House sounds that should worry you

Shannon Lee | Improvement Center Columnist | April 13, 2015

Most home noises are rather benign. They can be easily pinpointed and if there is a problem, easily solved. But then there are the sounds that should make you snap to attention, the sounds that tell you immediately that something is very wrong. These are a few of the home sounds you should hope you never hear -- but if you do, call the pros, pronto.

The toilet is gurgling, and it's getting worse

Occasional toilet trouble is typical of any home, but if it's a continuous sound that gets your attention, listen up: There could be a problem with the sewer line. If your plumbing system is rather old, tree roots could have finally made their way into the pipes. Over time, those roots grow and paper products snag on them, eventually leading to a blockage. If the sound continues to get worse, and if your toilets are suddenly backing up all the time, it's time to call a plumber and prepare yourself for serious work on the system.

There are chewing sounds coming from the walls

Have the sneaking suspicion that you aren't alone in the house? That chewing, gnawing, and scratching means that an unwelcome visitor has taken up residence in your walls, and is at this very moment enjoying the warmth of your insulation and the crunchiness of your electrical wires. When rodents make themselves at home, they can wreck havoc, and even cause a fire. Don't wait for them to leave, because -- well, why would they? It's time to call in a wildlife specialist to escort your critters back to the great outdoors.

The heating system is knocking or clanking

When the heating system kicks on, it should do so with a pleasant "whoosh," if it makes any sound at all. Sometimes you might hear tiny knocks and clicks, especially the first time you turn on the heat -- that comes from the normal action of ductwork expanding. If you have a hot-water baseboard system, you will become used to the comforting little pops. But serious knocking or clanking might mean that the circulator pump is about to fail, and that could be a serious issue. It's time to call in for repairs.

There's a popping sound in the breaker box

Sometimes you hear it when you turn on an appliance. Sometimes you hear it when you're doing nothing at all. The popping sound from a breaker box is a dangerous problem, as it likely indicates arcing electricity. The wire connections in the box might not be connected well, or they might have deteriorated to a dangerous state. Either way, don't go near that electrical panel! An electrician has the proper tools and safety gear to tackle your troublesome wires, so call one right away.

Nobody is using the water, but it's running

This is a sure indication of a problem, likely a major leak in a place where you can't see, such as under the house or in the walls. How can you tell for sure? Turn the water off at the main and listen for the sound again. If the sound is gone but then comes back when you turn the water back on, there is definitely a leak. The question becomes: Where? That's something that you will need a plumber to figure out. Call immediately, because water damage can be quite costly.

There's a strange hissing sound...

Uh-oh. This is one of the most dangerous house sounds you might hear, and you should investigate -- especially if you have natural gas or propane. A hissing sound could indicate that gas is escaping from the system. You should be able to smell the distinctive odor, but don't count on that. Instead, try to find the source of the hissing. If it appears to be coming from the gas meter, line, or an appliance that uses gas, get out of the house immediately. Do not wait! Turn off the gas only if you can do so safely; either way, put in an emergency call to the gas company.

Your house will make a cornucopia of noises during the time you live there. Many of them mean nothing; but when you encounter one that might mean danger, never undertake repairs yourself. Serious issues with the plumbing, heating, electrical or utility systems, or even rodents in the attic, are all good reasons to call in the professionals. Don't wait to make that call, because these dangerous home noises need to be attended to sooner rather than later.

Photo credit to Kevin Irby

About the Author

Shannon Lee is a journalist and occasional novelist with a serious weakness for real estate. When she's not writing, she and her husband are taking road trips to explore covered bridges, little wineries and quaint bed-and-breakfast inns in their beloved Pennsylvania.