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Building noise traced to electrical system components, fixtures, devices, transformers, relays, or wiring.
How to track down and fix building sounds originating in electrical system components or devices.
We also discuss methods of sound or noise control in buildings during construction or as a building retrofit.
We also provide a MASTER INDEX to this topic, or you can try the page top or bottom SEARCH BOX as a quick way to find information you need.
Electrical Equipment or Electrical System Noises in buildings: diagnosis & cure
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.
The risk is fire or electrical shock. If a circuit is acting strangely with flickering lights, noises, or odors, turn it off at the main electrical panel and call a licensed electrician promptly.
If you are unable to safely turn off an electrical circuit for any reason, get people out of the building and call your fire department or emergency services. See
Air conditioner compressor motors or fan motors that are damaged, unable to start, or may be suffering from low voltage or a bad start capacitor may hum without starting.
Watch out: Shut off elecrical motors that hum without starting to avoid overheating, further damage, and a possible electrical fire.
For heat pump or air conditioner compressor motors that hum see HUMMING sounds from A/C or Heat Pump system
ALUMINUM WIRING HAZARDS - flickering lights, circuits that do not turn off or on, hissing crackling sounds, burning plastic odors.
Watch out: turn off electrical circuits that are flickering or making noise and obtain help from a licensed electrician
Buzzing sounds (also crackling) at electrical components anywhere, including compressor relay switches, electrical connections at any component, and quite seriously, at circuit breakers can be an indication of arcing and an electrical problem needing prompt attention.
Turn off such circuits immediately and contact a professional electrician or service technician.
ELECTRIC METERS & METER BASES of older designs sporting a rotating metal disc may produce a whirring sound when the meter is spinning. At a Poughkeepsie New York home we asked the local electric meter reader about the noisy meter on a house. He gave the meter a solid smack! The noise stopped. For a time. We don't recommend this repair approach, though indeed sometimes mechanically disturbing a noisy part is diagnostic.
Electronic equipment noises - clicks (typically relays), ticks, and whirs (typically fan noises), and occasional snap-click sounds (hard drive or disk accessing) are noticed by people with acute hearing.
Our photo (above left) shows a backup computer equipment power supply that contains a battery, switching equipment, and electric power conditioning circuitry. We expected it to be silent, but in fact in a quiet room one can hear a periodic clicking from an internal relay in the device.
Electric Motor noises - include normal operating hums and louder noises when a motor bearing is failing, a pump is runnign dry, or the motor shaft is binding.
See ELECTRIC MOTOR NOISE DIAGNOSIS for a list of diagnostic checks for noisy electric motors.
ELECTRICAL SYSTEM INSPECTIONfor home buyers provides guidance in identifying and fixing electrical hazards in homes: aluminum wiring, Federal Pacific FPE Stab-Lok panels, mis-wired circuits, fire and shock hazards
HEAT, ELECTRIC - clicks or creaks as an electric baseboard heats up are normal. But hissing, buzzing, crackling, snapping may be an electrical short and are dangerous. Heating system noises involving electrical components may be traced to motors, relays, switches, transformers and wiring.
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: email@example.com.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
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: email@example.com
Sound Oasis sound conditioners are produced by Sound Oasis: http://www.sound-oasis.com/ email: firstname.lastname@example.org 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 - email@example.com
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
Books & Articles on Building & Environmental Inspection, Testing, Diagnosis, & Repair
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The Illustrated Home illustrates construction details and building components, a reference for owners & inspectors. Special Offer: For a 5% discount on any number of copies of the Illustrated Home purchased as a single order Enter INSPECTAILL in the order payment page "Promo/Redemption" space.
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The Home Reference Book - the Encyclopedia of Homes, Carson Dunlop & Associates, Toronto, Ontario, 25th Ed., 2012, is a bound volume of more than 450 illustrated pages that assist home inspectors and home owners in the inspection and detection of problems on buildings. The text is intended as a reference guide to help building owners operate and maintain their home effectively. Field inspection worksheets are included at the back of the volume.
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