Why Does My House Creak and Crack?

by Sarah Stasik
illustration of a house making noise

Chances are, you've heard creaking in a house before. You might hear an odd ticking sound or something that sounds like a crack or creak in the walls. These sounds are more noticeable when it's quiet in the house, such as when all the electronics and appliances are off. They're especially common at night.

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Before you blame house settling noises on rats in the walls or a haunting happening in the attic, learn more about these sounds and what's normal.

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Why Do I Hear Cracking Noises in My House?

If you hear cracking noises in your house, chances are your home is simply settling.

The materials used to construct your home — wood, brick, stone, plastic, metal and other items — may seem solid to the naked eye. But they can all expand and contract to some degree as temperatures and other environmental factors change. As the weather changes, for example, all the pieces of your home may move ever so slightly. This movement is what causes various sounds, including cracking, creaking and popping.

Even if temperatures and humidity remain the same, air movement outside can cause some noise in your home. A house creaking in the wind isn't typically a cause for concern if all the sounds tend to happen when the wind picks up.

Your home also weighs a lot, and that weight is slowly pressed down by the force of gravity. This can cause a super-slow — as in, takes decades to occur — settling of the home into the earth or foundation below. Normal settling results in the same cracking, popping and creaking.

Internal changes in temperature might also cause some of these noises to occur. For example, if it's very cold outside and you turn on the heater to warm up the indoors, you might hear a bit of creaking.

Why Do Houses Creak and Groan at Night?

It's normal to hear these types of sounds even more frequently at night. One reason for that is obviously that the rest of the house is quieter, so any such sounds will stand out more. You also won't hear a creaking or groaning noise and chalk it up to kids on the stairs or someone pacing the living room if everyone is already asleep.

However, there's another reason houses creak and groan at night. The thermal contraction and expansion described above happens more quickly at night because temperatures tend to drop faster once the sun goes down. Depending on where you live, humidity and other factors may change rapidly post-sundown, too, and this can all have an impact on the movement of wood and other materials.

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Are House Settling Noises Normal?

Yes, house settling noises are normal. However, if you're hearing more than the occasional pop or creak, it could be a sign of trouble. Here are some noises that likely go beyond house settling:

  • Rapid skittering or scratching. A settling house tends to move slowly, and wood and other materials won't expand or contract so quickly that it sounds like movement within the walls. If you hear anything that sounds like something running or scratching in the walls or ceilings, it's more likely you have some sort of pest. Consider calling an exterminator.
  • Electronic buzzing. Settling houses might groan a bit, but they don't hum or buzz. If you hear any sounds of this nature, you may have an electrical problem that needs attending to.
  • Water sounds. Anytime you hear running or trickling water, and you've checked that all the faucets are off and no washer or dishwasher is running, it's worth looking deeper. You may have a slow leak in need of repair.
  • Clanking or booming. House settling noises might occasionally include the metallic clink of pipes. However, loud, aggressive or consistent clanking or booming may indicate a plumbing or HVAC issue.
  • Hissing. Normal settling sounds don't include hissing. If you hear something that sounds like air escaping a small hole in a balloon, you may have a gas leak and should act with appropriate caution.

Creaks and other audio signs of tiny settling movements in a home are normal. But if you hear things you've never heard before or the sounds get louder or more aggressive, it's usually best to get things checked out.

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