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Question DetailsAsked on 10/13/2014

Why is there a pulsing hum downstairs when my space heater is on upstairs?

It is an oil-filled electrical space heater that is on in the bedroom upstairs. The noise is not the hum coming from the heater itself. Rather, we hear it downstairs in the living room and also in the basement under the living room. My husband thinks the heater is making vibrations and they are being carried and magnified through the floors of our old house; I can feel vibrations in sync with the hum in the water pipes in the basement. However, we've had this heater for several years and this hasn't happened before. And if it is vibrations caused by the heater, why wouldn't we hear them in the room directly below the bedroom?

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You say you can hear/feel water pipe vibrations, so first thing I would do is (while someone is at that vibration point to feel the difference) is turn off the spaceheater to be sure that is the source, and not a booster pump or boiler pump or even attic or bathroom fan making the noise. Unless this has a built-in pump, I would sort of doubt it is the source of the noise - maybe an occasional gurgle, but not usually able to make continuous noises, so I am thinking a hydronic or steam heating system pump is the more likely source - or vibration from a well pump or even utility booster pump down the block carrying through the incoming water column. One other rare source - but drove me crazy in my house for several days - was an intermittent vibration in the gas meter as the backflow preventer was going out, so it was chattering in the meter and causing a low, barely noticeable hum or fast chattering in the upstairs floor when all was quiet at night. Finally tracked down with a stethoscope - if you do this, get a metal (not plastic) headed one for about $10-15 at box store or pharmacy/drug store. You can really track down vibrations and pipe leaks quickly with a stethoscope - should be a part of every DIY'ers toolkit - even finds outdoor water pipe and gas pipe leaks when used with a steel rod driven into the ground.

One other common source of vibrations like this - reefer and freezer motors/ compressors, and transformers - in flourescent light fixtures, power supplies in or feeding electronic devices, and even doorbell transformers.

Once tied down to where it is coming from - being the heater or wherever - then (with a towel or heavy glove to avoid burns) while the source device is turned on and making the noise grab onto supports and piping to see what element is vibrating - should stop or significantly decrease when you grab the right place.

Depending on what ends up being the source, you may be able to stop the vibration by slipping slit pieces of rubber hose where pipes go through joists or walls (you can buy hose and rubber pad material by the foot at auto parts stores if you don't have scrap rubber laying around), by tightening (without over-torqueing and breaking the connections or lugs) mounting bolts, or maybe by loosening mounting bolts and slipping a scrap of fairly hard rubber (like hose) or even fairly firm weatherstripping under its feet, then snugging the bolts backdown. If on laminate or hardwood or polished concrete flooring, slip a doubled-up piece of protective paper like freezer paper or parchment paper under the rubber to reduce the chance or it marking the flooring permanently - some rubber/foam products tend to bleed over time and can cause a slightly spreading stain on flooring.

Why you would not hear it directly below the heater (if that is the source) is all a function of where it is propogating through - needs tight connection and contact to propogate the sound, but loose materials to vibrate so you hear it - so vibrations like this can come and go as the house wood shrinks and swells seasonally, even as daily temperatures flluctuate. Probably occurring now because the house has settled a bit and made one of the mounting bolts very tight so it transmits sound well - or could be related to the electric heating element which might be wearing out and getting a bit loose so vibrating inside the heater. If so much vibration that it can be heard in the basement, unless you rule out the heating element I would be worried about continuing to use it without replacing the vibrating part if simple tightening does not solve it, because could be element is getting worn through and will break off due to fatigue - probably shorting out as it does so.

So many possibilities - hence the wrap the hand and grab on method, and the stethoscope - they have saved me countless hours in tracking down noises like this.

Answered 5 years ago by LCD

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