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October 5, 2018

What’s Causing Those Spooky Sounds and Smells?

By Geoff Ramsey, CRS, GRI
President, Greater Chattanooga REALTORS®

It seems that we start earlier each year on decorating for the next upcoming holiday, and Halloween is no exception. In showing homes recently, I’ve already encountered porch columns covered in fake spider webs and the cute scarecrow and pumpkins adorning either side of the front door.

It’s never too early to address some of the “scary” aspects of home ownership – strange noises and weird odors. Before you get yourself too worked up, rest assured that with the proper maintenance, you’ve got more than a ghost of a chance to rest easy. The National Association of Realtors shared the following tips to address things that go bump in the night.

Are creaking and popping noises waking you at night? The many materials that make up your house — wood framing, plywood, glass, metal ducts, nails, plumping pipes – all expand and contract at different rates. When a house cools at night, these materials may move slightly, rubbing against each other and making noises. Occasionally, they’ll contract with an audible pop.

These sounds tend to be more noticeable in fall when warm days give way to rapidly cooling nights. The bad news? Not much you can do about it. The good news? Those sounds are harmless and normal.

Do you have trouble locating the source of zombie odors? It’s either time to throw out the garbage, or you’d better call your gas utility to check on your gas lines and connections. Natural gas is odorless, but natural gas suppliers add a foul-smelling odorant — butyl mercaptan — to alert occupants to any leaks. The smell is like rotten eggs.

Leaks can occur at your gas-fired water heater, fireplace, clothes dryer, and any gas line. Leaking natural gas is potentially dangerous — leave the house and call your natural gas provider to assess the situation. Most utility companies perform safety checks for free.

Do you hear footsteps in the attic? Amplified by an unfinished attic space, a raccoon or even a good-size squirrel on your roof might sound like an ax murderer is doing the polka overhead. These rooftop transits are normal for critters — roofs offer a nice long unobstructed highway.

Make sure your soffit, rafter, and gable roof vents are covered with screens and in good shape, or your rooftop buddies might find their way into your attic for real. Trim back branches that provide critters easy access to your roof.

Do you smell something burning? You can smell the odor of burnt wood, but the smoke detectors aren’t going off and there’s no smoke in the house. The culprit could be your fireplace — even if you haven’t had a fire for days.

The probable cause is a drafty chimney and negative air pressure in your home, meaning that outside air is infiltrating down your chimney, bringing stale burnt smells with it. Stop drafts by making sure your damper has a good seal. Regulate air pressure by adding more cold air return ducts to your HVAC system. You’ll get rid of the odor and save on your energy bill, too.

What’s that moaning and clattering? These classic spooky sounds often show up when the wind blows and there’s a storm brewing.

Vents for clothes dryers, bathrooms, and water heaters exit out the roof or the side of the house. To prevent backdrafts, these vents have dampers — flaps designed to let vented air out and prevent outside air from coming in. These flaps sometimes move and rattle in high winds. Because dampers often are located in attics or in between floor joists, the sound can be difficult to pinpoint. You may need a new damper. Problem solved.

Instead of getting spooked, keep these home maintenance tips in mind, and your fears will dissipate as fast as Casper the Friendly Ghost. 

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