When I was a child and heard groans or creaks in the night, my mother would reassure me: “That’s just the house settling.”
And it’s true that a house can make noises for harmless reasons, like when changes in temperature or humidity cause the structure to expand or contract.
On the other hand, there are some noises in your home that might indicate a problem. Here are 10 sounds that contractors and handymen warn you not to ignore. These sounds might be telling you that certain things aren’t working like they should — and need to be fixed, pronto.
1. Pipes Clanking
If you hear loud clanking in your pipes, it’s probably one of two things: pipes that are loose, or pipes with rapid changes in water pressure, also known as water hammer or hydraulic shock.
“Loose pipes may move as water flows through them, while water hammer happens when water flow is suddenly stopped, causing a shockwave,” says Josh Mitchell, a plumbing expert, HVAC technician and the owner of Plumbing Lab. “If left unchecked, these issues can lead to burst pipes, significant water damage, or even a malfunctioning and potentially dangerous water heater.”
You are probably hearing the pipe bang against the wall when this happens, so it’s time to call a plumber.
“To fix this, you can install either a water pressure regulator or a water hammer arrestor,” says Thomas Borcherding, a home remodeling expert and owner of Homestar Design Remodel in St. Louis.
A water pressure regular costs between $50 and $125, and the average price a contractor charges to install it is $350.
2. Rushing Water Noises
Can you hear the sound of running water? To learn its source, start by checking all the faucets inside and outside your house. You want to make sure you’re not simply dealing with the water left on somewhere. Otherwise, Mitchell says that rushing water noises usually indicate a hidden leak. And it’s time to call the plumber.
“[Plumbers] have specialized tools to detect and repair leaks, even those hidden within walls or underground,” he says. If you let a leak go too long, it can lead to water damage, mold growth, structural issues and inflated water bills.
“I was recently in a house where you could hear the water running in the pipes in the walls,” says Robert Taylor, The Real Estate Solutions Guy in Cameron Park, California. “After checking all of the faucets, the walls were opened up to reveal water was leaking from one of the copper water pipes into the foundation area. Fortunately, the homeowner didn’t ignore the sound and addressed the issue quickly before any major damage was done.”
3. Whistling From the Windows
If your windows are whistling, the cause could be innocuous: Sometimes the glass expands and contracts at a different rate to the window frame, causing it to make light popping sounds. Or, the window may simply not be all the way closed.
But you could also be listening to the sound of an inefficiency in your home — one that’s driving up your heating bills.
“This noise may suggest poor insulation or sealant issues,” says Arlen Wang, a contractor and co-founder of AnbuSafety.com. “A contractor can assess and improve insulation, preventing energy loss and reducing utility bills.”
Fixing this problem also may mean upgrading to better quality windows.
4. Skittering in the Walls
Your dog or cat might be the first member of your family to notice the noises coming from within the walls. But once you hear it, it’s hard to un-hear!
“This could indicate the presence of rodents or insects,” says Chris Purvis, a contractor and the Owner of CCA Concrete Construction in Austin, Texas. “It’s important to address the issue promptly by contacting a pest control professional. Ignoring these sounds may lead to further infestation, damage to your property or health risks associated with pests.”
Also take note of when you hear the sounds.
“Rats are nocturnal animals so they are most active at night until dawn,” says Mark Sexauer, a construction expert and founder of The Estimating Department in Seattle. “It can sometimes be hard to find other signs of rats, so hearing them will give away their pathways. A pest control company would be my first call in the morning.”
5. Buzzing From Lights
If you hear buzzing from your light switch or fixture, turn it off immediately.
“Humming around electrical isn’t always unusual, but buzzing is never a good sound,” says Taylor. “That buzzing sound is actually the sound of electricity arcing across a bad connection or broken wire. Picture a miniature lightning storm inside your light switch and you’ll understand the importance of shutting it down.”
Purvis recommends consulting an electrician to investigate and resolve the problem.
“Ignoring buzzing sounds from lights may increase the risk of electrical malfunctions, flickering lights or even electrical shocks,” he says.
6. Hissing Near Gas-Powered Appliances
Don’t mess with a gas appliance that’s making noises, because it may indicate a gas leak.
“This is not a homeowner task to take on and can be quite serious,” says Sexauer.
First, turn off the gas if you can — and quickly move out of the room.
“It’s crucial to evacuate the premises immediately and contact your gas provider and emergency services,” says Adrian Cruz, a contractor and Co-owner at Columbus Concrete Co. in Columbus, Ohio. “Ignoring gas-related noises can lead to a potentially dangerous situation, including the risk of explosions or respiratory issues.”
7. Furnace or Hot Water Heater Noises
Don’t wait until the really cold weather sets in before you address strange sounds coming from your furnace. A broken furnace in the dead of winter is extremely inconvenient.
“Unusual noises from the furnace may indicate a malfunctioning blower motor, issues with the burner or airflow problems,” says William Clark, a contractor and owner of SATX Concrete in San Antonio, Texas. “Ignoring these sounds can result in a breakdown of the heating system, potentially leaving you without heat during cold weather.”
He advises calling a heating system technician to diagnose and repair the furnace.
In the case of a hot water heater, the causes of noises might be different — but ignoring them is equally risky.
“If the water heater is making sudden loud banging or popping noises, that could signal mineral buildup or sediment at the bottom of the tank,” says Shlomo Cherniak, the owner of Cherniak Handyman Services in Baltimore. “This buildup can reduce efficiency and damage the heater if not addressed.”
So, call a plumber ASAP.
8. Gurgling Toilet
If you don’t address your toilet’s gurgling, it will probably only get worse. The sound means that your plumbing is backed up somewhere.
“This might be caused by a partially clogged drain, a problem with the flush valve or a buildup of sediment in the tank,” says Jay Sanders, a licensed contractor and the owner of Castle Dream Construction, a home remodeling company in Baltimore.
His suggestion? You guessed it: Call a plumber or a handyman.
“A gurgling toilet can be annoying and may worsen over time, leading to a complete clog,” Sanders says.
Mitchell adds that a gurgling sound could also be caused by inadequate venting in your plumbing system — which inhibits proper airflow and creates a vacuum effect.
Either way, you’ll need a plumber to solve the problem.
9. Screeching or Grinding Sounds From Appliances
Appliances that depend on motors are naturally prone to malfunction, and screeching noises are often the first sign of an issue.
“Unusual noises from appliances like refrigerators, dishwashers or HVAC systems, such as screeching, grinding or rattling, might indicate mechanical problems,” says Cherniak. “Addressing these issues early can prevent costly repairs or breakdowns.”
A screeching appliance is generally worth a call to a handyman or an appliance repair company. A home warranty company tends to cover the cost of this type of problem.
10. Beeping Smoke or Carbon Monoxide Alarm
Beeping smoke detectors are annoying for a reason: A charged battery can save your life.
“It seems so obvious, yet roughly 67% of all fire-related deaths in the U.S., happen in homes with smoke alarms with dead batteries,” says Taylor. “When you hear your smoke alarm beeping, change the battery.”
He also suggests buying a smoke or carbon monoxide alarm with a built-in 10-year battery. “Write the date of installation on the alarm,” Taylor says. “Then, not only will you not hear the battery alarm chirping at 2 a.m., but you’ll know you’re protected for several years.”
Have you heard any of these noises at your house?