40 Home Mysteries Explained
Stop racking your brain and learn how to solve these common home mysteries right now.
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Mice Inside the Wall
This is the best way to get rid of mice in your house—even if they’ve made themselves at home inside your walls.
Bad Smell in the Basement
This is the most likely culprit of a foul smell in your basement. And we’ll show you how to fix it yourself.
One Really Cold Room
If you have one cold room in your house, there are several tried-and-true ways you can warm it up.
Doors That Open or Close by Themselves
Before you take the door down and try to adjust the doorframe, try this super-simple trick to fix a swinging door with the hinge pin. It’s quite effective and could save you a lot of time and hassle.
Dryer Not Drying
You can complete many common dryer repairs yourself. If you have an electric or gas dryer that tumbles but won’t heat, check the thermal fuse for continuity. If the thermal fuse checks out, move on to the radiant sensor if you have a gas dryer. It monitors the igniter and powers up the gas valve coils when the igniter reaches peak temperature. A bum sensor will stop the whole show. Test it for continuity and replace it if it fails. If the sensor is good, disconnect the electrical connector to the igniter and check it for continuity. Again, replace it if it fails the continuity test. If both the radiant sensor and the igniter pass the test, replace the gas valve coils. To replace them, remove the retaining plate, unplug the sensors and pull them off the gas valve.
If the thermal fuse on your electric dryer checks out, test the heater element for continuity. Replace the element if you don’t get continuity.
Dishes Not Getting Clean in Dishwasher
You may be wondering how do I clean my dishwasher? If your dishwasher is running but the dishes aren’t getting clean, one of these simple fixes could solve your problem. Start by consulting your manual to be sure you’re using the right detergent, loading the dishes correctly and maintaining the right hot water temperature. These dishwasher repair tips will get your dishwasher working again.
If your washing machine has been making loud thumping noises and moving across the floor when it’s in spin cycle, it probably needs to be leveled. Fortunately, stabilizing a washing machine is an easy fix, though you may need a helper to tilt up the washing machine.
To remove furniture footprints from carpet, dampen the carpet with a white rag (colored fabric can leave dye in the carpet). Then heat the area with a hair dryer as you rake the carpet yarn gently in all directions with a spoon. In most cases, the crater will completely disappear in five minutes or less. If not, let the carpet dry completely and repeat the process.
It’s not hard to repair a refrigerator that’s making noises. Refrigerator noise comes from either the compressor under the fridge, the condenser fan motor under the fridge, or the evaporator fan motor inside the freezer. Open the freezer door while the fridge is running. If the noise doesn’t get louder when you open the freezer, pull out the fridge. Most refrigerators have a condenser fan motor. Unscrew the back cover and listen—you’ll be able to tell whether the noise is coming from the fan or the compressor. The best cure for a loud compressor is usually a new fridge. To replace the fan motor, remove its mounting screws, unplug it and install the new one.
Many gas fireplaces use a blower to drive warm air out into the room. They also have a fan speed adjustment switch so you can strike a balance between blower speed and noise level. But if the fan gets loaded with dust or the motor bearings wear, the blower will make a rumbling noise at all speeds. Sometimes it’s possible to remove the blower and clean the fan blades to quiet it. But if it still makes noise, it’s time to replace the gas fireplace blower.
If you’ve got a dull whistle that comes through the house on a windy day it can make for a long day. Take care of any possible leak by caulking the window.
Loud Bath Fan
If the bath fan in your home is more than 20 years old, chances are it’s pretty loud. A loud bath fan may be good for masking bathroom noise, but the jet engine roar is downright annoying the rest of the time. Worse yet, your old bath fan may not be moving enough air to keep your bathroom free of mold and mildew.
Fix a Noisy Vent Hood Damper
Often a stiff wind will open vent dampers, causing them to periodically clang shut. If the noise drives you crazy, new spring-loaded backdraft dampers ($9 to $30, depending on the size) should solve the problem. Measure the diameter of the vent pipe and order the dampers from a duct supply company (hvacquick.com is one source). Start by replacing the backdraft damper directly above the vent hood. If that doesn’t solve the problem, install a second damper near the wall or roof discharge cap. The second damper will greatly reduce the clanging problem.
Clink, Clink, Clink of the Ceiling Fan Chain
Even if a ceiling fan is perfectly balanced, the breeze from the fan can cause the pull chain to smack up against the light fixture. Solve this annoying noises problem by removing the chain and sliding a 1/4-in. plastic tube over it. You can buy the tubing at home centers.
Fix for Rattling Doors: Move the Stop
A door will rattle when there’s too much space between the door and the door stop. To fix a rattling door, reduce or remove the gap. Here’s one solution: Knock the door stop flush with a hammer and a scrap piece of wood. If the stop is more than 1/16 in. out of whack, you may end up with a noticeable unfinished spot where the door stop used to be, especially on painted doors. Add a couple of brads or finish nails to the stop if it’s a door that regularly gets slammed shut.
Water Heater Gurgle
Popping or gurgling coming from your water heater is a sign of excessive sediment buildup in the tank. Annoying noises like this are caused by steam bubbles percolating up through the muck. On a gas water heater, the sediment creates hot spots that can damage the tank and cause premature failure. On an electric water heater, sediment buildup can cause the lower heating element to fail. So flushing a water heater offers a payback in lower energy bills and extended heater life.
Start by shutting the water heater down. Turn the breaker off, and turn the thermostat to “Pilot” if you have a gas model. Shut off the water supply to the appliance and let the water cool. Then hook a hose to the drain valve at the bottom of the tank. Put the other end of the hose into a bucket and open the drain valve. Dump the bucket outside so the sediment doesn’t clog your pipes. Keep draining until only clear water discharges. If the tank empties before the water turns clear, open the water valve and allow more water into the tank to further rinse it. Once you’re done rinsing, close the drain valve, let the tank refill and turn the water heater back on.
Most aluminum soffits fit into a channel mounted to the wall. Sometimes the soffits fit loosely, which allows them to clatter in the wind. To quiet loud aluminum siding, set up a ladder and tap on the soffits to see which ones are loose. Next, insert a length of screen spline in between the soffit and the aluminum channel with a plastic putty knife. The soffits may have been cut too short, so push the screen mold in far enough so it won’t be seen from the ground but not so far that it slides past the end of the soffit. A package of 25 ft. of screen spline is available at hardware stores and home centers.
Is that dripping noise in your downspout forcing you to keep your bedroom window closed at night? Here’s an easy way to quiet loud gutters and downspouts. Tie a synthetic rope onto one of the gutter hangers and run it down into the downspout. Drops of water will cling to the rope and flow down instead of plummeting the whole length of the downspout and causing that irritating drip. Adding a rope does restrict the water flow, so this may not be the best option if your gutter is prone to overflowing or gets clogged easily.
Squeaky Door Hinge
Spray squeaky door hinges in place with a little all-purpose lube, silicone spray or dry Teflon spray. If the squeaks persist, remove the hinge pins and rub off any rust or corrosion with a steel wool pad, and then coat the pins with a lubricant before replacing them.
Sump Pump Drip, Drip
If there’s a dripping noise made by water falling from your drain tile into your sump pump basin, try this: Tie a string to the bottom edge of the drain tile pipe and extended it right into the basin. Attach a washer on the other end of the string and make sure it isn’t so long that the pump gobbles it up. Now water will follow the string instead of dripping into the sump basin.
Creaking Floors and Stairs
Floors and stairs should be seen and not heard, but silencing stairs and floors can be a little tricky. Fortunately, there are some DIY ways to fix squeaky floors.
Garage Door Rumble
A garage door in motion can produce all sorts of rumbling vibrations, which can easily migrate indoors, especially if there’s a living space above it. Here are a couple quick and inexpensive fixes for a noisy garage door.
Fix 1: Install Anti-Vibration Pads
Cushion the connection between the opener and the framing with rubber pads. Use heavy-duty rubber washers, cut pads out of an old tire, or buy specially made rubber/cork anti-vibration pads. You’ll be adding about an inch in thickness, so you’ll need four longer lag screws and some fender washers.
Fix 2: Replace Metal Rollers with Nylon
Nylon rollers are quieter and unlike metal rollers, don’t require periodic oiling. A 10-pack is available online or at garage door suppliers. To install them, lower the door and remove the hinges one at a time.
Beware: On some garage doors, the bottom roller brackets (closest to the ground when the door is closed) are attached to a cable and garage door springs. In this case, you should not remove the roller or bracket without the help of a knowledgeable professional. Removing these parts with the garage door closed could result in rapid discharge of the tension in the spring and any number of safety issues.
Whistling Duct Grilles
If you have a grille or register that hums or whistles, all you have to do is twist the fins slightly until the noise stops. Pliers will scratch and kink the delicate fins, so use a hinge with strips of tape applied to the inside. Then grab a fin between the hinge leaves and give it a twist. Twisting all the fins so they open a little wider will give the best results.
Fix for Noisy Pipes: Cushion the Pipe Hangers
Pipes expand and contract when they heat up and cool down. This can cause them to tick, creak and groan as they slide by the hangers or straps holding them in place.
Minimize the sound of noisy water pipes by pulling off the straps and inserting strips of felt or heavy fabric under the strap before reinstalling them. You may only have to fix the hot water supply line, because that’s the one that changes temperature the most.
Ducts made from sheet metal can make a popping sound when the furnace kicks on, changing the air pressure inside the ducts. One simple fix is to reinforce the sheet metal by scoring it. Simply take a straightedge and score a large ‘X’ in the center of the sheet metal with a screwdriver. It may take a few X’s in a row to stop the pop.
Put an End to Exhaust Vent Chatter
When the wind blows just right, the flapper on an electric dryer or exhaust fan vent can open and close, causing a chattering noise. One solution is to put a little weight on the flapper, enough to resist the wind, but not too much or the flapper won’t open when the dryer or fan runs.
Attach a few small magnets first and then run the dryer, hood vent or bath fan to make sure the flapper still opens. If the chatter is gone, great. If it persists, add another magnet. Always check that the flapper still opens when it’s supposed to. Once you get the right balance, add a dab of adhesive to the magnets to keep them in place. You can get a 1/2-in. x 30-in. magnetic strip at home centers for a couple bucks.
For noisy plastic vents, try attaching small washers with a dab of clear silicone. Note: These flapper-quieting tips are not for use with gas appliances.
Random Toilet in the Basement
It looks misplaced, even comical, but a seemingly out-of-place old toilet in the basement of an old house once served a purpose.
Usually found in pre World War II-era homes, this lone toilet looks entirely misplaced not just because it’s in the basement, but because there is nothing around it to make it feel like a proper, private bathroom! There are no walls for privacy. And while many don’t even have a sink nearby, others are paired with a crude basement shower apparatus and large sink.
It’s often referred to as the “Pittsburgh potty” thanks to the abundance of them in the city. Legend has it that the historically industrial town’s steelworkers and miners used them after a long day of work. They’d enter their basements to clean up before entering the main part of the house, so as to avoid tracking in grime.
Small Galvanized Pipes Sticking Out of the Ground
Do you live in an old home? If so, have you noticed two mysterious galvanized pipes sticking out of the ground in your yard? Those small, galvanized pipes are signs of something much bigger below the ground!
While natural gas and electricity power most furnaces today, many pre-1970s homes had fuel-oil powered furnaces and with that came an underground fuel oil tank. Evidence of this reveals itself in that pair of galvanized steel pipes sticking out of the ground within a couple feet of each other. Beneath, an abandoned fuel oil tank lurks.
If your toilet isn’t solidly fastened to the floor, there may be trouble in your future. Don’t ignore a rocking toilet. Any movement of the toilet damages the wax seal. That leads to leaks and ultimately major repairs. To steady a rocking toilet, cut plastic shims to fit and slip them underneath (you may have to remove caulk before adding shims). Then caulk around the toilet and snug down the nuts on the bolts. But don’t crank them down super-tight; that can crack the toilet.
If summers are humid where you live and you don’t have air conditioning, you’ve probably noticed your toilet “sweating” excessively. Condensation forms on the outside of the toilet tank, which can drip down and make a mess or even rot out your floor. Some toilets are available with insulated tanks to prevent condensation problems.
If you have air bubbles that rise up through your toilet bowl (except when it flushes) or notice the water level rising and falling, you probably have a clogged or improperly vented toilet. This toilet bubbling problem is especially true when you have an appliance like a clothes washer nearby. Your drain line is gasping for air.
When you pour liquid from a can, you’ll notice that it doesn’t flow evenly unless you have a second opening for air. The same holds true for plumbing vent pipe. As water goes down a drain, air is needed to equalize the pressure in the drain line.
This is the purpose of a venting system. If the drain lines in your home have poor venting, water rushing down the drains will pull water from nearby P-traps. The drain in the toilet bowl is basically a P-trap. If the problem just started, it’s probably a blocked drain or plumping vent pipe that needs to be “snaked” out. And since the water in the toilet is dropping and gurgling, it’s likely that the problem is near that area.
Unfortunately, a clogged or missing vent is tough to fix, since it usually requires breaking into the walls to examine the drain system. Unless you have plumbing experience, this project is best left to a professional.
Toilet Won’t Flush Well
Master baths are often distant from the rest of the plumbing in the house, so they often have their own plumbing vents independent of the home’s other plumbing. If the flushing performance is anemic and there are no clogs or obvious malfunctions, there may be an amazingly simple remedy. Occasionally, plumbers forget to remove the temporary plug that’s used to pressure-test the lines after plumbing rough-in. They’re located at the top of the vent pipe up on the roof. If you can’t see a rubber cap clamped on the vent over the bathroom from the ground, climb up on the roof and inspect the end of the vent over your bathroom and I’ll bet you’ll find an overlooked plug. If so, break through the plastic with a screwdriver and pry out the pieces and that toilet will work just fine.
If that isn’t the problem, you probably have a defective toilet or an obstruction in the drain line. Get ahold of the plumber who worked on the house. He or she should be able to solve the toilet won’t flush problem.
If your toilet flushes slowly, the rinse holes under the rim may be clogged with mineral deposits. With a mirror and a coat hanger, you can clean out those clogged holes without ever getting your hands dirty. The photo says it all—look into the mirror to see if the holes are clogged. If they are, bend a coat hanger flat and probe the tip into the holes to poke out any mineral deposits.
Razor Slit in Medicine Cabinet
Decades ago, medicine cabinets had a tiny slit to dispose of old razors. Where might those dirty razors go? Nowhere, really. They merely went into the wall. Out of sight, out of mind!
Leaky Washing Machine
Repairing a leaking washing machine usually starts with the hoses. But if those look alright, take a look at the washing machine pump and tub fittings.
Washer Stuck On One Cycle
If your washing machine is stuck on one cycle and doesn’t advance, the timer is broken. Replacing a timer is simple, but it’s not cheap. A new one will run about $120. Still, that’s less than a new washer.
Oven Temperature is Off
Funky Furnace Smells
If you have unusual odors emanating from your furnace, it might be trouble, or it might be nothing at all. If you notice a musty smell, a rotten egg smell, a sewer smell, a dusty smell, or if smells like burning plastic, here’s how to fix furnace smells.
Smelly Washing Machine
Do you notice a moldy smell when you open the door of your front-loading clothes washer? If so, chances are that like most people, you leave the washer door closed between loads and only wash a couple of loads per week. This is only a problem because the ultra-tight seal on front loader doors doesn’t let the interior dry, and between washings, mold can grow inside the damp confines. And because front loaders use less water than top loaders (which fill up almost to the top), they don’t always wash away the mold when you run a load of laundry. Clean the inside of a front load washing machine to keep smells at bay.
If you’ve got leaks in your bathroom, it can be tough to identify the source of the leak or know how to fix a kitchen sink leak but these tips will help you find plumbing leaks and fix them.