Ask Brian is a weekly column by Real Estate Expert Brian Kline. If you have questions on real estate investing, DIY, home buying/selling, or other housing inquiries please email your questions to [email protected].
Question from Nicholas in rural Ohio: Hello Brian. Our 1,900 square foot house is 17 years old and has never had any plumbing problems. About 3 months ago, we started hearing what I’d call a pretty loud banging or rattling noise when the kitchen faucet is turned on or one of the toilets is flushed. I have no idea why this started happening. It happens often but not every time. Nor do I know exactly where the noise is coming from. How concerned should I be about this and what can be done? Even if I don’t need to be concerned, I’d like to make the noise stop. Thanks Brian.
Answer: Hi Nicholas. What you have isn’t that uncommon. Rattling and banging pipes can happen even in brand new houses although that’s not common. It is more common as homes age and there can be several reasons. Some reasons are more common and some fixes are easier than others are. Let’s tackle a couple of the more common causes with possibly easy fixes.
Since it sounds like a slow banging or tapping, the problem is probably a loose strap that secures pipes to wall or floor studs. Another possible cause is too much water pressure. Neither is good because rattling and banging pipes can weaken joints and eventually cause a leak.
The first step in finding a solution is isolating where the noise is coming from. Hopefully, it’s outside a wall where the fix is simple rather than inside a wall where it requires opening up the wall. Have another person turn the offending water faucet on and off or flush the offending toilet. While someone is doing that, you listen closely to see if you can detect where the noise is coming from. This may take several attempts as you narrow in on where the banging is at or if the noise only happens occasionally. Be sure the person turning the water on and off does this with both the hot and cold water.
If you find the banging is outside of the walls, you can easily tighten or replace the strap. It can be a good idea to add a piece of foam insulation around the pipe where the strap holds it to the stud (about 4 inches of normal pipe insulating foam should do the trick). The foam will absorb the shock that is causing the banging.
If the bagging is coming from inside a wall, you can try adding foam where the pipe exits the wall, which is probably close to a shut-off valve. But I wouldn’t expect much from this solution. More likely, either you or a plumber is going to have to open the wall to get at the problem. But before you do that….
Try draining the entire water system. This won’t fix a loose strap but it can release trapped air in the plumbing or refill an intentional air chamber that has filled with water. Air chambers are vertical extensions coming off the horizontal water lines that absorb water shock waves when the water is turned on and off. Air compresses a lot more than water to absorb the shocks. When air chambers fill with water, it can cause banging and rattling. To drain the entire water system, turn off the main water valve to the house. Then open the faucet that is on the highest floor of the house and the farthest from the main valve. If it is a one-story house, first open the valve the farthest from the main valve. Working from the furthest from the main valve and from the top story down, turn on all of the faucets in the house. Also briefly turn on any appliances that use water such as dishwashers, washing machines, and icemakers. Remember to flush the toilets. Wait for all of the water to drain from all of the faucets (a minute or less). Then reverse the sequence to close all of the faucets (before turning the main valve back on). From nearest to the main vale to the furthest, close all of the faucets and flush the toilets again. Next, slowly turn the main valve back on. The water pipes will be full of air and this will force air back into the air chambers where it belongs. You can expect air to momentarily sputter from the faucets the next time each is used. You can repeat this entire process a couple of times if the rattling and banging persists but otherwise, it might be time to call plumbing services if the noise isn’t gone. But before calling the plumber…
Check your water pressure. The maximum recommended residential water pressure is 80 psi in most municipalities. Nicholas, you mentioned being in a rural area so if you’re on a well too much water pressure could be your problem. Just like rattling pipes, too much water pressure can cause plumbing fittings to burst. You can pick up a water pressure gauge that screws onto a hose bib (spigot) at most hardware stores for less than $20. Attach the gauge to your plumbing system and turn the water on all of the way. If the pressure is above 80 psi, you should install a pressure regulator at your water main. You can do this yourself or hire a plumber. You can turn off the water main and add the regulator on the house side of the water main. Plan on all of the water being turned off to the entire house for several hours because you’re probably going to have to cut and thread pipe. If you notice your rubber sealant or plumbing fitting is already worn out while performing a deep cleaning, look for a store that has good quality plumbing supplies and fittings as well as Quad Ring Supply to ensure that the fittings and rings you’re going to use can help prevent plumbing leaks.
Nicholas, hopefully one of these is an easy DIY solution to your noisy plumbing.
Does anyone have another possible or easier solution to banging water pipes? Do you think it's time for a new foundation drain design with the help of Foundation Drain Design Services? Please leave your comments.
Our weekly Ask Brian column welcomes questions from readers of all experience levels with residential real estate. Please email your questions or inquiries to [email protected].