Why is my wall buzzing?
September 25, 2004 10:48 AM   Subscribe

The Tell-Tale Buzz, or: This Wall, It Vibrates? For the last several weeks (nearly a month now), a buzzing/vibrating noise has been coming from the wall between my apartment and the next one, driving both me and my neighbor crazy. What on earth could be causing this? (more inside -- literally)

The noise repeats every 5-10 seconds or so, and sounds like something mechanical inside the wall is shaking loose or vibrating against something. It can't be the building settling; it would have collapsed by now if that was the cause.

It's not related to air conditioning, it happens even when both apartments have their AC off. It doesn't seem to be related to plumbing, but I'm running out of candidates for things that might be in there and subject to moving around, so maybe it is? Perhaps the strangest thing is that I can't feel it through the wall, even though my neighbor and I can both hear it (very) clearly. Will we have to open up the walls and look inside? What could this be?
posted by Zonker to Home & Garden (14 answers total)
every 5-10 secs always?
have you turned off the electricity supply in both houses?
if that doesn't stop it, maybe it's some kind of bug?
posted by andrew cooke at 11:01 AM on September 25, 2004

Maybe try putting a water tumbler up against the wall, which will act like a stethoscope when your ear is placed at the base of the tumbler. That might help you locate the source of the vibrations.
posted by Daddio at 11:08 AM on September 25, 2004

Flies? One apartment I lived in had a dead rat in a vacant unit below me, and this somehow led to there being flies inside the wall. Bleah. They buzzed intermittently.

Otherwise - electrical? some vibration transmitted by plumbing?
posted by hattifattener at 11:13 AM on September 25, 2004

Assuming this is a rental, no, don't open the wall--but get the landlord out to do something about it. If the landlord refuses to track/fix the problem, you and the neighbor probably can do "repair and deduct", but that could get costly and ugly. Better to focus on getting the landlord to handle it directly. If something is breaking loose, you could be saving him/her from a costly future repair. And if the annoying noise is left to continue and you both leave, the landlord will have a hard time getting those units rented again. In short, it's in the landlord's best interest to look into this for you.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 11:15 AM on September 25, 2004

Yeah, this sounds electrical to me. It might be a short if you can't *feel* the wall vibrating but can hear it. I know that my circuit breaker panel buzzes and it gets louder whenever there's a load (i.e. whenever my heater comes on.)
posted by SpecialK at 11:24 AM on September 25, 2004

Thanks, all. We'll have to try turning off all the electrics in both units, I've tried with mine and it didn't make any difference but perhaps both of them would. I did try the water glass trick without any luck. I still feel that the source is mechanical rather than biological, it just "sounds" that way.

I may wind up opening the wall since I'm thinking of selling fairly soon and it needs some paint anyway (the building's a condo; I own mine, not sure about the neighbor).

The short circuit idea is very interesting. I'll have to look into that.
posted by Zonker at 11:27 AM on September 25, 2004

I hope it isn't bees!
posted by majick at 11:35 AM on September 25, 2004

majick: Like goethean said on that occasion, yikes! (And thanks for the pointer to that thread, too.)
posted by Zonker at 11:45 AM on September 25, 2004

Do you live on the top floor? In my old place, we had mighty vibrations coming from the A/C units directly above us on the roof. It didn't correspond to our (or our neighbors') A/C use because there were a bunch of units clustered together that served various apartments throughout the building.
posted by samh23 at 11:54 AM on September 25, 2004

It could also be pipes in your building. If you have an older house a pipe could be loose, every time the toilet flushes or someone uses the shower the pipe could actually be vibrating against the wall as the force of the water is rushing through . . .
posted by jeremias at 12:58 PM on September 25, 2004

I am thinking pipes too...Often a pressure change within the building can cause a vibration along the way. Has anything been added around the time of the start of the vibration? If it is water pipes, the wall may have to be opened in order to strap the pipes down to contain the vibration.
posted by Richat at 1:05 PM on September 25, 2004

Transformers can produce rattling noises if the metal plates making up the core separate from one another and begin vibrating.

In my experience, metal ducting and fans also like to make bizarre noises.

Naturally, you should be careful if you decide to open the wall in case the problem turns out to be electrical - the circuit breakers in your apartment may not necessarily cut the power to whatever internal wiring you might encounter.
posted by Krrrlson at 1:22 PM on September 25, 2004

I once encountered a similar problem. As Krrrlson suggested, in was a transformer (the transformer for the doorbell, specifically). Replaced offending device with new device, problem solved.
posted by SPrintF at 1:49 PM on September 25, 2004

At my house we once had a mysterious recurring noise. Noise on, noise off.

Time passed.

We were renovating the basement. The mystery noise was down there all right and it seemed to be coming from under the furnace. Under the furnace was a sump pump. The pump cycling on and off. A second pump, not four feet distant, was not only not running but its sump was dry.

We removed the furnace.

Someone had poured concrete into the sump, encasing the pump. The float was raised to register that it was always in water. The pump cycled on, overheated, shut down, cooled off and cycled on again. Cycle on, cycle off.

Helpful tale? Doubtful. But I felt compelled to tell it.
posted by Dick Paris at 7:52 PM on September 25, 2004

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