house on gramophone

6 House Noises You Should Never Ignore

When one of Bruce Ailion’s clients told the Atlanta-based realtor that he heard a buzzing noise coming from his walls, Ailion cracked the plaster to take a look. He expected it to be the pipes or electrical system making the odd sound. Instead, Ailion was shocked to discover some new residents: thousands of bees.

Houses frequently make noises—a floor creaks, a pipe gurgles, a refrigerator hums—but while some sounds are harmless and even charming, others are early indicators of potential problems that warrant attention.

“Any time there’s something different going on with the house, just like with your body, you ought to consider what that could be,” says Ailion, who has decades of experience diagnosing strange conditions in homes. “Pay attention to the way things work and sound normally; if you hear a change, that could be indicative of a problem.” Here are some potential troublemakers.

GEICO can help protect your home.

Noises from the Furnace

furnace shaped as celloThere are a variety of sounds you might hear from the furnace, Ailion says. If they’re unusual and persistent, have an HVAC professional check it out. “If an adjustment is needed, it’s not that expensive,” he says. “And if the noise has just started, you could help prevent a more serious or complicated repair later.”

In fact, he says, having the furnace inspected every six months will not only help your furnace run at maximum efficiency, but could help prevent some of these sounds from occurring in the first place. Most importantly, he says, if you haven’t run the furnace for several months, you want to be sure there aren’t any cracks in the heat exchanger, as this could lead to a dangerous carbon monoxide leak. In between inspections, keep an ear open for the following:

  • Squeaking or squealing. This could be an indication that the bearings in the motor need to be oiled or that a piece of one has broken off. Ignoring this could cause the motor to fail.
  • Banging. Over time, the fan—and the cage that surrounds it—can shift or become bent, and a banging sound could be the fan clipping the cage. (It may sound like a spinning washing machine that’s out of balance.) Over time, it could damage the entire system.
  • Popping. This could be a sign of moisture in the gas line, or that the gas line has become clogged.
  • Clanking. More common in older systems, this is a sound you may hear when you start the furnace. It can be caused by metal that’s rusted and chipped off, or soot that’s fallen down from the flue.
  • Whistling. When the filter gets dirty, a whistling noise can result. Ailion recommends cleaning or changing the filter at least every three months, which will help the furnace run at maximum efficiency.

Clanking in the Pipes

radiator shaped as accordionAnyone who’s ever lived with radiator heat knows how noisy pipes can be. When it isn’t draining properly, a steam radiator can make horrible clanging sounds—like someone hammering from inside. First, make sure the radiator inlet valve is fully open, as a partial opening could result in some noise. If the sound continues, the U.S. Department of Energy suggests placing shims under one side of the radiator, to tilt the excess water back toward the pipe or steam trap.

If your boiler is knocking, your circulation pump may be on its way out. Contact an HVAC professional.

Skittering in the Walls

mouse hole as concert stageSkittering sounds, squeaks, buzzes and other noises coming from your walls and attic may mean there’s something living in your house that isn’t part of your family. In addition to bees, Ailion says, “raccoons, squirrels and birds have been known to get into attics and cause noises.” Of course, mice and rats can do the same.

If you hear something, search the outside of the wall for anything out of the ordinary. If you don’t find anything but the noise persists, consider setting traps or calling an exterminator.

Humming Appliances

refrigerator shaped like speaker

If your dishwasher sputters or grinds, something may be stuck in the chopper blade area. A buzzing refrigerator may mean that the compressor is ailing. A humming dryer could mean that there’s an object caught in its blower wheel. These conditions are difficult to diagnose without expert attention, according to Ailion, so consider calling a professional as soon as you hear the noises.

Bubbling in the Pipes

water heater shaped like a drumOver time, sediment builds up on the bottom of a water heater as minerals precipitate out of the water and settle in the tank. Excessive sediment accumulation may produce a popping or rumbling sound, which should be your signal to call in a repair professional. Depending on the severity of the situation, flushing the inside of the tank might be enough to fix the problem, but it could also be time for a new heater. Either way, this isn’t something you want to ignore. Fixing it could prevent water leaks, Ailion says.

Whistling Windows

windows shaped like trumpetImproperly installed windows, worn weather stripping, changes in temperature and the simple passage of time can all cause an unwanted whistling inside the house. Not only is the sound annoying, it can also lead to energy waste. If you can’t find the source of the whistling yourself, consider hiring a professional to find and fix the problem.

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Read More: Get more helpful home maintenance tips with our Ultimate Guide To Home Protection.

Originally published September 2017. Updated April 2019.
GEICO can help protect your home.

    Leave a comment

  1. Peggy says,

    There is a constant thump thump, thump thump noise in my villa for months that never stops day and night. It is not an animal

  2. desertzinnia says,

    Several years ago while renting a house, I kept hearing what sounded like tinny violin music. I wondered if I had a homeless classical musician living in my attic! Then I heard the noise one day when I was out working in the yard. It was coming from the gas meter. I called the gas company. They came out right away. It was a gas leak.

  3. Monty Howard says,

    In Florida it is wise to also listen to creaking, cracking and bangs mild to loud. If this is heard and combined with cracks developing in floors, walls or ceilings and you notice anything outside (like a car on the ground) starting to settle slightly lower day by day YOU SHOULD RUN AWAY FAST. These are all signs of a home settling into a growing sink hole.

    If this happens call your local 911 operator, this is an emergency and can be life threatening to those who remain in the structure. Entire houses and adjacent yards have been known to be sucked into the ground with people inside. It is nearly impossible to rescue anyone caught in this situation.

    • Arlene says,

      This is so true. I live in Florida also. I put a pool in about 5 yrs ago & kept thinking after. Should I have done this. I’ve not used the pool all yr & it stays maintained. Stay safe

  4. Karen says,

    I think this is a good article. I’m one who heres all the noices. When i first moved into my new house back in’99, i had someone out here every week for noice in my wall. Found out there
    Were some loose siding. A nail would take care of the problem

  5. Reid miller says,

    Clanging water pipes associated with faucets are usually caused by a loose washer in faucet or shutoff valve below. Plumbers sometimes overstate difficulty, claiming “air lock” and so on

  6. Anthony R. Salazar says,

    I greatly appreciate your showing these possible problem areas that should not be ignored. I am sure that they will be beneficial to some of your customers.

  7. CLAUDIO VARGAS says,

    Question I have in the bathroom for the master bedroom cracks on the joints for wall to ceiling and it wasn’t like that before .but out of 2 bathrooms and 3 bedrooms is the only place in the house has that .is a very small bathroom with a standing shower the sink and the toilet. So if anyone knows what is this please help .thank you

  8. BettyLou says,

    The article about new noises in the house was great. Maybe give us a few more hints on preventive maintenance to prevent these.

  9. Leida says,

    Last year i experienced a scratchy noise inside my wall on top of my head in my bedroom. Very quickly i found out i had bats because the time of the noise.
    But worse than that,,, it happened this morning while i was on the 2nd floor, in my bathroom, getting ready to go to my doctors app, i heard my garage door motor. My cat jumped and i went downstairs,, my garage was definetely open. The garage door opened by itself.
    ???

    • BettyLou says,

      Sometimes there are duplicate garage door codes or near enough to trigger your opener. The person is using an opener just trying to see where he can get in and help himself to your tools and other expensive items in the garage and be gone before you know it.

    • CLAUDIO VARGAS says,

      If the door has a remote control change the code it maybe a neighbor has the same sistem and the same code ..also humidity in the wall switch to open the door .if is a wet location water can do that .you can change the location or waterproof it with silicone