Building Noise & Sound Problem Sources, Causes, Cures
NOISE / SOUND DIAGNOSIS & CURE - home CONTENTS: Building & house noises, a complete catalog of sources of building noises: lists of causes, cures, and detection methods for indoor noise pollution. Also use the page top (blue area) search box to search InspectApedia by noise type, or use Ctrl-F to search within this article for specific noise or sound types such as buzz, creak, hiss, drip, etc.
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Building noise troubleshooting: causes & cures.
Here we provide an extensive catalog of the sources of annoying sounds or noise complaints at or around buildings. We provide a Complete Index to Sources of Sounds Helps Diagnose, & Cure Noise Problems in or at Buildings .
These articles discuss building noise control: how to inspect, diagnose & cure noise or sound problems in homes or commercial buildings. Information is provided about auditory (hearing), visual, historic, medical, or other clues of building condition that explain various sounds heard in buildings. We also discuss methods of sound or noise control in buildings during construction or as a building retrofit.
How to Identify & Cure Noises & Sounds in Building Interiors
[Click to enlarge any image]
Some building noises are just an annoyance - we'll focus on sound control, sound isolation, and sound insulation methods. But other building sounds or noises may be a sign of trouble, failing equipment, insect attack, rodent infestation, or other more dangerous conditions.
Our page top photo showed a severe air bypass leak at an attic pull-down stair. Occupants could at times hear air rushing through this opening.
This article explains how to locate the source of, identify and correct various building sounds and noises indoors or on occasion, noises from outside that penetrate indoors at annoying levels.
While we touch on environmental noise coming from outside of buildings (aircraft noise, highway noise, noisy neighbors) the focus of this article series is on identifying and curing unwanted indoor noise sources in buildings - noise control.
Regardless of their source, noises are transmitted in buildings by two methods.
Airborne Sound: Sound waves traveling through air move between building areas - such as through open windows, doors, or stairwells.
Mechanically transmitted sound: When sounds move through solid building components such as floors, ceilings, walls, framing, carrying sound from one area to another the sound transmission is referred to more technically as impact insulation class transmission or IIC sound transmission.
In many cases the source of an annoying building sound may be obvious and we can move immediately to strategies for reducing that source to an acceptable noise level. But we also receive queries from people who have difficulty tracing a sound to its source, or who are unsure if a sound that they hear at a known source (say a humming sound at an electrical component) is normal or means trouble.
In our collection of sources of building sounds and noises, below, we describe common noises that may come from various sources and we link to more detailed diagnostic and repair advice for these problems.
Separately at SOUND CONTROL in buildings we provide a series of detailed articles on noise or sound transmission control - that is, methods for reducing unwanted building noise levels through building design, insulation, sound isolation, and noise barriers.
Find the Source of Building Noises by Keeping a Sound or Noise Event Log
To track a mystery-noise or sound to its source in a building, try keeping a noise log, noting the conditions, times, events, and information we list in our printable SOUND EVENT LOG.
Alphabetical List of Building Noises by Sound Source or Sound Type
Beginning below, we provide an alphabetically-ordered catalog of building noises and sounds, with suggestions for tracking down these disturbances.
Air Conditioning or Heat Pump System Noises
At AIR CONDITIONING & HEAT PUMP NOISES we discuss a range of noises can be traced to air conditioning systems, including sounds of air leaks into or out of air ducts and air handlers as well as mechanical sounds traced to the air handler or blower, or the compressor unit (outside).
Air handler / blower indoor cooling unit noises:
see AIR HANDLER / BLOWER NOISES for a discussion of air leaks, bubbling, clicking, duct noises, fan noises and vibration dampener noises, howling or hissing in air handlers and ducts, rattling at fan motors, hissing at failing electrical components, and more including the articles on these problems listed just below.
Air leaks in ductwork often make a roaring or hissing sound. See
Bubbling sounds occur in all types of building piping systems when there is air or gas mixed in with water or another liquid such as refrigerant. Bubbling sounds in hot water heating systems is discussed at
Booms: aside from obvious boom noises traced to explosions or perhaps to an oil burner puffback explosion, methane gas explosions, and similar explosive causes, sounds coming from the ground, including loud booms, moaning, humming, and other sounds coming from the ground may be due to "stretch movement noises" due to tectonic plate movement. See Sinkholes in GEORGIA and see the heating noises described below in this list.
Buzzing, snapping, crackling, popping - may be dangerous electrical switch or breaker indicators. Buzzing also occurs at failing or failed relays such as the relay in a heating system aquastat or circulator controller or in relays used to control HVAC fans, blowers, and compressor motors.
Clicking noises from relays & controls can be heard at either the compressor/condenser or at the indoor air handler unit: A failing or defective thermostat or to a defective control itself can cause relays to click on and off repeatedly. - thanks to reader Michael Anderson.
A clicking noise might be traced to a failing electrical control in the air handler or outside at the fan-compressor unit, leading to a control switching on and off too rapidly.
Duct system noises: hisses, whistles, even roars, and occasionally clunk or clank sounds from expanding or contracting metal ductwork. Take a look at
SUPPLY DUCT AIR LEAKS. Also buzzing, rattling, clanking or other noises originating at the air handler/blower unit may be transmitted into the physical ductwork and thus the building, if the system lacks an adequate vibration dampener
Ground noises: sounds coming from the ground, including loud booms, moaning, humming, and other sounds coming from the ground may be due to "stretch movement noises" due to tectonic plate movement. See Sinkholes in GEORGIA
Humming sound might be traced to a failing compressor motor or a failing electric motor on a blower fan.
At HUMMING NOISES we list common sources of hum sounds found in or around buildings.
Sizzling noises from a split system air conditioner / heat pump may be heard at the wall mounted unit when the system is in heating mode. 
Squeaking noises from a split system air conditioner / heat pump might be heard coming from the wall mounted unit. According to Fujitsu, This is
the result of minute expansion and contraction of the front cover due
to temperature changes. 
Water noises, a sound like running water may be heard in the refrigerant or condensate piping of a split system air conditioner or heat pump while the equipment is running and/or briefly during unit start-up as well as for a period immediately after the unit shuts off.
While usually we consider the sight or sound of bubbles in the refrigerant piping as an indication of low refrigerant, for some systems this may not be the case and for at least some split system models Fujitsu points out that this sound may be normal.  However if you hear bubbling in the refrigerant piping and the system is not cooling properly, indeed there may be an improper charge or refrigerant may be leaking. See
Appliance noises in buildings are a bit easier to track down. If you are uncertain just which appliance is a noise source, or if it is a noise source, just try turning off individual appliances to check for cessation of noise. Appliance noises cover a wide range, from humming refrigerator compressors to rattling loose metal parts.
Watch out: A chimney fire sounds like a roaring freight train.
If you suspect a chimney fire and can do so safely, shut down your wood stove (close all air intakes) or close any chimney dampers as well, immediately exit the building, and call the fire department from outdoors.
Dripping Water Sounds in buildings, How to Track Down
Watch out: Electrical System Noises can be signs of dangerous conditions: buzzing circuit breakers or fixtures may indicate that an electrical circuit is short circuiting or that a circuit breaker is not tripping when it should.
Fans and Fan Noises in buildings & How to Control Fan Noises
Also see FLOOR TYPES & DEFECTS - inspection, diagnosis, repair, and installation tips for resilient flooring, vinyl and asphalt floor tiles, wood flooring, tile floors, carpeting in buildings.
Ghost Noises or Odors in & Around Buildings
Among of our building inspection & diagnosis clients have been a few folks who were quite sure that noises and even some visions in buildings were due to the presence of spirits or ghosts.
In most cases sounds and odors were tracked to a physical source and speaking more accurately, if a physiological, psychological, or neurological cause of noise perception is ruled out, all other building noises can ultimately be tracked to a physical source inside or outside of the building.
are invited to comment using the comment box found at the bottom of each InspectApedia article.
Hardware Noises in Buildings: hinges, locks, bolts, etc. can be sources of surprising building noises
We have traced creaking, chirping, and creaking noises to moving hardware, typically metal or wood or metal and wood parts moving across one another.
More often we find these building noise sources by tracking the sound to a point of origin, seeing something moving, and then relating the sound to the cause of movement. A squeak or creak may be traced to use of a particular building door such as a room passage door or a cabinet door.
Often a squeak or creak that seems to occur in regular intervals that diminish in volume is traced to a hinged fixture that moves when disturbed. Some examples include:
A creaking squeaking noise traced to a metal toilet paper holder that squeaked when it was jostled to move from side to side (photo, above left). Ironically this creaky toiler paper was a cast brass bird that was squeaking in a sound not unlike a chirping bird.
A shrieking noise traced to a metal hinge supporting a building sign that waved when wind was blowing
A creaking towel dispenser
Health, Neurological, and Psychologically-Related Noise Complaints in buildings
Details about this topic are found
at HEALTH RELATED NOISE COMPLAINTS. Health related noise and apparent noise sources can involve common aging or hearing disorders, dementia, or other serious medical conditions.
Hearing Disabilities and Building Noises
Hearing Disabilities and the ability to identify and track the source of noises in buildings can be difficult for the hearing impaired.
A summary of common sources of howling noises in buildings with links to howling noise diagnostic articles
see HOWLING NOISES in BUILDINGS
(Nov 2, 2014) Carolyn said:
We just had our deck rebuilt, changing the warped wood for grooved composite boards held together by hidden Trex fasteners. The new deck makes a howling sound when the wind blows. We ruled out the deck balusters and railing, so we know it is something to do with the decking. Our builder is as stumped as are we. Any ideas on how to get to the root of the problem and fix it?
Carolyn, if I could send you a prize for "best question" I'd do so.
Before posing a solution lets gain confidence in the noise cause.
I suspect the howling deck is a feature of one of the following, combined of course, with wind direction and site or terrain shape and features.
. Size / spacing of decking boards or gaps
. Framing orientation vs wind direction
. Wind over textured surface
. Wind through guardrails or balusters
. Wind redirection caused by decking,
. Something else we've not thought of
You could try a directional mike, even a mechanic's stethoscope but let's try something else first.
Try stapling house wrap first underneath the entire deck floor, from below, on the bottom of the joists. Don't worry, it won't be permanent.
For a complete discussion of howling noises traced to building decks including a completion of discussion of Carolyn's question above,
see HOWLING DECK NOISE- surface textures of decking, possibly framing, deck gaps, wind direction, other factors
Insect Noise and Insect-caused Noises in buildings: buzz, chirp, hum
Insect noise and insect-caused noises in buildings include the following
Buzzing - bees in walls such as honeybees nesting in a building wall or roof cavity, or other bee activity on the building exterior - such as carpenter bees. Buzzing noises may be a colony of honeybees in the building wall. Watch out: don't go cutting the wall open - you may be attacked.
Chirping - cricket infestations
Termites or carpenter ants, while tiny as individuals, as a group, chewing away at wood components in a building can make a chewing or tearing noise that some people and many pets or other animals can hear, especially if there is no covering background noise.
Details about roof noise and sound transmission cause and remedy are
atROOF NOISE TRANSMISSION. Excerpts are below.
Certain building configurations, such as occupied attics or under-roof areas with cathedral ceilings, and metal roofed buildings may transmit noises to the building interior through the roof sheathing and building framing.
Where roof-transmitted sound reduction is most sought is in buildings located close to high noise areas such as under the flight path to airports.
Our photo of metal roofed homes (left) shows two older houses in Key West, Florida.
Types of Roof Noises & Sounds
Roof noises may be described as those attributed to an obvious source: the patter or even the roar of falling rain or hail, popping and cracking noises (perhaps due to thermal expansion and contraction of roof coverings, metal roofing, or roof structure), and transmitted noises from other external sources such as low-flying aircraft or nearby trains or auto & truck traffic from a nearby highway.
Accurate diagnosis of the source of roof noise transmission is important in deciding what remedy may work best. For example, check during rainfall to accurately determine the loudest sound source - you might find that more noise is transmitted to the building interior through skylights than through the roof surface itself. man ear as cutting noise levels in half, a
reduction of over 20 decibels is significant. - Colbond 
One frequently cited disadvantage of metal roofing is that it generates a noticeable noise when struck by rain, hail, or even dropping acorns. If installed directly to purlins with no roof sheathing, the noise might be heard in the building interior.
However, when installed over a solid substrate, with normal levels of insulation, the noise should not be noticeably different than with other roofing types.
Sound Transmission Class - STC & OITC: Sound Transmission Loss Properties for Building Walls & Roofs
Definition of STC or Sound Transmission Class
STC or sound transmission class is defined as the level of reduction of sound transmission from outside noise sources to the building interior. Higher STC numbers mean higher resistance to sound transmission to the building interior, or as acousticians would describe it, higher STC means greater sound transmission loss between outdoors and the building interior. Typical STC values for metal buildings are STC=20 to STC=55.
OITC or Outdoor-Indoor Transmission Class describes the sound transmission loss properties of building exterior components like windows and walls against noise from traffic, trains, or low flying aircraft.
I had an Owens Corning roof installed with Tru Definition shingles. They installed a Ridge Vent with O'hagin vents and there are the T Top Vents. During a wind storm I hear a sound coming from the front of the house that sounds like a horn sound. It goes on and off for the entirety of the wind storm. Had the roofer here and he can't pinpoint what is making the horn sound or how to fix it. Ideas?
I'd start by temporarily blocking off the ridge vent by simply taping some plastic over it.
Noise transmitted through walls (or ceilings) from mechanical rooms (boilers, furnaces) or utility rooms (washing machine, dryer) can be reduced by using good sound isolation construction and insulating materials.
Causes of Water heater noises or sounds in buildings
WATER HEATER NOISES in buildings include
Crackling or popping sounds as the water heater is warming up, especially if the water supply is high in mineral content, leading to mineral deposits on the bottom of the water heater or on electric water heating elements
Watch out: water heater noises can indicate a high level of water heater scaling that increases water heating cost, reduces the quantity of hot water available, and can reduce water heater life. Water heater noises can also indicate that the heater has been set to a too-high temperature and may be unsafe, risking scalding or other hazards.
Wind Noise and wind-caused noises in buildings include a surprising number of mechanisms and sounds now discussed
at WIND NOISES at BUILDINGS
Track Down Window & Door Related Noises in buildings
While sound-reducing or low-sound transmission windows using noise-reducing laminated glass and similar noise-reducing exterior or interior building doors are available, remember that as soon as you open a window for ventilation, the sound isolation benefit at that location is lost.
Sound-reducing doors should be of solid materials, have no glass windows or glazing, and should be sealed around the door perimeter with sound insulating foam or similar gaskets.
Use the "Click to Show or Hide FAQs" link just above to see recently-posted questions, comments, replies, try the search box just below, or if you prefer, post a question or comment in the Comments box below and we will respond promptly.
Acoustical Society of America - http://asa.aip.org/ Elaine Moran, ASA Office Manager, Suite 1NO1, 2 Huntington Quadrangle, Melville, NY 11747-4502
516) 576-2360, FAX: (516) 576-2377 email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
ASA is an excellent source of noise and sound standards. Quoting from the associations history page:
"From the Society's inception, its members have been involved in the development of acoustical standards concerned with terminology, measurement procedures, and criteria for determining the effects of noise and vibration. In 1932, The American National Standards Institute (ANSI), then called the American Standards Association, appointed the Acoustical Society as sponsor of a committee, designated as Z-24, to standardize acoustical terminology and measurements. The work of this committee expanded to such an extent that it was replaced in 1957 by three committees, S1 on Acoustics, S2 on Mechanical Shock and Vibration, and S3 on Bioacoustics, with a fourth, S12 on Noise, added in 1981. These four committees are each responsible for producing, developing a consensus for, and adopting standards in accordance with procedures approved by ANSI. Although these committees are independent of the Acoustical Society, the Society provide
s the financial support and an administrative Secretariat to facilitate their work. After a standard is adopted by one of these committees and approved by ANSI, the Secretariat arranges for its publication by ASA through the American Institute of Physics. The ASA also distributes ISO and IEC standards. Abstracts of standards and ordering information can be found online on the ASA Standards Page. More than 100 acoustical standards have been published in this way; a catalog is also available from the Standards Secretariat (631-390-0215; Fax: 631-390-0217). The Society also provides administrative support for several international standards committees and acts as the administrative Secretariat (on behalf of ANSI) for the International Technical Committee on Vibration and Shock (TC-108)." - http://asa.aip.org/history.html
ANSI/ASA S12.60, Acoustical Performance Criteria, Design Requirements, and Guidelines for Schools, 2002.
 Connelly, Maureen, Hodgson, Murray, "Thermal and Acoustical Performance of Green Roofs", Sound Transmission Loss of Green roofs, [presentation, Session 1.5], Greening Rooftops for Sustainable Communities, conference, awards, trade show, Baltimore MD, 30 April-2 may 2008. Web search 4/3/2011 original source: http://commons.bcit.ca/greenroof/publications/
2008_grhc_connelly_hodgson.pdf. These authors provide an excellent bibliography of references for sound transmission in buildings, including some of the references cited just below:
Sharp, BH 1973, Study of Techniques to Increase the Sound Insulation of Building Elements. U.S. Department of Commerce PB-222 829, Washington.
Sharp, BH & Martin S 1996, "The Measurement of Aircraft Noise Reduction in Residences", Proceedings of Inter-Noise, Liverpool, 1996, pp. 2747-2752.
Friberg, R 1973, "Transmission Loss and Absorption Factors for Corrugated Steel Roofs, Insulation on the Outside", Proceedings of Inter-Noise, Copenhagen, 1973, pp. 213-217.
 Colbond, EnkaTech Note, "Acoustical Benefits of Roof Underlayments", Colbond Inc., PO Box 1057, Enka NC 28728, Tel: 800-365-7391, website: www.colbond-usa.com web search 4/3/2011, original source: http://products.construction.com/
 General Steel Corporation, "The Facts About the Acoustical Performance of Metal Building Insulation 2", Sound Transmission Class, General Steel Corporation, 10639 W. Bradford Road, Littleton, CO 80127, web search 4/3/11, original source: http://www.gensteel.com/insulation_facts-5a.htm
 North American Insulation Manufacturers Association NAIMA, "Insulation Facts #58: The Facts About the Acoustical Performance of Metal Building Insulation", NAIMA, 44 Canal Plaza, Suite 310, Alexandria VA 22314, tel: 703-684-0084, website: http://www.naima.org/
 Sarah Hager Johnston, Peregrine Information Consultants, Tel: 860-676-2228, Website: www.peregrineinfo.com Email: email@example.com
Research and writing for insurance, risk management, safety & health, business, and medical professionals. Quoting: Peregrine Information Consultants provides customized secondary research, technical information, and standards, news, current awareness services, writing, and editing to support U.S. clients in property/casualty insurance, risk management and loss control, occupational safety and health, consumer safety, business, retail, manufacturing, and other industries.
Developments in Noise Control, NRCC, National Research Council, Canada, suggestions for noise control, sound transmission through block walls, plumbing noise control, noise leaks, and sound control advice. Web search 01/17/2011, original source: https://www.nrc-cnrc.gc.ca/eng/ibp/irc/bsi/90-noise-control.html
Thanks to audiologist Cheryl P. Harllee, licensed hearing specialist, for discussing noises and noise problems in preparation for this article. Ms. Harllee can be located at the Village Hearing Center, 249 U.S. Highway One, Tequesta FL 33469 561-744-0231
 "Localization of a source of sound in a room," W.M. Hartmann, Proc. Audio Engr. Soc. Eighth International Conference, ed. S. Pizzi, pp 27-32, AES, New York (1990).
 "Auditory Localization in rooms," W.M. Hartmann, Proc. Audio Engr. Soc. Twelfth International Conference, ed. S. Bech pp 34-39, AES, New York (1993). "Listening in a Room and the Precedence Effect," W.M. Hartmann, in
 Binaural and Spatial Hearing} ed. R.H. Gilkey and T.B. Anderson, pp 191-210, L. Erlbaum Associates (1997).
 Medhi Batel et als., "Noise Source Location Techniques - Simple to Advanced Applications", Sound and Vibration, March 2003, retrieved 4/23/2013 original source www.sandv.com/downloads/0303bate.pdf [copy on file as Noise_Source_Location_Techs0303bate.pdf]
Thanks to reader Sue Hazeldine, from the U.K. for discussing how she tracked down a whistling chimney noise to an antique hanging sign on the building exterior - 01/19/2010.
Thanks to reader Michael Anderson, 8 May 2009, for discussing clicking sounds coming from air conditioning equipment.
Thanks to reader Erna Ross who described loss of sleep due to a hissing noise at her home 06/15/2008.
Marpac, produces white sound generators, a product that they identify as the Marpac sound conditioner. Marpac can be contacted at http://www.marpac.com/ or contact the Marpac Corporation,
P.O. Box 560 Rocky Point, NC 28457 Phone: 800-999-6962 (USA and Canada) Fax: 910-602-1435 1-910-602-1421 (worldwide), 800-999- or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Sound Oasis sound conditioners are produced by Sound Oasis: http://www.sound-oasis.com/ email: email@example.com or 1-866-625-3218
Barrier Ultra-R super high-R building panels, produced by Glacier Bay, use Aerogel and are rated up to R-30 per inch, or in Barrier Ultra-r™ panels, R-50 per inch. The company also produces acoustic panels that are Ultra-db resistant and lightweight. Unlike the appliance insulation panels discussed in the original Q&A above on miracle insulation, these Areogel based panels will continue to retain some, though reduced insulating value if punctured, performing at perhaps R-9 per inch. The product is used in marine refrigerators, but in the future may be available as a residential construction product. The company is researching specialized products in medical, transportation, and aerospace applications. Contact: Glacier Bay, Inc., 2930 Faber Street, Union City, CA 94587 U.S.A., (510) 437-9100, Sales and Technical Information - firstname.lastname@example.org
Noise - a Health Problem - http://www.nonoise.org/library/epahlth/epahlth.htm - quoted below
Racket, din, clamor, noise. Whatever you want to call it, unwanted sound is America's most widespread nuisance. But noise is more than just a nuisance. It constitutes a real and present danger to people's health. Day and night, at home, at work, and at play, noise can produce serious physical and psychological stress. No one is immune to this stress. Though we seem to adjust to noise by ignoring it, the ear, in fact, never closes and the body still responds - sometimes with extreme tension, as to a strange sound in the night.
The annoyance we feel when faced with noise is the most common outward symptom of the stress building up inside us. Indeed, because irritability is so apparent, legislators have made public annoyance the basis of many noise abatement programs. The more subtle and more serious health hazards associated with stress caused by noise traditionally have been given much less attention. Nonetheless, when we are annoyed or made irritable by noise, we should consider these symptoms fair warning that other things may be happening to us, some of which may be damaging to our health.
Protective Noise Levels - 1979, basis for many local noise ordinances and codes - http://www.nonoise.org/library/levels/levels.htm This publication is intended to complement the EPA's "Levels Document,"* the 1974 report examining levels of environmental noise necessary to protect public health and welfare. It interprets the contents of the Levels Document in less technical terms for people who wish to better understand the concepts presented there, and how the protective levels were identified. In that sense, this publication may serve as an introduction, or a supplement, to the Levels Document.
"Measurement of Highway-Related Noise", US Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration, http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/environment/noise/measure/chap8.htm
"Sound Decisions" 9/85 p.11 and "Soundproof Room" in 5/85 p.7 in The
New England Builder, Box 97, East Haven, VT 05837 (802) 223-6123.
"Noise and Vibration Control in Buildings", Robert S. Jones,
McGraw-Hill Book Co., PO Box 400, Hightstown, NJ 08520-9989 #006431-8 [$47.50]
"Shoptalk", Builder Magazine, NAHB, Feb. 1986 p. 138, Martin M.
Mintz, AIA, Director of NAHB Technical Services - article about constructing
soundproof floors using wood joists and plywood subfloors.
Guide to Airborne, Impact, and Structure Borne Noise Control in
Multifamily Dwellings", Federal Housing Administration publication.
"Construction Principles, Materials and Methods", Olin, Schmidt, and
"Soundproofing a Music Studio", Gene DeSmidt, Fine Homebuilding,
Taunton Press, 63 S. Main St., PO Box 355, Newton, CT 06470 No. 35,
"Building a Recording Studio", Jeff Cooper, Synergy Group, Inc., Los
Angeles, CA, ISBN 0-916899-00-4.
"The Book Nook" - how to build a quite room, Rodale's Practical
Homeowner, October, 1987, p. 50-61. This issue, p. 98-99, has a good list of
manufacturers/distributors of a range of noise control products such as
acoustical sealants, ceiling systems, resilient channels, wall panels, window
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