11 House Sounds You Should Never Ignore
Your home is trying to tell you something with all those rattles, creaks, clanks, and squeaks. Know what to listen for—and when to call for help.
Thumps, bumps, and squeaks
We’ve all been there. Your clothes washer thumps and you wonder if that’s normal, or your bedroom floor squeaks but you figure that just happens in old houses. “Most homeowners have a spidey sense when they hear something that’s not right,” says Ed Padilla, founder and director of the Association of Certified Handyman Professionals. Some people address such problems promptly while others put them off, but Padilla finds there’s a certain kind of homeowner who’s especially good at resolving issues. “In my experience, women find these things more than men,” he admits. “I’ll frequently get a call from a wife who’s hearing something in the attic, for example, her husband tells her it’s nothing, but when we come out, sure enough, there’s a problem.” While there are some things you can fix yourself, you should never try to DIY these home improvements.
Thumping in washer
That thumping sound a washer sometimes makes—typically as a result of an unbalanced load—is more than just annoying. It could mean a problem with your balance ring, which is a ring filled with fluid positioned at the top of the tub to counterbalance your load. “Most drums spin at a velocity of 1,000 to 1,200 RPM, and because there’s not a lot of room in the machine, the drum is very close to the control board,” explains Scott McConnell, board member of the United Appliance Servicers Association and owner of Lake Appliance Repair based in Sacramento, California. “If you don’t address that thumping, the drum in the machine could eventually come so far out of balance it starts smashing the control board—and what would have been a little expense becomes a repair worth more than the machine.” Don’t miss these surprising ways you’re shortening the life of your washing machine.
Squeaking in washer or dryer
With their belts, rollers, pulleys, and drums, washers and dryers have more moving parts than most appliances—and there are certain sounds in these complex machines that should get your attention. “Never ignore a squeak because it’s metal on metal rubbing together at a high velocity,” says McConnell. A little squeak could develop into a big problem like a complete drum collapsing. “We’ve seen dryer drums cut in half allowing clothing to fall into the heater area. We’ve also seen washer bearings completely fail at high spin, which tends to destroy a lot more than just the tub.”
Squeaking in floors
If your home has wood floors you might get used to hearing squeaks here and there, but Padilla advises against letting such sounds go. “I often hear squeaky floors get dismissed as, ‘Oh, it’s just an old home,’ but floors that are starting to squeak could mean termite damage.” Tapping in the walls is one of the other sounds that termites make. Termite damage near a floor joist could cause a floor to slant, adds Padilla, who advises checking for slants by putting a golf ball in the middle of the room to see if and where it rolls. These are more sneaky signs that your home’s about to be infested.
Flapping or clicking in fridge
One of the most common noises McConnell gets called about is one similar to the sound of a playing card caught in the spokes of a turning bicycle wheel. “Refrigerators rely on airflow to maintain temperature, so there are usually two or three fans in a fridge and freezer,” he explains. “That sound usually means there’s icing in and around the fan area. If you ignore it, you may come home from work to a warm fridge, which means you’re not just paying for the fan repair, you’re also losing money on spoiled groceries.” For his part, Padilla gets calls about a clicking sound in refrigerators. “If you hear clicking—and it’s different from the usual clicking sound of your icemaker—your compressor may be failing, which means your fridge will eventually warm up.” Head off such issues by knowing the ways you might be shortening the life of your fridge.
Rattling from dishwasher
When it comes to dishwashers, you never want to ignore a sound like shaking dice in a plastic cup. “That’s debris in the drain pump housing, and it will either damage the drain pump or propeller so your dishwasher won’t be able to drain,” McConnell explains. While he’s aware that some people will find online videos on DIY fixes, he’s seen homeowners do more harm than good that way, so he advises calling a pro for repairs. Get dishwasher smart by learning these ways you may be loading your dishwasher wrong.
Rattling or whistling from windows
A rattling window could mean a sash needs to be adjusted, repaired, or replaced. “That rattling means something is butting against something else without enough cushioning; after awhile the wear could get worse and crack the window.” As for other window sounds, whistling in older windows could mean the glazing—putty strips that hold the glass in place—might need to be re-sealed. “If your windows aren’t sealed properly, you’re losing money on heating and cooling costs.” In addition to leaky windows, here are more sneaky ways your home is draining your wallet.
Water in walls
If you hear a dripping sound in your walls you could have leaky pipes, says Padilla, especially if you’re noticing a musty smell along with it. If you hear water running—even though no one is using it—check the house for running toilets or sticking flappers, Alfonso Jimenez, master plumber and president of Mr. Rooter Northern Colorado, told GoodHousekeeping. “Next, check if your sprinkler system, dishwasher, or washing machine is running,” Jimenez continued. “If you’re still stumped, I would turn off the house’s water and check for visible water damage throughout the home, and look for water pooling in the yard, around the outside of the house, or in the crawl space.” Help prevent future pipe problems with these plumbing tips your plumber won’t tell you.
Animal sounds in the attic
Invading animals can make a number of sounds in an attic, from chewing and squeaking to scratching and scurrying. While most homeowners are unlikely to ignore such sounds, they may not know the right way to address them. Call a professional, says Padilla, who points out that raccoons, for example, carry a roundworm that can pass into the animals’ feces and infect humans and dogs. A professional exterminator will be able to remove the animals and clean the affected area safely, advises The Human Society of the United States. In addition to raccoons in the attic, discover these cringe-worthy exterminator nightmares.
Banging in steam radiators
When cold weather comes, owners of older homes know that steam heat can involve some loud noises—just make sure you don’t let such sounds go. Steam radiators can warp the floor, and over time their thermal expansion and contraction can create ruts in the wood. According to the U.S. Department of Energy website, “Both of these effects can cause the radiator to tilt, preventing water from properly draining from the radiator when it cools. This will cause banging noises when the radiator is heating up.” Shims should be inserted under the radiators to slant them slightly toward the pipe in a one-pipe system or toward the steam trap in a two-pipe system, the Department of Energy advises. In addition to righting your radiators, try these tricks for saving on heating.
Squealing or clanging from your AC
When the weather heats up, owners of homes with central air might notice different sounds coming from their AC. “If the air filter isn’t replaced regularly, it will ultimately get totally plugged with dirt and dust,” Dan Deardan, owner of Just Right Heating and Cooling, told GoodHousekeeping. “This could cause the air handler to make a high pitched whining sound, and the same is true of your furnace filter.” In addition, air conditioners can vibrate a lot, loosening parts that cause banging or clanging sounds over time, Scott McGillivray, contractor and host of HGTV’s Income Property, told GoodHousekeeping, “Squealing could mean your fan belt is loose, and gurgling could mean you need to refill the refrigerant. Bottom line? Have your unit serviced by a professional.” Try these tricks for keeping AC costs down.
Scraping on roof
Some scraping sounds you might think are coming from your attic may actually be outside. “Trees near your roof could be scraping shingles and over time they could wear down,” Padilla explains. “Composite shingles have porcelain, and once that’s scraped off you just have tar and paper, and you’ll be leaking in no time.”