During Halloween time, it’s natural to be spooked by strange noises in the middle of the night. But when it’s noises in your home that are setting nerves on edge, how do you know when to ignore it and how do you know when you are right to be afraid? Those pesky noises can be harmless, or they can be warning signs that trouble is brewing – whether it’s a vermin infestation or a leaking pipe.
Not all noises are scary. Gentle groaning, creaking and even occasional loud cracking noises in a property occur frequently. It’s a natural response to changing temperatures and humidity as structures and the different materials they are constructed from expand and contract at different rates. The sound is particularly evident at night – both because the building is cooling and contracting but also because once we’ve all retired to bed there’s less ambient noise to distract us from any rumblings.
Other times however, such noises can be letting you know something, or someone, is with you and you need to beware. Here’s how to keep an ear out for trouble, to help you sleep easier at night, whether you are a homeowner who needs to tackle the problem or a tenant who needs to pass on the news to your landlord or agent.
Vermin such as mice and squirrels
Scurrying, scratching or squeaking means you are definitely not alone. The sound may be accompanied by more visible signs that you have unwelcome company, such as mice droppings or visible damage. Vermin such as rats, mice and squirrels need to be found and banished quickly before more long-term damage is done, as there’s a risk they will chew through wires or rip up insulation. Beware, too, that such infestations can also be a danger to health, since many vermin can carry serious diseases.
Subsidence and settling
As a property settles into the soil below, cracking or popping sounds can be heard beyond those made by temperature changes. When this settling happens, the foundations naturally adjust with the ground to compensate, triggering occasional noises. If it only happens once in a while, these sounds are not a concern. But if they are more constant, it indicates excessive settling and may be a warning sign of a subsidence problem with your foundations. Evidence of cracks in walls or uneven floors can also show you are in more serious trouble than simple settling.
Find out more about what to do if you think you have subsidence.
Rotten wood and woodworm
Creaking floorboards could be caused by the natural flexing of the wood or boards rubbing against each other, but rotten wood could also be to blame. You may have an undiscovered water leak or may even have company in the form of woodworms eating away at your floorboards, or possibly infesting other parts of your property and furniture.
If woodworm is to blame, then the tunnels they excavate will be evident as a series of small holes in the wood. If there’s dust around the openings, it's definitely a live infestation that will need treating.
If the damage to your floorboards is severe, whether caused by a leak or woodworm infestation, then the boards may need replacing. You’ll also need to check that surrounding joists are still sound and undamaged.
Find out more about what to do when you have woodworm.
If the noise that’s bothering you at night is a humming sound, your electrics may be playing up and need checking urgently. The first step is to check all your sockets and appliances to try to find the culprit. If you can’t find the source of the problem, call in an electrician. Of course, if it’s more than a dodgy appliance plugged in that is playing up and causing the issue, they can fix it.
Air pressure in your system
Loud clanging or banging noises are often heard from radiators as they expand and contract upon heating and cooling and this can impact drainage which causes the noise. However, when such banging is taking place within your walls, especially after running a tap or flushing the toilet it can mean clogs or air pressure in the system. The subsequent ‘water hammer’ effect can be solved by draining your system to eliminate the air pocket. For ongoing issues, you may need a plumber.
A hissing sound could indicate a gas leak – which means calling the gas company and following their advice, likely to include opening windows and leaving the property to make your property safe, especially if you can also smell gas. Ensure you use an engineer on the Gas Safe Register (formerly known as CORGI, Council for Registered Gas Installers).
The sound of unexplained running water will do more than make you want to get up and visit the toilet in the middle of the night! If you can still hear trickling with the water mains turned off, then it’s time to hunt down the leak. Identifying it quickly is essential, as it could be a burst or leaking pipe in a wall or under the floor. Even a small leak can cause significant water damage over time, as well as increasing your water bill, while a subsequent burst pipe could have a more devastating impact.
If none of these seem to be the problem, then perhaps it really is time to call and exorcist…