What Can Cause a Water Pipe to Vibrate and Make Noise?
Loud banging and vibrating noises from water pipes are unsettling. They shouldn’t be there in the first place. So what causes them in the first place?
Noisy water pipes are usually caused by water hammers when a faucet or shut off valve is turned off suddenly forcing the water to slam against the valve and pipes. High water pressure, worn out valve washers and loose water pipes can also cause pipes to whistle, rattle and vibrate. Noises in the hot water lines is caused by expanding copper pipes.
Some pipe noises are so loud that you feel like there is someone in the house banging the wall. The good thing is that fixing noisy pipes is usually not very expensive and in most causes you can fix the problem without having to call in a plumber.
The challenge usually lies in the problem diagnosis. If you can get to the source of the problem then most likely you will be able to fix it on your own. And that will be the basis of this post.
To stop noisy water pipes you will need to install water hammer arrestors. If you have high pressure in your pipes you will need to install or adjust the pressure regulator. Loosely held pipes should be fastened, whining washers be replaced and in the case of copper pipes consider lowering water temperature or insulating them. Unclog gurgling drains as well.
Noisy pipes don’t mean instant danger. They can however lead to very expensive repairs if left unfixed. The constant slamming/banging will cause shut off valves to fail and also loosen pipe joints leading to leaks. Noisy pipes are also very irritating.
Now that we know the reason for your whining water pipes, let us go deep in details and see what we can do to fix/stop them.
1. Water Hammer
To understand what a hammer is, I want you to imagine that you are in a fast moving car which brakes off suddenly. What happens to you and all the other occupants of the car? Are you not thrust forward?
If someone sitting at the back of the car didn’t have their seat belt on, there is a chance their head will bang on the seat in front of them. That is the exact thing that causes water hammers in pipe.
When you are running your dish washer or washing machine, or just turn on a faucet, water stored in the pipes starts gushing out under high pressure. What will happen to the water when you turn off the faucet or dish washer all of a sudden?
Since the water in the pipes is still in motion (and hence possess energy), it will have nowhere to go and can’t just stand still in a second. The water will slam hard against the valve and bounce back in the pipe causing what is commonly known as a water hammer.
Any time you experience loud banging noises in your water pipes, the problem is usually caused by a water hammer. This happens when a running faucet or any other fixture in the house is turned off suddenly.
To fix water hammer problems in your pipes, turn off water to your whole house and drain out all the trapped water to free up space in the air chamber then turn the water back on. If that does not fix the problem, you will need to install a water hammer arrestor.
Free Up the Air Chamber
An air chamber is basically a vertical pipe on your faucet or other fixtures that attach it to the main plumbing pipes. Theoretically speaking, the air chamber as its name suggests should only have air.
Since air expands and water doesn’t, it gives water in the pipes rooms for expansion when a faucet is turned off suddenly avoiding the water hammer. With time however the air chamber fills up with water and its function therefore compromised.
If you can drain the excess water in the air chamber you can then get rid of the water hammer in your pipes. Here is how to do it:
- Turn off the main water shut off to your house. This valve is usually located next to the water meter.
- Turn on all your faucets and let the water drain out.
- With you faucets still open, turn on the water at the main shut off valve. The water will flush out air out of your pipes, but not in the air chamber.
- Turn off the faucets.
This fix will work in some instances but in some it won’t. You will then be left with the second option below:
Install Water Hammer Arrestors
A water hammer is a device that is connected to your pipes to stop water hammers. It works like an air chamber but they are different. To start with, a water hammer is spring-loaded (some have a piston) and will therefore never fill up with water.
When water flowing under high pressure in your pipes have nowhere to flow to in a sudden, it is diverted to the arrestor where it pushes hard against the spring, compressing it which allows room for expansion and in the process avoid a water hammer.
A water hammer arrestor will in most cases need to be installed by a professional plumber. If you however are a seasoned DIYer then you can install one on your own. There are plenty of videos on You Tube for that purpose.
2. High Water Pressure
If you are experiencing a vibrating/whining noise in your water pipes especially when you turn on a faucet or any other fixture, your water pressure is too high. Water particles are hitting the pipe hard and at a very high speed and hence the vibration.
The solution to vibrating pipe noises in your house is to have a water pressure regulator installed. If you already have one, you need to have it readjusted or replaced in case you suspect it is faulty.
The first thing to do however is to determine the water pressure in your house. Buy a threaded pressure gauge and connect it to an outside spigot. Your house’s water pressure should not be more than 80 pounds per square inch (psi).
So what if you have a pressure regulator already? How do you tell if it is the one responsible for the vibrating/humming noise in your house?
Turn on one of the faucets in the house and walk to where the pressure regulator is. Can you hear it vibrate? Place your hand on it and have someone in the house vary the pressure (output) of the faucet, then turn it off completely.
If the water pressure regulator is vibrating then you definitely need to replace it. This is because the pressure regulator is not doing what it is supposed to be doing and you are as good as not having one.
While adjusting the pressure at the regulator might help, it is highly unlikely that someone has reduced the pressure. Most of the time the pressure regulator is just faulty and only a replacement will do.
3. Loose Pipes
If you hear a rattling sound or even banging noise coming from your water pipes, you most likely have loosely held water pipes. This usually happens when a faucet or another fixture is running.
The force of the water causes the pipes to sway, knocking them against the wall or the nearest objects. If this continues for long the pipe joints will loosen causing leaks and very expensive repairs as a result.
Loose water pipes are caused by vibrations as water travels through them. It is this vibrations that loosens the straps/brackets that usually attach the pipes to the wall studs. The higher the water pressure the more likely the problem to happen.
Fixing a rattling water piper will either be easy or a little hard depending on the location of the pipe. The first thing to do here is locate the pipe responsible for the noise. Turn on a faucet and let the noise guide you.
If the pipe is in an accessible space like the basement or crawl space, all you will have to do is to tighten or reattach the loose strap or bracket. You can even add more brackets or straps if the ones present look insufficient.
Before clamping the pipe in place, you can as well add a damping material like rubber or form pipe sleeves, the ones used for insulation. Wrap the pipe sleeves and then tighten the pipe in place.
If the pipe is however located in an inaccessible place like inside a wall, you will need to open up the wall and secure it. This might need the help from a professional plumber.
There is however 2 things you can do before calling in the plumber. First, locate the suspect pipe and try to fix the problem at the point where it enters the wall and where it exits.
To do that you need to wrap or wedge in damping materials like rubber/foam pipe sleeves on both the entry and exit points of the pipe. The idea here is to try and center the pipe as much as possible and avoid collisions with the wall.
If the above does not work and you are happy to take a risk, drill a ½ inch hole to one side of the pipe’s wall stud using a paddle bit. Grab a can of spray foam insulation and spray a good amount of it inside the opening.
The foam will expand, set and harden thereby holding the water pipe tightly in place, in about 1 hours’ time. Once you are happy with the result patch up the hole.
If these 2 don’t work or you do not feel comfortable doing it on your own go ahead and call in a plumber. It will be expensive though.
4. Worn Out Washers
A whistling/squealing noise in your pipes is usually caused by a worn out washer in one of the fixtures’ shut off valves, or even your main house shut off valve. This noise comes on when the fixture is running.
Most fixtures in your house have a shut off valve which allows you to turn off water to the fixture when you need to repair them. Check on the wall behind your toilet or washing machines and you will see them. Sink shut off valves are usually located under the sink inside the cabinet.
Fixing this problem is usually easy. Let your ears lead you to where the whistling sound is coming from. It will be one of the fixtures I have mentioned.
Check the model number of the shut off valve (and probably water supply line) and order an exact same one. You can replace the shut off valve on your own or call in a plumber or handyman/woman.
There is however one whistling/hissing sound that is usually very specific. It comes from the inside of the toilet tank. That sound is usually caused by a faulty toilet fill valve. The noise is only heard when the toilet is refilling. Replace the toilet fill valve to solve this problem.
5. Mineral Build Up
If you live in an area with hard water, you may experience noises in your pipes as mineral deposits (sludge) collide with pipes. The sludge could be coming from the pipes themselves or water heater, where there are lots of sediment.
The mineral deposits make a very distinct clinking or rattling sound, as though there is grit hitting the surface of the pipe. With this problem, you will also have low water pressure in your house, and the shower head and faucet aerators will tend to clog a lot.
Unfortunately this is not a problem you can fix on your own. You will need the services of a licensed plumber. If you have the old galvanized pipes you should consider replacing them with copper or PEX.
6. Copper Pipes.
If you have noisy pipes in your house but only when running the hot water lines, you most likely have copper pipes as well. Copper expands and contracts fast with changes in temperature and the noise comes about as the expanding copper pipes rubs against joints, brackets, wall studs and other objects.
The easiest solution to this problem is slightly lowering the temperature of your water. That will mean less expansion of the copper pipes.
If lowering the water temperature is out of question, insulate the copper pipes with foam rubber pipes sleeves to avoid metal-metal interaction with other objects.
The above are the primary causes and solutions to noisy pipes in the house. Sometimes you are actually not having a noisy pipe but a noisy drain. There is a difference.
Noisy/gurgling drains are caused by clogged drainpipes or vents. A vacuum is created in the plumbing which sucks water from the fixtures as they are draining. For instance you might notice the bathtub/shower drain gurgling when flushing the toilet.
In that case, you have a clog in your sewer line or vent stack that needs to be removed. If not done as soon as possible you might experience a full backup.