise

A knocking or hammering noise is a tell-tale symptom of a water hammer, which happens when a valve suddenly closes and causes excess water to hit the walls of your pipes. It’s not an emergency, but it can do serious damage to your pipes over time. To take care of it, call your plumber and have them install a water hammer arrestor.

Sounds of Running Water

If you’re hearing a running water sound when you flush, here are the most likely culprits:

  • Faulty fill valve

  • Chain connecting toilet handle is too tight or tangled

  • Toilet tank float is too high

Pop the top of your toilet tank and inspect for these issues. If you’re coming up empty, call your trusty plumber to take a second look.

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