Easy Fixes to Create Quiet in the House
Pounding washers, knocking pipes, roaring exhaust fans, whistling windows—simple solutions to quiet nuisance noises
The washer pounds out a syncopated beat you could dance to.
The Fix: If you're not overloading the machine or creating unbalanced loads (mixing sheets and towels, for instance), check for level and adjust the feet as necessary. If that doesn't fix the problem, put your washer on antivibration pads (such as those made by Derens, available at homedepot.com) to keep it from moving across the floor. If the machine is in a cabinet, apply stick-on rubber bumpers to the inside walls where the machine bumps it, to muffle the impact.
If your supply lines didn't bang before, a new high-efficiency appliance is likely the cause. Today's washing machines and, to a lesser extent, dishwashers have quick-acting valves that slam from fully open to fully shut in a millisecond, repeatedly. That change in pressure can cause the pipes to jerk, whacking them against the house's structure.
The Fix: Adding pipe hangers will prevent the pipes from moving, but that will stop the noise only if you can find the exact spot where the pipe is hitting. This spot could as easily be hidden inside a wall or a floor as exposed somewhere in the basement.
A better solution is to install water hammer arresters—shock absorbers that cushion the change of water pressure—connected to the appliance causing the hammering sound. They'll help relieve pressure throughout the system but will have the greatest effect when placed beside the offending machine. Detach the washing machine's hot- and cold-water supply hoses from their spigots, and screw on the arresters between the spigots and hoses.
Your interior or exterior doors creak loudly as they swing open or shut.
The Fix: Lift each hinge pin about ½ inch by hitting a nail inserted into it from below with a gentle hammer tap. (You may have to unscrew the hinge-pin finials first, depending on the hinge style.) Squirt a few drops of 3-In-One oil on the pin, move the door back and forth to work the lube down into the hinge, and reposition the pin.
The mechanical whirring of the garage door as it opens and closes disturbs guests in the room over the garage or irritates nearby neighbors.
The Fix: Inspect all bolts and screws on the door and tighten any loose ones, being careful not to overtighten or strip them. Lubricate chains, pulleys, springs, wheels, hinges, and tracks with garage-door grease (a heavy-duty lubricant that dries quickly, so it won't gum up with dirt and other outdoor debris). If that doesn't quiet the riot, hire a garage-door company to swap in a higher-quality motor that uses a belt instead of a chain and to replace the metal wheels with nylon ones that move through the tracks with more stealth.
If your windows rattle when the wind blows or a school bus goes by, start by checking the sash lock—it's likely broken or misaligned. This latch is designed to press the upper and lower sashes tightly together and tightly against the frame so that there's no movement.
The Fix: You can order replacement latches for almost any window (try houseofantiquehardware.com). If there are too many screw holes to allow for easy installation, go with two new latches instead of one and space them evenly on the meeting rails. Start by installing the catch on the back meeting rail, making sure the lower sash won't hit it when it opens. Then install the cam latch, spaced so that it pulls the windows tight when it's at about 90°.
You can also adjust the stops—the narrow strips that hold the sash in place—on old wood windows. If the stops are screwed into place, tighten as necessary. Stops that are nailed in should be pried off and reinstalled so that they fit snugly against the window; consider replacing nails with window-stop bead adjustors and screws (available at smithrestorationsash.com) to make future adjustments easier.
Although beds can get noisy when box springs wear, slats rub, or balusters loosen, the most common cause is the loose metal brackets connecting the rails to the headboard and footboard. "I see the problem twice a week," says San Diego Furniture Repair's Scott Gressitt. Most beds made in the past 60 to 70 years use metal rail brackets with hooks to fasten the side rails to the headboard and footboard. As these brackets become worn, the hooks can open, causing a metal-on-metal squeal.
The Fix: Take the bed frame apart and look at the hooks; if they've opened up, tap them gently with a hammer to reposition them and create a tight, parallel slot for the receiving bracket. If that doesn't work, tap a shim between the reassembled rail and headboard or footboard of each offending joint to take play out of the connection.
Fasten a noisy step tight against the support below using a cordless drill to sink a Squeeeeek No More screw (mcfeelys.com) through the tread and into the stringer. The screw-head will automatically break off right below the surface. This fastener holds better than a finishing nail but leaves a similarly inconspicuous hole.
Dimmers work by flickering lights on and off 120 times per second, causing a cheap incandescent bulb's thin filament to vibrate and buzz.
The Fix: Install brand-name incandescent "heavy service" bulbs, which are designed to resist vibration and shock, or incandescent bulbs rated for 130 volts, instead of the standard 120 volts.
Aluminum triple-track storm windows rattle most when they're not fully engaged in their tracks.
The Fix: Remove both panes and the screen and brush debris out of the tracks. Spray with a silicone lubricant and reinstall, making sure each component is engaged at all four corners and locked into place. If the storms keep rattling, the frame could be torqued due to the house settling. Remove the entire frame with the windows intact and reinstall, caulking the top and sides with a waterproof sealant. If the problem persists, order replacements from a home center or window supplier.
Old wood-on-wood drawers, such as those in an original linen closet or a butler's pantry, can shriek almost as if in pain when they're pulled open or pushed closed, especially when loaded with heavy items.
The Fix: Ease the friction by rubbing candle wax on both surfaces, says This Old House general contractor Tom Silva, or purchase low-friction glides from a woodworker's supply outlet, such as rockler.com.
Refrigerators get loud when they're working extra hard, says Glenn Burk, president of Appliance Guys repair service in Portland, Oregon. The sound you hear is the cooling fan blowing onto the hot condenser coils. It'll start to complain during long stretches of heat and humidity—or simply because the compressor coils aren't dropping in temperature as easily as they should, thanks to dust and debris.
The Fix: Remove the cover plate from the back of the fridge. On older models, the plate is likely mounted on the rear of the unit; on newer ones, it's often found at the bottom or the top, depending on where the freezer is located. Use a flexible refrigerator coil brush to remove dust bunnies and dog hair from the coils. You'll make the fan's job easier and therefore quieter, and save electricity. Also, make sure there's an inch of clearance behind and above the machine for proper airflow.
If you hear a loud zzzzz coming from your boiler's electrical control box when the system is idle, a recently installed programmable thermostat with a rechargeable battery may be to blame. These smart thermostats charge themselves by drawing a few watts of power from the circuit while the system is off; it's not enough to fire up the heat, but it can cause the electrical relays to buzz and pop.
The Fix: Install a thermostat that uses replaceable batteries instead of rechargeable ones—or hire an HVAC specialist to add a common wire to your circuit to provide a separate power supply.
If you hear a fluttering noise during windstorms, it could be the flap on the exhaust outlet outside.
The Fix: Use construction adhesive to attach a washer to the flap to weight it down enough so that it won't blow around in the wind but will still open when you turn on the hood fan. If the fan itself is ridiculously loud, try cleaning the grease filters and the fan blades with warm water and a mild dish detergent. Or hire an HVAC pro to install a new remote blower in the attic or on the roof, where the noise won't bother you as much. (Learn more about noisy vent hoods here)
Your balusters ring like a wind chime when someone uses the stairs.
The Fix: Tack them in place by first drilling a small pilot hole and then hammering an angled 4- or 6-penny finishing nail through the top of the baluster and into the banister on the high side. If that doesn't work, angle one through the tread and into the tenon at the base of the baluster and into the same tread again beyond it.
The hinges on these appliances take a lot of abuse: exposure to high temperatures and moisture, and the weight of a heavy door moving up and down.
The Fix: All they need is a liberal dose of white lithium grease applied, via the built-in straw, directly on the hinge pin and the attached spring that lightens the weight of the door.
That banging is the sound of steam entering and colliding with cool water pooled in the radiator.
The Fix: Check for level, then insert a piece of plywood under the feet opposite the riser to pitch the unit slightly toward the pipe. This allows water that condenses out of the steam to drain out. Learn more at thisoldhouse.com/novdec2014.
If your register trills like a boiling tea kettle, it's time to take a closer look.
The Fix: Look for a buildup of pet hair and dust on the backside of the grill—and vacuum it up. If that doesn't help, replace the filter, which could be clogged. "Replacing your return filter is like washing your feet," says This Old House plumbing and heating expert Richard Trethewey. "You can't do it too much."
The clanging that forced-air heat can make when it comes on is the result of the furnace and ducts heating up quickly. Going from 60°F to 130 degree F in just minutes causes the metal to expand and knock.
The Fix: Insulating the ducts with a blanket wrap or sleeve-style material can help keep them warmer so that the change in temperature isn't as drastic. It can also help muffle the sound.
A door that shakes and rattles when it's closed isn't resting firmly against its stop—the strip of wood trim on the doorframe against which the door closes—as it should be.
The Fix: Placing a small felt or rubber bumper on the doorstop can prevent the closed door from moving around when wind blows through open windows or trucks rumble by. Otherwise, you can adjust the latch strike plate to keep the door tight against the stop when it's closed. Or, if that's not possible, remove the stop and reinstall it against the closed door to ensure a tight fit—and be prepared for significant touch-up painting.
Wood floors squeak because the boards—or the subfloor underneath—are rubbing against each other or against a nail. Silencing them requires a careful diagnosis of where the movement is coming from: joists, subfloor, or finish floor.
The Fix: Have someone step on the squeaking spot while you're down on all fours looking and listening closely. If just a single floorboard is moving while its neighbors stay stock-still, it's the culprit. Fasten it down using a pair of 8-penny finishing nails. "Set them an inch or so apart, angled like a V, and they'll lock the board into position," says Tom Silva. Or try (mcfeelys.com).
This fixture gets loud when the flow restrictor inside becomes clogged with mineral buildup—or debris kicked up by plumbing work upstream in the system.
The Fix: Disconnect the head from the shower arm and dismantle it, and remove any visible pieces of grit. To remove caked-on minerals, soak overnight in a zip-top bag filled with white vinegar. Apply new plumber's tape to the pipe threads before reinstalling.
Noisy vent fans that rev like a motorcycle often don't get used, leading to bathroom moisture problems.
The Fix: Start by bending the cover springs to take the play out of them and ensure they're pulling the cover snugly against the unit, preventing vibration. Or, with the circuit breaker off, vacuum the fan and lubricate its spindle with a few drops of motor oil. If these fixes fail, try replacing the motor with an upgrade kit. Broan's 690NT (broan.com) fits most units, takes about 10 minutes to install, and can cut the decibel level in half.
That ominous rippling sound is caused by bubbles rising up through sediment in the bottom of your tank.
The Fix: Attach a garden hose to the tank's spigot and run it to the sump pump or outside. Shut off the valve on the tank's water-supply line, open the valve connected to the hose, and let the water drain out. Turn the supply on full blast for several minutes to dislodge the buildup and allow the water to drain fully; repeat a half dozen times. "If that doesn't work, the buildup is too hard and thick and your water heater needs to be replaced…soon," says Richard.
A click, click, click when your hot- water radiators are warming up happens when a supply pipe is sitting too close to a floorboard, tile, pipe strap, or other immovable object. As the pipe heats up and expands, it rubs against the neighboring surface.
The Fix: If you can track the noise to an accessible location, spray silicone lubricant on the pipe. Don't cut the tile or wood back, as there's too much risk of damaging the pipe, says Tom. With baseboard heat, a plumber can drain the system and shorten the horizontal pipe that runs through the radiator, thereby relieving the pressure point where the pipe comes up through—and rubs against—the floor. If the radiator itself clicks, the fins are rubbing against each other or the floor, the cover, or the baseboard molding. Remove the cover and lift the fins onto the brackets designed to hold them. If the brackets are missing or broken, place folded-up cardboard where the fins touch the floor. Learn more about quieting your radiators here.
Ceiling fans can get loud when their blades become unbalanced or loose.
The Fix: Turn off the circuit breaker and measure the distance from one blade to the ceiling, then manually rotate the fan and measure each blade against the same spot on the ceiling. If the measurements aren't identical, gently bend into alignment the metal bracket to which the blade is attached. "You can't move it a lot," says Tom. "But there's often enough play to rebalance it and quiet the fan down."
That hiss you hear when an automatic lawn-watering system starts up is air that settled inside the pipes and is getting pushed out of the nozzles ahead of the water.
The Fix: Forget about quieting the racket; simply change your watering time instead. Early morning is ideal, but nobody said you have to use the standard 5 a.m. setting. Set the timer for just past the hour your family usually gets up.
Your toilet flushes fine, but it doesn't know when to quit and is wasting gallons of water a day.
The Fix: Most often it's a simple fix. Turn off the water at the shutoff valve on the wall behind the toilet. Lift off the tank cover and remove the rubber flapper from the flush valve inside the tank. Replace the flapper if it's damaged or discolored. Check that the float on the chain is at the same height as the water level; adjust if necessary. Whether or not you replaced the flapper, make sure it's creating a watertight seal.