Hearing sounds coming from the inside of your pipes is never an encouraging sign. Besides being somewhat annoying, it could also be destructive to your home’s internal network, so if you hear noisy pipes when you’re running water out of one (or more) of your various faucets, it’s a good idea to put on your Sherlock Holmes cap and do a little investigating.
Generally speaking, the sound happens during one of four scenarios: (1) Hot water is on somewhere in the house, (2) after a water supply is cut off, (3) while cold water is running, or (4) at completely random times. Though a certain time period that the event is happening isn’t always a dead giveaway as to the specific cause, you can make an educated guess as to what it is based on when and where.
Ask yourself a few more questions about the sound you hear. Does it happen whenever you turn one specific faucet on, or any of them? How old is your house? When was the last time you had your pipes inspected? If it’s a general problem, not specific to any one pipe, then you may have a problem with the main water valve. If your house is old, it may not have been built to keep certain problems at bay. And if you can’t remember the last time anyone serviced your plumbing at all, then the noisy pipes you hear when running water could be sediment build up.
Let’s look at each one of these possibilities in turn.
You May Be Hearing a Water Hammer
What is that exactly? Exactly as it sounds, a water hammer is when the water is running through your pipes like normal, and then, when the water is shut off suddenly, the water has nowhere to go except to slam into the valve. It sounds harmless – after all, what can a little water do to a copper valve – but over time, it can shake the pipes right out of their joints and start leaking.
Older homes (i.e. any home built before the 1960s) usually have air chambers built into the pipes to act as mini shock-absorbers and keep this from happening. They look like reinforced t-connector’s that brace a pipe against water hammer, and load the water out of the side through the valve. Homes built after 1960 mostly have water hammer arrestors installed. These little devices are spring-loaded and are one of the few things in life that won’t let you down.
If you have a newer home and you hear water hammers, it could either be because the air chambers have failed in certain sections of pipes, or you don’t have the arrestors installed properly. Either way, it’s a good idea to get it checked out.
Your Water Pressure May Be Too High
Normally, we want our water pressure in certain appliances to be as fast as a rocket: shower, spray hoses near the sink, appliances, etc. But just because that’s what we prefer doesn’t mean it’s what’s best for our home (or our bodies). Most plumbers will recommend a water pressure for your house between 40-80 psi, and the vast majority of homes have a water regulator in place to make sure it stays within that acceptable limit. If your’s doesn’t, consider having it installed. It may be expensive, but it’ll make sure your home doesn’t wear down nearly as quickly.
You can test this yourself, but it’s easier to call the city and ask them to check it for you. In some places, they’ll even check it out for free.
Your Mounting Straps May Be Loose
If your house is old, the little pieces of plumber’s tape or nail-in hangers and hooks that hold your pipes flush with the framing may have come loose. This is pretty easy to fix as well: Just head to the source of the sound and see if things are banging around. If so, tighten it all back and you’ll be in business.
Also, remember that copper pipes expand when hot water runs through them, which will inevitably stretch out the straps and/or bang against nearby fixtures. You can turn down the temperature in your water heater and tighten them back up, or if you’re remodeling, replace the whole system. That’s a more extreme case though, since replacing a network of pipes is usually pretty expensive.
DISCLAIMER: Do NOT attach galvanized plumber’s tape or galvanized straps to any copper piping. Electrolysis can occur, which will create a leak.
You May Have Sediment Buildup In Your Water Heater
Though not as common in the north, here in the south, it’s very likely that you may have some sediment buildup In the bottom of your heater that’s releasing air bubbles and popping constantly. The noise is very similar to when you’re boiling water on the stove to put pasta in, but then you don’t put the pasta in because you’re binge-watching season two of The Crown and get so engrossed in the storyline that you forget you’re even making pasta and start hearing the steam escape (true story).
Anyway, it’s usually pretty harmless, but some experts will tell you to flush clean out your water heater. That depends on a few other factors though, so it’s best to call a professional and get their opinion.