Troubleshooting Common Plumbing Sounds

Posted on: 19 February 2016

If you have an inclination to blame those bumps in the night on the plumbing, you may be right. Plumbing can create some unusual sounds that can be downright frightening if you don't know where they are coming from. With a little detective work, you can find out if the sounds you are hearing really are coming from your pipes or if there is some other cause.

Making a Connection

It is easy to overlook the plumbing as the source of the sounds because the noises don't always occur at the point where the water is used. You may hear the sounds emanating from another location in the home or they may occur after the water has been used. Sometimes, you may not even be aware that someone else in the house has used the water. For example, if another family member gets a drink in the night or flushes the toilet in the bathroom on another floor, the only sounds you may hear are the noises in the pipes during a time when you assume everyone is sleeping.  It is important to check whether anyone has used the water in the home. To do this, make a note of when you heard the sound and ask all family members if they used the water at that time. Note whether the sounds occur when the water is turned on or off, while the water is running, when the tub or sinks are drained, or immediately after the toilet is flushed. Don't forget to consider the cycling of your washer, too.

Common Plumbing Sounds

  • Banging or Thumping: These sounds may appear to emanate from the walls or be heard in the basement. While it may sound like an intruder, the real culprit is often loose pipes. As water travels through the turns and kinks in your pipes, it creates little waves. As the momentum builds, the wave motion becomes stronger and causes the pipes to vibrate if they are not secured properly. In areas where the pipes go through the floor or wall, or run along the basement ceiling, loose pipes will knock against the wood. If you have metal pipes, the sound will also carry through the pipes and may sound like it is coming from another location in your home. To quiet the pipes and rid your home of phantom noises, check the areas where your pipes run through the floor or the wall, or run parallel to walls or floors, to make sure they are secured so they cannot bang against the wood. You can buy plastic clamps that go over the pipe and screw to the adjacent wood to hold your pipes in place to prevent them from banging or thumping against the wood when they vibrate. Test the pipes by wiggling them with your hands and place clamps in areas where they are loose.

  • Vibrations in the Wall: Vibrations in the wall may be unnerving, but there is a logical plumbing explanation. If the fill valve cap in your toilet weakens, it will lose elasticity and not be able to seal the valve securely when you flush the toilet. As it bounces under the pressure of the water, it can cause shock waves in the pipes that causes them to vibrate. You can test this yourself by opening the tank and lifting the float arm. If the vibrations stop, a faulty fill valve cover is the culprit. You can replace it yourself with an inexpensive kit from the hardware store.

  • Pulsating: This typically happens when you are running water somewhere in the house. It may sound vaguely like the whoosh of a heartbeat, but it's only water moving through the pipes. This sound occurs when the pipes are partially filled with residue from hard water deposits that narrow the area for water to flow. Talk to your plumber to find out if your pipes need replacing.

  • Humming: If you hear mysterious humming in the night, don't be alarmed. There really is a plumbing explanation for this strange sound. Check your water heater to determine if the sound is coming from inside. This happens when sediment from your water builds up in the bottom of the tank. Water gets trapped under the sediment where it begins to boil, giving off an eerie humming sound. Your local plumber can drain and clean the tank for you to get it running smoothly again.

If you hear other unusual sounds that you cannot identify that seem to be related to the plumbing, call in your local  plumbing contractor to be sure. He has the experience and expertise to troubleshoot and correct any plumbing issues and make recommendations for changes. While every strange noise you hear in the night might not have a plumbing cause, many do. Go to websites of local plumbing companies for more info.