When you live in a house, you get used to the pops, crackles, pings, and creaks. Many old houses get a reputation for being spooky because of the many noises they seem to emit without any apparent reason.
What makes old houses noisy?
Is It Normal for an Old House to Be Noisy?
All houses are noisy regardless of age.
You notice the noises more in an old house because you expect an old house to be noisy, and you listen out for things that go bump or clang in the night when the family is quietly asleep.
Depending on the age of the house and when last renovated, something may need fixing, and there may be noises you wouldn’t hear as loudly in a new home.
Subconsciously your brain knows that maintenance may be necessary and will actively bring new noises to your attention.
It is normal for your old house to make plenty of interesting noises.
What Noises Can You Expect from Your Old House?
Depending on the cause or the season, you can expect to hear:
- Bubbling noises.
- Grinding noises.
Sometimes the noises happen during particular weather, specific times in the day, or after certain actions like flushing the toilet.
15 Reasons Why Old Houses Are Noisy
Most noises have a cause; sometimes, the noise highlights a maintenance issue, but other times it is the house moving and settling.
#1 Expanding and Contracting Ducting
Switching on heating after a summer break results in pipes and joints expanding or contracting with temperature changes.
You can get a range of interesting clicks and clangs as the system fires up.
#2 Shingles Expanding and Contracting in the Sun
If the knocking and creaking noises are coming from the roof in high summer, it may be expansion and contraction of the shingles.
All materials change form when they get warm and cool down, and expansion joints allow this process, but you can still hear noises if the house is quiet.
#3 Air in the Radiators
A regular task in any home using hot water in radiators as a heating source is to “bleed” the air out of the radiators with the radiator key.
You can hear a popping or banging sound as air moves around the system, and some radiators won’t get as hot as they should.
It is a quick fix, and you can either schedule it as a regular maintenance task or wait until you hear the characteristic noise of a trapped air bubble.
If you can hear scratching noises in your old walls, you probably have an opportunistic animal making a home for itself in the security of your old house.
Old houses can develop cracks and gaps in their walls and foundations.
If there is a point of entry into your home, you can guarantee some enterprising rodent will find it.
#5 Sediment in the Water Heater
Minerals in the water can precipitate out to form sand-like sediment.
Hard water areas are notorious for limescale furring up heating elements, taps, and plumbing.
If you follow the noises of rumbling, hissing, or popping to your water heater, you can be relatively sure you have sediment in the heater.
Gas and propane water heater are prone to producing these popping candy noises when the sediment heats up and jumps around.
#6 Potential Leak
If you can hear dripping or running water, it is worth turning off your water system and listening hard.
You may find you have a leak or a dripping tap, and it is always worth investigating the noise of running water to ensure your plumbing or roof hasn’t sprung a leak.
#7 Air Pressure in the Water Pipes
If you hear loud banging noises in your old house when someone runs water from a faucet, drains the bath, or flushes the toilet, you may be experiencing the “pressure hammer” noises of air in your plumbing.
You can hear this noise all over the house; it isn’t local to the water outlet because it travels around the pipes.
#8 Dirty Filters
The filters on your heating and cooling systems need to be clean to work.
You may hear a whistling noise if they get dirty as they try to pull in air from around the filter.
Changing or cleaning the filters is a routine task that stops issues from escalating.
#9 Leaky Windows and Door Frames
Wind blowing through gaps can make whistling or sighing sounds.
It is worth checking all your windows and doors for cracks that allow air to whistle through, as these are places where you will lose heat in the winter.
#10 Old HVAC
High-pitched squeals, grinding noises, and clicks from your HVAC system may mean that there is something wrong with it requiring professional intervention.
If you inherited the system when you bought the house, it might be poorly maintained or old.
These noises from your HVAC system are not typical for old houses and signal a serious problem.
#11 Old Wiring
Fizzing and humming noises may indicate a loose wire.
All houses move and settle with the changing seasons, and if the electrical system hasn’t had a recent update, you may have a loose wire or two.
If the house is ancient and hasn’t had a rewire in the past 25 years, it may not meet current electrical safety standards.
#12 Loose Sidings and Shingles
If you hear rattling noises when the wind blows, there may be some loose parts outside your house.
The wind finds a way to lift and drop any loose component it can find a way under.
Sometimes the noise is more of a vibration because the shingle is beginning to work loose but is still reasonably well attached.
#13 Old Floorboards
Wood can dry and shrink with age, and your old floorboards may be creaking whenever someone walks on them.
If they creak independently, you probably hear the noise of the floorboards rubbing against each other as they expand and contract in the temperature change between day and night.
#14 Insect Infestation
You will probably notice an insect infestation from the damage they cause rather than the noises they make at night.
However, insects that invade and damage your home produce distinct noises that you are more likely to hear at night:
- Termites are noisy chewers.
- Carpenter ants have a scratching, rustling sound.
- Deathwatch beetle makes a tapping sound.
- Wasps and bees buzz.
#15 Natural Movements and Appliances
Your old house flexes and settles with daily and seasonal weather changes.
Wood can swell in moist conditions; metal work can expand and contract, and the wind can shake the frame. Your house isn’t a rigid structure, and the noises resulting from natural movements aren’t an issue.
Some of the noises may be from the normal operating of appliances sounding magnified through ducting or because the house is quiet.
Familiarity with how your home moves and breathes will help you tune in to the sounds that mean you need to pay attention and those that are normal for your old house.
How to Make an Old House Quieter?
The actions you take to make your house quieter depends on the root cause of the noise.
Some noises (electrical fizzing and a squealing HVAC system) are safety issues and need immediate professional attention.
Others are less urgent and more a question of deciding what you need to fix and what you can live alongside.
Stay on Top of Electrical Safety
If you have extension leads in every room, haven’t had a recent rewire, and the circuit breakers keep tripping, then consider prioritizing a complete wiring safety check and potential rewire.
Modern living requires many outlets, and you may want to redesign your lighting scheme.
If you hear buzzing, humming, or sizzling noises associated with your lights or outlets, get a professional to check your electrics and consider your options.
Electricity can kill; around 1000 people die each year, and a further 30,000 have non-fatal shock injuries. Distressingly 20% of these injuries affect children in the home.
Look After Your HVAC
Your water heating, room heating, and cooling systems need regular checks and maintenance.
It is best to have your service and change your filters on a regular date in the calendar. Preventative care is better than having your system break down in the middle of a hot summer or freezing winter.
When it comes to sediment in your water heater, you may opt for water treatment or a regular clean, depending on your water quality and other relevant factors.
Stay on Top of Your Maintenance
Fixing problems before they grow is the way to go with most house maintenance.
A visual check of your walls and roof can help spot items that need nailing.
Regularly checking your home for potential leaks – water stains, discolored spots, and damp smells prevent a hefty repair bill further down the line.
Filling cracks around window and door frames cut down on any whistling noises, and you may want to fit the appropriate draft excluders to the bottom of the doors.
Take the Air Out of Your System
When you move from summer into fall and want to fire up your central heating system, it is time to bleed your radiators.
If you’ve got air pressure banging through your pipework, consider switching off the water, draining, and refilling the system to remove those air blockages.
Unfortunately, the air isn’t going to get out without help, and no one needs to put up with those banging and popping sounds.
Be Alert to Wild Intruders
From spiders to raccoons, the great outdoors is happy to become the great indoors, given the slightest opportunity.
As part of your maintenance walk around, be alert to signs that you may have unwelcome rodents, insects, or other pests taking up space in your old home.
Remove these uninvited guests and remove the creepy scratching and rustling in your walls and attic.
Check Your Floorboards
You can adjust your floorboards’ noises by relaying, fixing the odd loose board, or adding lubrication.
The creaking noise is either from loose nails or boards rubbing against each other. You may be able to quieten your floorboards by applying talc, beeswax, or a silicone lubricant to the joints.
If the floor is warped, uneven, or cracked, you may want to replace some or all the boards.
Don’t Stress About the Normal Noises
No house is silent because the materials react to the cycle of warming and cooling.
Over time you learn to accept the regular ping of the ducting flexing slightly and the faint sigh of a settling floorboard.
Learn the noises that occur naturally, and you will find that you cease to hear them because your brain will tune them out as background noises.
Most people only notice the usual house noises in the first few months after moving. Your brain tries to determine if there is anything concerning about the new environment and is supersensitive to all noises.
In the future, you will only notice new noises or ones your brain recognizes as potential issues.
All houses make some noise.
When it is quiet at night, a slight noise seems louder, and you have time to wonder what is causing it.
Old houses may need more maintenance than new builds, and the nature of the noise will clue you in to your priorities for keeping your old house in mint condition.