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Question DetailsAsked on 12/1/2015

Extremely loud "bang bang" like thunder noise about 4 times in 5 days after installing marble tiles in a bathroom.

We just installed marble tiles on the shower walls and floor without any reinforcement to subflooring. No toilet or vanity are installed yet and the water connections ready for faucets. This bathroom is located on the 2nd floor and originally had a cast iron tub and ceramic tiles. The house is about 30 yrs old and one side of this bathroom floor is about 2 inch lower (on the bath faucet side) due to settlement.
Could this possibly be a settlement or joist problem? Should we remove the tiles and reinforce the flooring under the shower and/or flooring? Is this urgent?
The double banging noise is very loud as if someone is hitting the wall with a sledge hammer in the house and makes us jump. it happened during the day and night. . By the way we did not hear this kind of noise before we installed the tiles.
Please help! We would really appreciate your input.
Thank you.

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2 Answers

Voted Best Answer

I don't mean to frighten you with the following list of possibilities - clearly most will not apply to your case. Some can be serious, some nuisance value only - but not knowing what your cause is at this point all you can do is plow ahead with eliminating the possibilities till you either find the cause or narrow it down to one likely cause and then take measures to remedy or prevent that one to see if it stops it. Generally this type of noise is not critical or urgent, but obviously at times it also is so I would not ignore it. And I would try to get it tied down before putting in the rest of the bathroom elements if you can economically do so AND that bathroom is not critically needed for use. Course, if tub is already in, not that big a thing to put in the vanity and toilet and finish the job, hoping removing the new flooring does not prove to be needed down the road. If it is, removing the vanity and toilet would be a minor part of the repair cost and not a major cost.

I don't think the marble tiles themselves, assuming normal tile thickness of 3/4" or less, are imposing a load problem unless your subfloor or tub/shower walls were mighty weakened or rotted already. If it was thick stone slabs maybe it could cause significant floor creaking, but normal tile (less than 3/4 inch thick or so) would be in the range of 10-14 psf (pounds per square foot) with grout bed - in the general range of design dead load for a residential floor and nowhere the normal 20-30 psf live (people) design load, and about what it had on it before probably as well.

Of course, this assumes the floor was not quite weak in the first place, but if it was that weak I would expect the floor to have been noticeably springy or mushy during the construction and reflooring phase, and also for the grout in the tile floor to have immediately started cracking and breaking up if the floor was so weak it was starting to collapse under the tile load. It also assumes that floor joists were not cut or underlying plywood underlayment removed to put in the new tub, which depending on tub weight (especially when in use) could cause an issue - but unless a massive clawfoot or such not likely to cause floor distress in empty condition as it probably is.

Certainly subfloor issues could be the cause - failing or rotted joists or hangers, cracking main support beam, insect or rot damage in the walls or floor, or progressive foundation settlement. The 2 inch low side, especially if toward mid-span of the floor beams or towards a central supporting beam that carries the floor joists, would not be terribly unusual, though 2 inches is getting pretty strong. My 33 year old house has about 1-1/2" floor joist sag in about 6 feet in from the outer wall, lowest at the wall dividing two bathrooms (which is mid-span of the floor joists and parellel to outer house wall, perpendicular to floor joists), because that "non-load bearing" wall actually carries roof truss load when there is snow load on the roof, causing the floor to sag because there was no wall built below it. Have to get around to that one of these days. If the sag/low spot is at the outside wall I would be more worried about foundation or wall rot possibility issues.

You could take a level and see if the sag is lowest under a wall like that, or if it continues downhill perhaps to a mid-house beam that carries the ends of the floor joists and is maybe sagging or cracking or losing support from intermediate posts or piers, or if maybe the floor joists span the entire width of the house and are sagging badly in the centers. Might give an idea of what is causing the sag, and also if it is local to the bathroom (which might indicate rotten floor joists) or is occurring all over the house.

And of course, walk around and see if there is any sign of unusually spongy floors, significant foundation cracking or tilting, or of siding buckling or opening up. Also if you can see floor joists and beams, posts, etc in basement and/or crawlspace, as applicable, check in there for signs of severe sagging, deterioration, cracking, twisting or tilting, disconnected or failed or fallen over or rotted posts/piers, etc. Also check attic, if accessible, for signs of sagging, cracking, disconnected truss members, rot or insect damage, etc.

Unfortunately, at the stage you are at, sounds like your remodel is largely done - but the right person to look at this (and may require some inspection openings or at least about 1/2" diameter fiber optic inspection holes a few places) would be a Structural Engineer. Because vanity and toilet are not in yet, prime locations for inspection camera access holes into at least part ofthe bathroom subfloor.

This is a good time to note for other readers - I always recommend checking out the subfloor whenever you strip the flooring off in kitchen and bathrooms and utility rooms and other areas where the flooring could get wet from nearby pipes - a few inspection holes or pulling up a piece of sheathing to check out the condition of the subfloor (assuming it is concealed from inspection from below) is a good preventative measure when it adds little delay and cost, and leats you find any problems before you sink money into a new floor over possibly deteriorated subfloor which might have to come up soon, destroying the new flooring.

Note - you can rent an inspection camera (color much betterto see issues, and need about 1/2" or so drill bit and drill to drill hole - varies by model) for about $25-50/day at places like tool rental centers, home depot, some auto parts stores, and do a few inspection holes where the vanity and toilet will cover them (plug with hammered in glued wood plugs afterwards), and even through underlying ceiling as appropriate, to see if significant joist/wall issues under/around floor/tub are the cause of the noise. One thing - if subfloor weakness is the problem and making that much noise, I would be expecting to see cracking/misalingment in the grout/caulk around the tub/glass doors and/or around its base or at the new wall tile seam with the tub, and maybe at the perimeter of the tile floor where it meets the wall - if caulked or grouted there.

One other possibility - though "thunder" would be a strong phrasing for this, as it is normally more a dull "popping" or "thunk" sound, is putting down tile/stone on wood subflooring without a bond breaker (visqueen) and wire mesh. The water from the thinset can penetrate the wood causing expansion and then contraction as it soaks up water from the grout or mortar bed and then evaporates it away, buckling the subflooring and/or popping the tile loose from the wood over the next week or so. Check with a level or long straightedge for arching of the floor, cracked or crushed or opened up grout joints, or "drummy" loosened tiles (test by tapping with wood - wood handle of a grout pointer is a common tool for this, not something as heavy as a hammer because you don't want to break any loose tiles).

Another possibility, especially with the "bang bang" and "thunder" description, and most especially (even though you said you did not hear it before) if this is your first heating season in the house and furnace is just starting to kick on - could it be forced air heating ducts expanding and contracting ? Can make a pretty alarming bang in the more severe cases, described variously as metal can falling off a shelf, metal garbage can being kicked or dropped, door being slammed, car fenderbender, and so forth - the "thunder" description you gave sounds a lot like the sheet metal ducts buckling - you know the warping and wiggling of sheet metal used by orchestras and in movies/TV to make thunder sound. Basically buckling or denting in or out of the sheet metal ducts due to thermal expansion, then popping back when they cool, like making a plastic bottle or tin can crackle and pop by squeezing it when it is empty, then letting it pop back into shape by itself. This sort of noise, IF you can tie down which duct section is causing it, can be damped with rubber padding or ice and water shield padding if it is hanging up on joists, tighter clamping to the joists, or duct joint sealer and more sheet metal screws in the joints depending on whether it is duct sliding, sections buckling and lifting up off the joists or hangers, or jamming or "tin-canning" of the duct walls at the joints. Usually occurs in one of three places - very close to furnace (extreme limits of heating and cooling during the firing cycle), in long straight runs, or where the ducts are tight against joists or such at turns - though joints hanging up on joists and hangers is pretty common too. Occasionally occurs in exhaust flues too, especially where house has settled, putting a compression load on the flue pipe. All the aboe duct noises would normally occur shortly after furnace startup (expansion) or in the first 10-15 minutes or so after a firing cycle is over (contraction noise), though can also occur at night when it gets cold and cools ducts in crawlspace or unheated basement.

It is quite possible that the toughest part is going to be finding the cause of the noise because of its infrequency - so in many cases a homeowner in frustration pays the $250-400 or so for a structural engineer to come do an inspection to rule out structural issues, then start tracking down ducts (or rarely, water pipes) causing the noise if that source if ruled out.

Couple of other possible sources BTW -

1) water pipes expanding and contracting (almost always hot, and again only after use and maybe up to 5-15 minutes afterwards so easy to rule that out if happens in middle of night when no water has been used (including toilet flushing, which runs both hot and cold water into tank commonly)

2) water hammer in pipes - occurs only when opening or closing valve/faucet, and almost always electric valves like fill valves on dishwasher or clothes washer.

3) expansion and contraction of sheet metal in furnace/boiler/water heater - again, only during and/or soon after firing cycle so easy to rule that in or out by determining if tied to firing cycle.

4) late combustion of gas in water heater, boiler, furnace - gas comes on but does not ignite immediately, so fills combustion chamber and maybe even boiler flue chamber/heat exchanger with gas/air mixture, which then explodes causing a very loud thump as it ignites. Obviously only at start of firing cycle, and commonly leaves some soot or scorch marks inside unit to show it has been happening. Can also happen with fuel oil/heating oil system that is not vaporizing the fuel right, so it comes in as liquid and then vaporizes in the combustion chamber, exploding at that time.

5) rare but I have heard of it - gas leak in piping in/near dryer or range or such doing above - filling space with gas, then igniting when it hits pilot light - explodingeither inside or under/behind the unit. Can be caused by leaking gas valve/tubing leading to the appliance, or problems inside. Normally leaves burn or soot marks, and obviously not something to let keep going on if this is a possible cause. Probably more likley to happen with standing pilot device than one that uses electronic ignitor, because for that type would likely happen only when a burner/oven is turned on, though I guess conceivable it could be ignited by some other nearby source like reefer coming on or such.

Obviously, depending on your DIY capabilities and weather, paying attention to whether there is any correlation with water being used or water heater/furnace firing can eliminate or point to #1 and 2 above; #3-5 can be tested by doing gas leak tests and shutting appliances and heaters down one by one to rule out the various possible sources, though would require a day or two of shutdown for each to determine source at the frequency it is occurring at. If you thibnk #4 or #5 is a possible source location, I would get a Heating and A/C contractor in to look at the appliances and test for gas leaks at all gas consumption points. In most, not all, such cases you would be smelling both raw and smelling gas odorant smell - the gas warning smell, and a commonly less pungent and more burnt sulfur variation when it burns.

Also FYI, below is a link to a prior question about bangs, with a linked response with checklist of other possible sources - it could just be a coincidence it is happening around when you are doing a bathroom remodel, or could be due to changes in loading resulting on floor and maybe duct or pipe movements. Given the time of year though, freezing of exterior wood causing popping or hammer sounds might be the cause, if you are getting into cold weather and especially if it has been wet recently.

This sort of puzzle is always interesting - I would appreciate it if you posted back (using the Answer This Question yellow button below your question) to let us know the cause when you find it.

Answered 4 years ago by LCD


LCD, thank you so much for your detailed answers. You are helping us more than you know.

We truly appreciate your thoughtfulness.

As for the bathroom, the tiles were installed about couple weeks ago and we used 1/2" marble tiles on both the shower walls and floor. We converted tub to shower and no longer have cast iron tub.

The bathroom is located above the dining room with 2 walls without any support from the below. The corner of the above unsupported 2 walls are about 8 ft from the exterior wall and 4 ft load bearing interior wall. And the lowest point of the floor is where the shower plumbing is located (6' from the exteror wall or 2 ft from the corner of above mentioned walls). So far, I have not noticed any shifting or cracking of grout or cracked ceiling below.

The subfloor looked like in ok shape and did not feel sponge at all. However, it did show some signs of previous water problem but did not see any rotting under the subfloor. I also noticed the drain for the shower was in tight spot and was shimmed and anchored down with screws.

The back wall of the shower has a vent that comes all the way down to couple feet above the floor between the studs for a room next to the bathroom...we did remove fiberglass insulations around the vent pipe but forgot to put them back. Do you think it is possible to creat the noise even if we do not have the heater going for the second floor.

If it is the joist or subfloor problem, would we be able to see other signs in advance before it all comes down?

Thank you!

Answered 4 years ago by CGlad


Certainly a wall heater or its ducting could cause that sort of noise - but I don't see how if it is not being used - check to be sure not on automatic. Ditto to if it is getting heated by hot water running in a pipe in contact with it - but would then definitely be tied to use of hot water in the shower.

Think if there was ducting or piping that was moved or modified in the project that could be hanging up on a stud or flooring or such and popping free due to thermal movement - that would probably be the most likely potential cause that I can think of which could have been directly due to the remodel, hence a "new" cause rather than a coincidental one.

I would like to say that if you have a foundation or structural issue that you will see progressive problems, but unfortunately not always. Certainly such failures or issues usually occurs over many months or years, but some types of failures like floor or roof joist cracking or connections popping apart, swelling/expansive soils, undermining due to groundwater flow or piping of soil (generally in very fine grained river mud deposits), landslides, and sinkholes are examples of ones that can occur with little or no warning.

That said - GENERALLY you will see signs well in advance of major failure -

1) water flowing out of ground or into basement, ground settlement around house, or cracking of the soil/driveway in case of groundwater or soil stability issues.

2) House structural problems commonly result in cracking of drywall, then sticking doors and windows.

3) Eyeballing floor and ceilings for warpage or being significantly out of level when they previously were not can tell you if you have progressive sagging joists for instance.

4) Popping and cracking sounds and sometimes cracked pipes commonly precede wood structure issues, foundation cracking and possibly leakage commonly with foundation failures.

5) Structural overloads commonly you get ceiling cracking, or if end supports are failing then cracking and displacement downward of ceiling relative to walls, sometimes with crushing of wall drywall if ceiling drywall was installed "over" the top of wall drywall. With plastered walls/ceilings commonly cracking and spalling of plaster off the lath or mesh.

Hard to tell what to do in your case - I would certainly one way or another, if the appliance/water use and freezing deck possibilities are ruled out, look in under the floor (through ceiling below or holes in vanity/toilet areas) if you think the sound is coming from there. Then, if nothing is found, you have the option of waiting and seeing if it dies off, keeps going, or gets worse. The latter would certainly be a red flag to get a structural engineer in to do an inspection, at a minimum.

Another thing I have recommended in the case of "ghosts" - spend a few nights (each person in house in different room) sitting while reading or texting or browsing or whtever, sleeping on a couch or mattress on the floor or bedroll, moving around in the hopes of tying down where the sound is coming from - though granted it is tough to tell how loud a sound was relatively speaking when it wakes you up.

Other thing is concentrate on WHAT the sound resembles - if a clanging metal or thin metal drumming sound likely ducts, if a clank or sharp hammer thud without significant metallic sound maybe pipes, if a duller more "diffuse" thump or cracking or ripping sound likely wood. A distinct sharp snap or pop can be tile or grout, but I just find it hard to imagine that would make a "thunder" or "bang bang" sound, and having that sort of sound without broken tile and cracking/popping grout seem mighty unlikely. Also, if it is due to the tile popping free of the subfloor, I would expect you to see broken grout, and also if you walked on it pieces moving or popping underfoot; in addition to some being "drummy" when tapped.

Another possibilitiy I did not note before - clanging of a damper in the duct system. Most likely unrelated to the bathroom remodel, but some motor or solenoid hating duct dampers/air splitters can make pretty loud metallic clangs or thumps when they close.

Also - take a look around base of foundation and around deck/porch supports for sawdust or termite tunnels on the foundation - if you have insect damage occurring then you could have a progressive dropping of supporting members, causing house cracking and creaking. Look also carefully (on roof, off ladder, or with binoculars) at junction of any addition or wing with house, and of any porch/deck roof with house, for damaged or lifting/warped shingle line indicting one part is moving relative to the other - due to support rot, differential foundation settlement, frost heave, etc.

I am also not sure if I mentioned - yes, I guess I did - water hammer in the pipes when you open or shut off a valve. One of the most common sources for this type noise. Expanding/contracting water pipes (especially hot) can also make bangs and creaking sounds, but I don't know that I would call them thunder like, and unlike water hammer I have never heard one described as "extremely loud" - usually not louder than maybe dropping a hammer on the floor.

And as I said before - trying to tie the noise to use or operation of an appliance or heater, to running of water, etc could narrow the possibilities a lot. From the loudness you are describing - thunder and sledgehammer hitting the house, without any signs of cracking drywall or ceilings, and assuming no signifiicant foundation or surrounding ground cracks visible, my tendency would be toward duct expansion and contraction (loud because like hitting a big metal drum) or gas explosions in an appliance/heater would be my first guess, just based on the loudness.

Good luck, and let use know what the end cause was.

Answered 4 years ago by LCD

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