My heaters groan with the cold
October 6, 2009 7:06 AM   Subscribe

Why are electric baseboard heaters so noisy only in the dead of winter?

In my apartment building, we have just the little baseboard heaters, the metal kind that are attached to the base of the wall-- the kind that work by using hot water, I believe. Now, as it's starting to get cold, the heat has been turned on- but you would never know it by sound. Not a single creak, click, or peep from the heaters. However, I know from living almost a decade in this apartment that even though the heaters are nice a quiet at the start of the cold season, by the middle of winter, every time the heat comes on, it makes incredibly loud groaning and creaking noises. And it almost sounds like little popping noises, that seem like the water bubbling in the pipes (?)

So I thought I'd finally ask: why does this happen?! It gets so loud and annoying! Is there some problem like water lines or pipes freezing and that's why it makes so much noise heating up when it's so cold outside?

If there's something that could be done to mitigate this, I would love to know so I can request service from the landlord.

Thanks, all!
posted by Eicats to Home & Garden (4 answers total)
Best answer: The noise is caused by the expansion of the metal due to heat. Hot water enters one pipe, it expands against the pipe or structure adjacent to it, which has yet to expand. Since the thermal expansion is not uniform, there's stress in the system resulting in the sounds that you hear.

The greater the temperature delta, the greater the thermal expansion, therefore stresses/noises become more evident.
posted by spoons at 8:21 AM on October 6, 2009

I forgot, there is one way to help make it quieter. A lot of the time, the noises come from when the hot water pipes try to expand against a fixed point, such as a hanger or clip to the structure that holds the pipe in place. The stresses against that fixes point becomes so great that when it finally moves you hear the noise. To fix it you'll have to replace existing rigid pipe connections with one that allows the pipe to expand/contract freely, such as a sound insulating pipe hanger.
posted by spoons at 8:36 AM on October 6, 2009

This page has some good info on noises and the various causes, but some amount of noise is totally normal, especially creaking and popping noises. It's a little difficult to say what is an abnormal level of noise, if you've never had baseboard heat elsewhere, but loud bangs can be a sign of air in the system or other issues.

When it's cold and the noises start you could always schedule a time with the landlord to come over and listen. But if it's the normal level of noise I wouldn't expect your landlord to do anything.
posted by 6550 at 12:40 PM on October 6, 2009

Response by poster: thank you!
posted by Eicats at 2:49 PM on October 7, 2009

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