Why Do My Pipes Make Noises?

Do you have pipes that bang, whistle or shriek? It’s not a ghost, we promise (at least we’re pretty sure). Seriously, though, if you find you have loud or high-pitched noises that come from your plumbing system, there may be a problem that needs attention.

So why do pipes make noise? Read on to find out the causes of most squeaks, shrieks, bangs, burps (OK, maybe not the last one) and other everyday common pipe noises.

If you have enough on your plate and you’d rather get the professionals to assess your plumbing problem, professional plumbing help is here from the Out of this World Plumbing team. Just request a service call!

1. Banging or Vibrating Pipes

If you hear your pipes banging within your walls (called “water hammer”), pay attention to when it happens. Does it happen only when you shut off a tap, or does it happen when the water is allowed to flow? It may be a high water pressure issue.

If it only happens after you shut off the water, the loud banging is usually because the valve in the tap shuts very fast and forces the water to come to a sudden stop. Water carries a lot of energy, and since water doesn’t compress, the impact creates a vibration almost like an earthquake in your pipes. We see this a lot, especially with modern washing machines. The water pressure being too high will put a lot of pressure on your plumbing system and water pipes. It’s called Water Hammer most commonly, and it is essentially high water pressure.

Often the best solution is an anti-hammer device or water hammer arrestor, which acts as a shock absorber for your plumbing. There are many anti-hammer devices, but they are all sealed balls or tubes filled with air. They provide an extra space where water can escape, and the air inside them compresses as needed until the energy in the water flow dissipates. Some hammering noises can be stopped by clamping the pipes to the studs in the wall more securely and adding support brackets, but this involves opening the walls even further than installing an anti-hammer device.

Things get complicated when there is more than one cause for the noise. Generally speaking, we usually try an anti-hammer device first, as that most of the time fixes the issue. However, lowering your home’s water pressure may be the right option.

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2. Whistling Pipes

If the banging or whistling happens with normal continuous water flow, the problem may be a valve naturally creates its vibration when combined with the flow of water in your pipes. Every valve has a different flow rate, and some resonate if they happen to be at the right frequency.

Pipes can whistle when the water supply is forced past an obstruction in the water pipe or if the pipe narrows. The causes for this can be different depending on where you live. If you live in the city of Ottawa, dirt and/or corroded metal can be loosened by work done on the water mains, and it can make its way into your home’s plumbing and become trapped. This can happen quickly, or it can build up over time. Outside Ottawa, many wells supply “hard” water, which means it contains minerals like calcium. Over time, minerals can build up inside your plumbing and cause the diameter of your water pipes to narrow.

In either case, the only solution is to open up the plumbing, unfortunately. If there’s mineral buildup, the pipes will need to be replaced, but if it’s just a blockage, it may be possible to clear the block without installing new water pipes.

3. Whistling Taps

A loose washer can also cause the faucet to whistle. The tap may need to be taken apart and the washer repositioned or a new washer put in.

4. Whistling or Hissing Toilets

If the whistling noise happens after you’ve flushed the toilet and the tank refills, the problem is usually the ballcock assembly (parts 1, 2, 3, and 4 in the diagram below). This ballcock is the mechanism that uses a float to shut off the water once the tank is done refilling. It makes sure there’s enough water but that no overflow occurs.

toilet tank diagram
Parts of your toilet tank: 1. float, 2. fill valve, 3. lift arm, 4. tank fill tube, 5. bowl fill tube, 6. flush valve flapper, 7. overflow tube, 8. flush handle, 9. chain, 10. fill line, 11. fill valve shaft, 12. flush tube
Image courtesy WikiMedia Commons. For attribution please see below.

If the noise continues after the tank is full, water is probably escaping down the overflow pipe (#7 in the diagram). The solution is to adjust the ballcock, so the water stops at a slightly lower level and doesn’t go down the overflow tube.

5. Gurgling Noises

The gurgling noise comes from air chambers forming in your drains. The reason why air is getting trapped can be one of many. Most of the time, there is a block somewhere in your drain- either completely or partially.

As a result of the air chambers, the water will be draining slowly or even not at all, usually due to dirt, hair, dead skin, soap, food and grease buildup, toilet paper, or other household products.

The strange noises may also be due to a blocked vent system, in which case you would also have a foul odour from the trapped gasses. It could also be a damaged or blocked P-trap, emitting a foul smell and requiring a professional plumber to help fix it.

Modern homes are equipped with updated plumbing and p-traps, but older homes may still have copper pipes lacking the same feature. Homeowners in this situation need to be vigilant, as the sound may indicate excessive wear and tear.

Can I Ignore Noises from My Plumbing System?

While noise isn’t always a problem on its own, if it’s a vibration in your pipes, the issue could result in a leak. Vibrations can loosen the water pipe supports or the joints between pipes. To avoid the possibility of water leaks, we recommend dealing with the problem if the noise keeps happening every time or keeps getting louder. Noisy water pipes are trying to get your attention, and plumbing issues have the potential for expensive fixes like a broken water line.

Always know where your shut-off valve is. If you’re overwhelmed or can’t figure out the reason, call a professional plumber for help.

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In most cases, solving the problem involves opening up your plumbing fixtures or even your walls. Your best bet is to save time and trouble and hire a licensed plumber to take care of it for you, just in case the noise turns out to be a sign of something more serious. If you want to try a DIY approach, you should read this first.

If you are calling for a professional plumber, it’s always best to have as much information as possible, so our team knows what to expect.

Now you know. Noisy water pipes can mean a lot of things. To make the issue easier to diagnose, you’ll want to know the answers to the following questions:

  • Do you have a pressure regulator installed already?
  • Are you having trouble with cold water or hot water?
  • Is there any water damage showing on pipe walls?
  • Do you have copper pipes? And,
  • Know all the steps you’ve taken in assessing the noisy pipes yourself.

By knowing these answers ahead of time, you’re ensuring the Out of this World Plumbing team has all the information they need to take a look at your plumbing systems and fix your noisy pipe problem the right way!

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