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Question DetailsAsked on 12/17/2014

I hear a vibrating motor sound in my walls at night. Is it my pipes or is it related to the air vents or furnace?

I've been hearing a vibrating motor sound throughout the entire house in the walls. It's the loudest through a wall that separates the master bath and the stairwell. My home is a 2-story, built in 1987. We just had a new water heater installed about 10 months prior after our old one leaked and started to flood the garage. Five years ago before that, the kitchen pipe bursted and flooded the entire first floor. The sound is the loudest at night, around 10pm and midnight. The sound lasts for about 2-5 minutes and when it ends, it sounds like a motorboat engine getting turned off. I want to take necessary precaution to avoid any water leaks, flooding, mold, or fires.

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When it is sounding, boogie and listen at as many heating and vent ducts and pipes (both water and hot water baseboard as possible (may take several instances to track down), if you have them) to see where noise is coming from. Likely sources for this type sound, which may actually be occurring all day but you only hear when it is quiet at night before or after you go to bed or when in a certain place in the house:

1) furnace fan

2) garage unit heater fan (direct-fired gas, electric, or hydronic heating system)

3) whole-house ventilation system fan or A/C compressor or heat pump

4) hydronic or steam radiator/baseboard heater/in-slab heater circulating pump

5) floor drain sump pump

6) sewage lift pump, if you have one - either in house to lift to sewer outside, or to lift sewage to an uphill septic tank/leach field

7) rarer, but sometimes heard if you have a lift or pump station near your house, sewage lift pump or water system booster pump or standpipe/water tank refill pump in the public mains - normally would not be heard unless within a block or less of your house - your water and sewer utilities could tell you (probably engineering department) if you have one nearby

8) heat-pump type water heater

9) if you have a french drain system with a collection well, it may have a sump pump that runs periodically

10) if on a well, well pump repressurizing system periodically even if you are not using water, if it is leaking off pressure due to a leak or a leaking footvalve.

11) humidity-switch controlled ventilation fan in attic, basement, crawlspace, under stairs, bathroom

12) noisy neighbor's A/C or heat pump if facing your house

From your motorboat engine dying description and since you say vibrating, my first guess would be an attic ventilation fan, A/C condensor (outdoor) fan, garage unit heater fan or hydronic heating system circulating pump possibly with bearings starting to get loud due to lack of lubrication or just plain old age wear and tear. The motorboat engine dying sound could also be water running back through the outflow pipe back into the sump (no backflow preventer or not working) after the pump stops pumping out - though 2-5 minutes would be a long time for a sump pump to run, but if you have a lot of water under your basement slab so it is basically a covered bathtub can happen.

Answered 2 years ago by LCD




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