Why are my pipes howling? It's not a ghost. I checked.
May 16, 2010 8:45 AM   Subscribe

My pipes are making an awful howling / whining noise some of the time (lately more often than not). Why?

I've researched this on the internet and the reasons seem to be:
  • bad ballcock valve in one of the toilets
  • bad valve in one of the sinks
  • air in the pipes
  • excessively high water pressure from the street
It's a three level townhouse.

I tried tricks recommended like:
  • turning off every valve in the house and trying different sinks
  • draining the system by leaving faucets on, turning off the main, and waiting for everything to stop, then turning it back on
Turning every valve off made absolutely no difference.

For the draining/flushing, I tried different strategies, thinking it was air in the pipes, so I tried keeping top and bottom floor valves open when turning the main back on (all cosed, then both top/bottom at once, then just bottom and just top). I also tried keeping the outside bib open.

Immediately after draining it was worse, but then a couple of hours later it was better. It went from all the time to only some of the time.

It was going just in the evening/morning, but now it's not predictable. It's a loud howling/whining sound. There's no banging or shuddering (except when refilling the drained system). It happens with every water outlet as long as the water is running (washing machine, dishwasher, toilets, etc).

Also probably very related, before the whining started the toilet on the top floor started "burping". Usually 3-4 quick *pchews* and a 1s water fill. Now when it does that the whining happens for a second or two per burp, but it was doing it for a couple of weeks before the whining started.

There's a chance the neighbors are experiencing the same thing, as sometimes I think I hear the same sound but from either side.

Any ideas?
posted by ydant to Home & Garden (7 answers total)
Not an answer, but an additional data point: I have two toilets that share a wall in my apartment, and one grunts, while the other howls. My understanding is that this is being caused by buildup in the pipes, literally causing one to whistle. Oddly, if we flush the toilets simultaneously, there's no whistle. I'm thinking that a solution would involve isolating the clogged up pipe by ear and replacing it.
posted by Gilbert at 10:36 AM on May 16, 2010

As pipes expand and contract due to temperature fluctuations they can rub against the building and create some fairly loud noises.
posted by nestor_makhno at 2:17 PM on May 16, 2010

The top floor toilet shouldn't be burping. How did air get into the system (prior to your draining and refilling)?

I would bet that there is a water pressure problem, and some appliance on the top floor (probably that toilet) was letting air in when someone else opened a faucet.
posted by gjc at 3:28 PM on May 16, 2010

Assuming it is air in the system, I have no idea how it got in. Nothing happened for even weeks prior to the whining starting (like losing water for a while) that I'm aware of.
posted by ydant at 4:57 PM on May 16, 2010

I had a similar problem that was fixed by having all the pipes snaked. The toilet no longer burps when you turn the shower on and it no longer sounds like I keep goblins in the basement.
posted by fshgrl at 11:53 PM on May 16, 2010

So it really is sounding like it might be a clog, and I might be better off getting a plumber. Thanks, all.
posted by ydant at 5:10 AM on May 17, 2010

MeFi bugged me. As an update, the issue mostly went away on its own. It still happens occasionally, but not enough to annoy us... I have no idea what the issue is, but we're leaving it as is for now.
posted by ydant at 2:20 PM on June 15, 2010

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