The House Whisperer: How to Know What Your Home Is Telling You

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Many a home owner has wondered, “If these walls could only talk?”

The truth is, our homes talk to us every day. We just need to listen to the stories, worries, and problems the old gal is telling us.

Anyone can be a house whisperer.

By listening to the noises our houses emit, we can get a vivid picture of their overall structural, electrical and anesthetic health. Houses groan, creak and pop on a regular basis. They are built from a variety of different materials — glass, concrete and wood – that create a symphony of unusual and erratic noises.

But how do we know if the noises we’re hearing is something serious?

“The most noise your house should make is a popping sound, like your knuckles cracking, and only once in a while,” Bill Richardson, former president of the American Society of Home Inspectors and owner of Responsive Inspections in Bosque Farms, N.M., told Bob Villa.com.

The general rule of the thumb: The more unusual the sound, the more troublesome it could be. Pops, hisses, groans, creaks and knocks on regular basis should be investigated, and if needed, remedied.

Here is what our house is telling us from the 10 most common noises it emits, and the needed response plan owners should put into motion.

1. The mysterious clanking sound when we turn on the heat.

The answer: This sometimes scary moaning and groaning is the work of the heating system expanding and rubbing against the frame of the house.

When most homeowners first turn on their heating system in the fall, they hear a little moaning and groaning as the heating system expands and rubs against the frame of the house, says Mike Kuhn, the New Jersey owner of HouseMaster inspection service and coauthor of “The Pocket Idiot’s Guide to Home Inspections. With a baseboard hot-water system, you can also expect “normal clinking and knocking. The circulator pump or pumps to the system, however, “should be silent when they run.”

However, if you hear knocking or clanking, typically located at the boiler itself, it might be a sign of impending failure of the circulator pump.

The response plan: Get a repairman to inspect your home’s heating system, stat.

2. Something is making strange scratching sounds behind the wall. Ghosts or gremlins?

The answer: No matter what your kids might think, it’s not the ghosts of home owners past. Alas, the noises’ creators could be just as creepy. Chittering and scratching noises from places where no one lives in your house is the likely creation of home invaders like mice, squirrels, raccoons or even bats.

And wild life and rodents make terrible house guests.

“Rodents are dangerous to ignore since they will chew just about anything, like electrical wires.” Bob Cherrington of Family Pest Control told GoodHousekeeping.com. “Many house fires are caused by rodents who short out the electrical wires.”

The response plan: Immediately put up eviction notices in the form of a certified pest professional, animal removal firm and traps.

3. The water is running, but nobody’s home.

The answer: If you hear water running when no one is using it, there is a serious issue a foot. The sound of running water can indicate many things: a busted pipe in the wall, under the floor or even in the irrigation system.

“First, check the house quickly to see if any toilets are running, or flappers are sticking,” Alfonso Jimenez, master plumber and president of Mr. Rooter Northern Colorado, told Good Housekeeping. “Next, check if your sprinkler system, dishwasher, or washing machine is running. 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.”

The response plan: If you hear running water when you shouldn’t, shut off the main water line and see if the noises stop. If they don’t, your home has a water leak and a water emergency in need of fixing. Don’t DIY this issue: call in a professional plumber.

4. The furnace is hissing.

The answer: No, snakes likely haven’t moved in and the furnace doesn’t need to be replaced. The good news: Your furnace is most likely telling you it’s working too hard and needs its filter changed. Furnaces start sucking exhaust gases into the house.

The response plan: Simply and easy, install clean filters regularly – monthly to every three months based on your home’s atmospheric conditions.

5. Now, it’s not the furnace, but other areas around the house are hissing, including the gas meter. Are we sure it’s not snakes?

The answer: Don’t worry about anacondas, but if your home has gas, hissing sounds could indicate a gas leak. If you hear hissing outside from your home’s gas meter, it could be the sign of a corroded line.

The response plan: If you smell gas around your main gas switch, don’t shut off the gas unless you absolutely know what you’re doing. Any mishandling or spark could make the issue much worse, more dangerous, and costlier.  If you hear hissing and smell gas, evacuate your home immediately and call the gas company.

6. The AC is banging and squalling.

The answer: A dirty filter. If air filters aren’t replaced regularly, they ultimately get plugged with dirt and dust.

The solution: Change your air conditioner’s filters regularly. If the banging continues, hire a professional to inspect your air conditioning.

7. Now the furnace is starting a rock band, banging and clanging all night.

The answer: A booming sound coming from a gas furnace or boiler occurs when the burners are not lighting properly. Gas builds up in a combustion chamber, and the delayed ignition causes a small exploding, popping sound. Unfortunately, this only gets worse, louder and more dangerous over time.

The response plan: Get your home heating professional on speed dial.

8. The gutters are angry, scratching and clawing at odd hours. Who’s having a dance party up there?

The answer: Most often the work of birds’ feet, this annoyance leads to a different problem. Birds hang out in gutters when water pools. If water is pooling in your home’s gutters, it means their slope is incorrect.

The response plan: Have your gutters and downspout inspected to make sure water is being properly rerouted away from your house.

9. The lights are buzzing.

The answer: If you hear a buzzing from outlets or light fixtures, it’s usually a sign of a loose connection and a major home safety and health hazard. Loose connections can cause sparking, which can lead to electrical fires.

The response plan: Call in an electrician to inspect and service all your home’s outlets and fixtures.

10. The fridge won’t stop running or humming.

The answer: Insert your refrigerator joke here. But when fridges pop and rattle, it can point to compressor issues. Constant humming means the fridge is constantly cooling and never cutting out.

This could mean it has a temperature regulation issue.

The response plan: Make sure nothing is blocking the passageway between the freezer and refrigerator compartments (this can happen when we pack too much food in the freezer). Also, clean your refrigerator’s coils at least once per season to keep it running efficiently.

Remember, our homes are a living, breathing entity that, like us, age. Knowing what it is telling us from its natural and unnatural noises, tell us just how healthy it is, and when its operational systems need to see the doctor.

For a house’s every noise tells a story.

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