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Question DetailsAsked on 7/5/2015

I can hear dripping sound on the first floor when someone uses upstairs bath. No water stain.

I just moved into a 4-yr old house. Interesting I noticed every time someone is talking shower on the second floor guest bath, right below it on the first floor, I could hear "dripping" or "ticking" sound. The sound is from a very area in the ceiling, around 1ft radius circle. It does move. After shutting off the water on the second floor, the sound finally tapers off after 5-10 min.

I haven't see any water stain on the ceiling. I tried cold water, it also makes the noise. I wonder what this could be.

By the way, I tried turning on cold water faucet in master bath which is right next to this bath, I also can hear dripping sound in the same area, but it went away much faster.


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6 Answers

Voted Best Answer

Hmmm - 30 minutes, huh ? I can't remember a time I have heard a noise like that go that long. I really can't see it being expanding pipes taking that long to relax and go back to static state, but maybe so - particularly if insulated in that area so the cooling is very slow.

With that long a timeframe, I would tend to go back to the trap or drain pipe horizontal run draining out - and if not causing a visible stain on the ceiling right below within a week or so, I would think maybe some hair in the trap or pipe draped over into the vertical stack, so individual drips are wicking out of the trap or a low spot in the drain pipe along the hair, then free-falling in the drain stack until they hit another horizontal run. Since you said happens with master bath also, check if happens with only shower/tub or toilet/sink also - that would tie down if it is happening in a common drain pipe, or maybe only it the trap for the one bathroom fills up - either from water flowing through it or overflowing into it from the drain from the other bathroom. I would go with the stethoscope to tie down if the sound is pipe sound (especially common with plastic pipe, least with cast iron or galvanized drain pipe), a drip within the pipe (so louder against pipe than against wall, ceiling, etc), or a drip from the pipe out onto wood or drywall.

One other thing you could do in that case is get a very long drain cleaning wick - either an extremely long pipe cleaner (up to 8-12 availalbe at some hardware and auto parts stores) or one of the flexible "hairy" plastic drain cleaner sticks designed to pull out hair clogs, and gently (without getting lost or stuck in pipe) run it in and out to pull out any hair that might be causing wicking.

Another long shot - only likely if on well water and you do not have an air capture tank - is air bubble in the water rising in the pipes after use, gradually rising to the surface and "popping" at the toip of the pipe - but would happen in all similar water service pipes in that case which have a significant rise to them - like to second floor. Again, stethoscope should tie down if occurring in the water pipes rather than the drain pipe.

One other long shot - but would be only if with hot water, and you said it does it with cold water too, is condensation in the exhaust duct for the hot water heater - it can condense in the ducting and drip down into the water heater base, caussing a "tink" if landing on bare metal, or a splash if landing on a wet pool. But since you said with cold too, I guess that is out in this case.

Ultimate way to tell for sure if you just can't tie it down - beg, borrow, or rent (probably about $15-25/day) a flaxible shaft fiber optic inspection tool or camera (takes about 1/2" hole in ceiling each place you are going to have to look) and look up under the outlet end of the tub for signs of leakage, and scan around on the floor joists and top surface of the downstairs ceiling for signs of pooling or staining from a leak, then patch the hole with drywall compound or Spackle and repaint. Least destructive way is to drill the hole with a toothed hole saw, so you recover the "plug" and coat the piece up all around the edges (and center pilot bit hole if had one) with repair plaster/spackle and gently push it back into place with a straight edged scrap of wood on edge (to reduce sticking area and to be able to see the plug) to plug the hole flush with the ceiling, sliding rather than pulling the wood away to leave the plug in place (pulling straight down will pull it out, at least partway), then after it dries wet wipe or sand the excess compound off, do any final compound / spackle touchup, finish sand, and paint. Otherwise, conventional several-pass hole plugging with drywall compound or spackle.

Answered 4 years ago by LCD


Some correction:

I actually retested and noticed the sound came from a larger than 1 ft radius circle. I would say around 2-3 ft. From the beginning, the noise is not staying at the exact same spot. My wife also mentioned to me even after the water valve has been off for a hour, you still can hear the similar dipping sound once a while, approximately every minute.

Totally no clue. Since there is no water stain, not sure if it makes sense to open the ceiling now.

Thanks everyone.

Answered 5 years ago by shiyang100


IF an elevated/insert type shower floor, could be a leak from the raised pan on to the bathroom subfloor, which would probably eventually show up on the underlying ceiling, but can in some cases just drip slowly and rot the entire subfloor and joists out without ever showing up below, if the leak amount is quite small eash shower.

Could also be a drip in the drain pipe - either a drip of water running out from the shower pan (liner under the tiled shower floor itself) into the drain pipe, or a trap dripping slowly into the sewer pipe - commonly due to long hair draped over the trap neck, so drips of water wick over the heair into the drain pipe - making a dripping noise if they free-fall in the sewer pipe as opposed to running down the side of the pipe - depends on slope of the "vertical" pipe sections.

Your call on whether you wait for damage to appear (if an outside-of-pipe leak) or take a fiber optic inspection tool/camera to it now (takes about 1/2" hole in ceiling each place you look).

You could get a stethoscope (metal head ones MUCH better) for $10-15 at pharmacy department and listed at the ceiling, bathroom floor, shower floor, asny exposed drain pipe leading from there - to see if sounds like a drip onto subfloor (or a puddle on there), or if the noise is in a drip inside the drain pipe, which would generally be less of a concern or no concern at all.

Answered 4 years ago by LCD


Thanks everyone for suggestions.

I just did another round of test:
1. Close the drain of bathtub. Turn on cold water valve. No noise.
2. Close the drain of bathtub. Turn on hot water valve. noise is back.
3. Open the drain, drain the mix of water from steps 1 and 2. Noise continues.
4. Drain cold water only. Noise presents.


Answered 4 years ago by shiyang100


I spaced on the "tickjing" in your original question - and your followup comment made the likely cause clearer. If this noise starts when you put warm or hot water (usually not with cold) in the water pipes or drain pipes, it could well be just expansion of the pipes when warmed (or rarely when cooled), then "clicking" or "ticking" again as they come back to room temp. Caused by the expanding pipes changing length due to thermal changes, and can be due to tight fit where they pass through joist, tightly fitted so they rub agasinst joists or studs, or sometimes just where they lay on the bottom of a joist or hole through a joist.

Run water into a bucket so it is clear that nothing is going down the drain (this after at least say 10-20 minutes with no water use in the bathroom) - if you hear the noise, then is almost certainly (though remotely possible is leaking valve) water pipes changing temperature and rubbing against floor joists or such, which is generally (unless quite loud - like enough to wake you) not an issue. Check with both hot and cold to see which causes it - normally hot because it is seeing about 50-80 degree temperature change as the water goes through it, whereas cold only sees typically 20-30 degree change so the pipes do not change length as much.

Then do same thing carefully, without getting the shower significantly wet, with pouring hot and cold water from the bucket down the drain - and maybe also adjacent sink drain or toilet after that - to see if that causes the noise. If a ticking or clunking noise as opposed to drip or splash, likely pipe expansion noise. IF happens only at shower, then is shower drain pipe noise source. If happen with water running in sink or hot water down toilet too, then is main drain stack or stack branch to that bathroom.

If that does not do it, then plug the outlet and run cold, then hot water (draining in between) in the shower - don't fill more than half full, to see if that causes the noise. Use stethoscope to listen around area - in bathroom and downstairs - to determine if an expansion type noise or water dripping. Could be shower liner (especially if plastic or fiberglass) expanding as it heats up.

If this goes on for some days without staining the underlying ceiling, likely NOT a leak.

Also - leaks (which would be in a trap commonly if it goes on for an extended period after water is done draining from shower) would tend to be a constant drip rate then a rapid taper off to nothing as the trap drains down to the leak level. Thermal pipe expansion tends to be rapid taps or squeeks when the hot water is run (rarely with cold) for a number of seconds as water is run, then after the water flow is stopped tapering off in intensity (usually) and frequency (almost always) so the sound becomes less and less frequent, gradually tapering off to nothing. Commonly tapping/squeeking every second or so initially, tapering off to 5 or more seconds between them as it tapers off, and the taper off can take from a half minute or so to a couple of minutes - in rare cases with very long runs the length of a house through 50-100 feet of basement or crawlspace joists, can last as much as about 3 minutes or so. Using a stethoscope on pipes and faucets and such you should be able to tell if a vibration/tap or a water drip sound - in stronger cases you can even tell by holding a finger on pipe or faucet and feel the vibration, which you would not feel with a drip.

Answered 4 years ago by LCD


Thanks LCD. Great explanation. One more thing on this. I actually noticed the taper off took much longer than I stated in original post. I sat downstairs last night. The ticking/dripping sound is still there after 30 min. The frequency is certainly low, but once every min or so, you still can hear a tick. It finally stopped though.

Answered 4 years ago by shiyang100


Did you ever find the solution to the dripping sound? I am having the exact same issue. After the shower is used, the water drips from the second floor to the first floor, anywhere between 15 min to 45min but no sign of water damage.

Answered 4 years ago by smooney

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