Imagine this: You’ve just moved into your brand new home – and after a few hours you start hearing unexpected noises. They come from the walls, ceiling, ducts, floors or elsewhere, and after a few days you start to think maybe you chose a bad builder! You ask yourself, ‘How could they have missed these problems?’ and ‘Who should I sue first?’
Don’t panic! Before you call your lawyer, know this: there is an explanation for every noise you hear. With just a little construction knowledge, you may be able to understand and pinpoint what’s causing the noises in your home.
In this article, we will address many common causes of a noisy home, and hopefully help you understand what might be ailing your noisy home.
Let’s start with the basics.
First, there are two general categories of noises:
- Those that occur in reaction to an immediate and temporary stress and are easy to identify, such as walking across a certain spot on the floor.
- Those that happen when you least expect them and without any obvious reason. For example, you may be lying in bed or sitting quietly reading your favorite book when you hear creaking or popping sounds.
In this second category, noises are usually caused by three things: moisture, temperature, soil movement (settling) or a combination of the three. Let’s take each of these in turn.
“Moisture?”, you ask. “But I have a brand new house with a good roof, tight walls, double paned windows, and even a Guardian Certification, and you’re telling me it’s moisture?”
It simply comes down to the construction process, and the materials used to build the home. Let’s take a look:
- The Foundation:
Constructed with concrete, it is filled with water and takes around 28 days to cure, and years to achieve moisture equilibrium. Concrete is constantly absorbing water from the earth, as the air conditioner is constantly drying it out (as we’ll see in a minute).
Traditionally we use lumber which ships with around 19% moisture by volume. During transportation, storage, exposure to elements and time in framing stage before the HVAC system was started, the moisture level may have increased.
Drywall is made from a slurry of gypsum and water. Though it is dried in production, it can still contain some moisture.
- Wall Seal:
We apply a water based texture to the walls and ceilings followed by water-based paints.
- Other Materials and Practices:
In the construction process, floor decking, wood trim, cabinets, water soluble caulks, glue, etc. also introduce moisture into the structure,
Finally, the HVAC system is turned on and begins to dehumidify the new home. Experts estimate that in a typical new home the HVAC system dehumidifies about 70 gallons of water per day! This causes the materials from which it is being removed to shrink, and may result in hairline cracks, physical movement of framing materials and fasteners, and other adjustments which can cause creaking, squeaking and popping noises. In most cases the noises will lessen over time and eventually become unnoticeable.
Temperature changes in a home can also shrink or swell the materials and cause noises. When combined with the dehumidification discussed above, the movement can be substantial and the noise may increase.
- Water Pipes:
Your pipes can be the source of ticking or popping noises as they are heated and cooled – most pronounced in copper or other rigid materials which expand when heated. If they are bound or touching other materials, the noise can be pronounced. These can sometimes be isolated and silenced with area specific adjustments.
- HVAC Expansion/Contraction (Tinning):
This problem is more pronounced with HVAC systems that have all metal ducts. Heating and/or cooling of metal surfaces causes a ticking sound called “tinning”. It is caused by expansion and contraction of metal as the temperature changes rapidly. With the advent of flexible ducts, this isn’t that common anymore, but can still occur at furnace cabinets (especially in attic units when the cooling comes on).
SOIL MOVEMENT (Settling)
The average modern, two-story home weighs about 275 lbs per square foot. It is the equivalent of about 687,500 lbs sitting on a relatively small area of 2,500 square feet. This sheer weight is going to cause some foundation settlement as it finds its balance through soil compression.
The soil type also matters. In the case of sticky black clay an average home in an average year rises and falls up to 2 inches from a dry hot summer to a wet cold winter and back again. Of course, if the foundation moves everything above it moves, and when things move, they can sometimes make noise.
Additionally, given the thousands of connections in a home (different materials brought together and fastened with nails or screws), there are also thousands of contact points. These can cause squeaks, creaks, pops or other noises when movement, swelling or shrinkage occur.
The reality is that most of these noises will substantially subside, if not go away with time. While we can often solve immediate or temporary stress noises, such as a squeaky floor, there is little than can be done to resolve noises caused by change in the physical condition of the construction materials. Be patient and allow your home to settle in, just as you would a new pet. Then enjoy a comfortable, dependable and durable home for the rest of your life.
We’d love to hear your noisy home stories. Share yours in the comments below: