What is causing my plumbing pipes to vibrate?

There could be a few different issues causing the rattling noise you hear in your pipes behind the walls, including loose pipes, high water pressure or a water hammer. (Photo courtesy of Angie's List member Paula G. of Encinitas, Calif.)

There could be a few different issues causing the rattling noise you hear in your pipes behind the walls, including loose pipes, high water pressure or a water hammer. (Photo courtesy of Angie's List member Paula G. of Encinitas, Calif.)

Dear Angie: Our two-story home has four-and-a-half bathrooms, which all seem to have a common cold water pipe that runs through a particular wall and ceiling. In four of the baths, when the toilet is flushed the water cutoff causes the pipes to vibrate very loudly somewhere in the wall or ceiling. Turning off the cold water faucet at the sink also causes a vibration.

We’ve had three different plumbers out. They have cut through walls in two different rooms and failed to locate the section of pipe that is causing the problem. Is there a tool that a plumber could use to locate the problem area before cutting through the wrong area of walls/ceiling again? Or, is there another way that this vibration problem could be resolved? – Claire K., Nashville, TN.

Dear Claire: There could be a few different issues causing the rattling noise you hear in your pipes behind the walls, so that means there’s more than one option to solve the problem. Fortunately, none of them should be too invasive. To start, the problem could be a loose pipe, as you suggest, which would merely need to be secured to the wood framing with pipe clips. Ideally, this could be done by accessing the pipes via an access panel or open area where the pipes are exposed, like a basement, rather than cutting through a wall or ceiling. Visibly inspect your pipes in open areas to see if there is a lot of movement when someone in the home turns faucets on and off or flushes a toilet.

Another issue could be that your water pressure is too high, which can cause pipes to vibrate and also lead to long-term damage to your pipes and appliances. Highly rated plumbers I’ve spoken to in your area say the indoor water pressure should be between 40 and 60 pounds per square inch (PSI). Adding a pressure reducing valve to your incoming main line could correct that issue, if high pressure is your problem. There are water pressure test gauges you can purchase to test the pressure yourself, or a qualified plumber can test your pressure for you.

Finally, a common occurrence known as a water hammer could be what you’re experiencing. A water hammer is caused by fast-closing valves, like toilet fill valves and faucets. As the water flows through the pipes and the valve shuts off quickly, it causes the water to stop suddenly in the pipes, causing the “hammer” effect. Adding a water hammer arrestor to the offending pipes could correct this issue, but that can involve cutting and soldering pipes and would likely require the experience of a plumber. Again, ideally, the plumber could add the arrestor to the pipes where they are already exposed without cutting through drywall. One possible simple solution to water hammer could be to replace your toilet fill valves with slow-shutting fill valves.

If you’ve lived in the house for a long time and the hammering effect has gradually gotten worse, it could be that you have air chambers connected to your pipes behind the walls. Air chambers help cushion against water hammer, but they fill with water over time and need to be drained to allow them to refill with air. This can be done easily by most homeowners by shutting off the water main valve, opening up the faucets and flushing the toilets starting at the highest level of the home and working their way down to the lowest level until all the pipes have drained. Once the lowest pipe runs clear, close that drain and turn the water main back on.

The noises you hear can not only be aggravating, but could lead to a pipe breaking because of the force of the banging. Water damage can be devastating and expensive to repair, so you want to be sure to find a well-reputed plumber in your area to help diagnose and treat the problem.

Angie’s List collects about 65,000 consumer reviews each month covering more than 550 home and health services. Angie Hicks compiles the best advice from the most highly rated service pros on Angie’s List to answer your questions. Ask Angie your question at askangie@angieslist.com

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thanks for all of this info....it gives me something to think about....(seems as if we had a clogged toilet for a year...(always needing to use the plunger)...we had a basement toilet installed, and the original toilet was still clogged...my wife used draino int to bathtub and several different times, and finnaly the toilet flushes perfectly 94 percent ot the time...however---> this is when the noise started!!..sometimes I think we being dragged down the street orsomething!!...??..heh...very strange!...but the new basement toilet is rarely clogged(although, it did clog a few times)...but doesNOT cause any noise in the pipes.......

Through out the day ib hearb vibrating noises in my home sounds like it's coming from my basement and it happens even when I'm not using any water in the house it's kinda scary at night when I'm sleeping.. I want to know what the problem is so that I can get it fixed because this is my first home that I've owned for two years and I don't need any major issues if I don't have any already ... help! Please any one

I was experiencing rattling noise when turning on hot water in the tub. I read through all of the suggestions above, and on similar lists elsewhere. Then I happen to ask my father-in-law, a plumber since he was 17. Right off he says, it's the washer. The washer is loose. I changed the washer, and also the screw (which appeared to be loose). The problem was gone.

I just bought a home and after living here for only two weeks my girls were in the tub and a sudden hammering or banging noise started coming from the walls or basement I'm not sure but this hasn't happened the whole time what could it be?

Hello. We just build a new 2 story house about 1 1/2 years ago. Everytime I turn on water there is loud hammering sounds with vibration behind wall on 1 st and second floor. We told the plumbmer that did the pipes and he came and drained all water and is still making the sound. I Beleive even louder. What should I do.

When the cold water is turn on, a creaking sound can be heard through the wall.The sound is pretty random when the faucet first turn on and the sound will continue even after the faucet was turned off. It is not hammering affect sound but more of a single creaking sound at different time length between the creaking sound. I hope someone may have encountered this and share the experience. Thank you much! John J.

First of all this is not a "hammer" issue, it is a "vibration" issue, which are 2 totally different problems. While this could potentially be a Pressure Reducing Valve problem, I doubt it. I am guessing that you have older toilets in your home that have old "ballcock" style fill valves (floating ball on a brass rod that causes the fill valve to close) installed in the tanks. One or more, but probably just one of these ballcocks in your 4 toilets is not shutting off positively and is allowing a tiny amount of water to flow through just enough to cause a vibration in your copper pipes. Think about the vibration that is caused when you allow air to escape from a balloon with the end pinched off. One faulty ballcock can cause this problem even though it occurs when you are flushing other toilets or turning on other faucets. The pressure drop causes the vibration to re-occur from that single valve. Find the problem by carefully watching the ballcock in each tank as it completes it's fill cycle, as this is when the vibration is likely to occur. Look at all four toilets until you find the one that is causing the problem, and replace it or all of you old fill valves with a new Fluidmaster fill valve or even a new ballcock style fill valve. It is also a good time to install new flappers in your tanks as well.

Wow! Just went to one of my toilets and slightly pulled on the chain/rod that opens the flapper valve to let a little tiny bit of water out so the ballcock would go down and let water in. Did this intermittently a few times and totally recreated the vibration!! Then I did it again and while the vibration was happening I opened the flapper much wider and IMMEDIATELY the vibration stopped. Problem solved after about a year and me contemplating purchasing a new sump pump for the basement because "that just had to be it" or even a new well pump. And lately I was able to run to the basement while the vibration was happening and realized it was neither of those. Then I though well it must be the super expensive HVAC unit (copper line) that comes in the house. But then I was able to look out the window and see the HVAC was not even running when it happened PLUS I also realized that copper line has foam padding all around it. So that's when I started searching the Internet and found your answer. Thank you so much. I knew about water hammer, but this vibration I've never heard or heard of.

just fixed my pipes with this, thanks!

Hi, It could be many things that cause the banging of pipes. Most likely is that they have extreme water pressure. Putting in a water hammer is always good in any home . Also a expansion tank just before the water heater is always good and code in NH where I live. You can for now just ajust your shutoff valve next to the toilet and slow the fill rate of your toilet. you only need a pressure reducing valve if you have city water. .If you have a well you can ajust the pressure at the well tank.

I have found through all my years of experience that if you have a pressure reducing valve then 9 times out of 10 it is the problem, otherwise it is as was stated. In Arlington County Virginia they have now out lawed the valves unless you have an expansion tank above your water heater, the reason being is that not only is the home pressure reducing valve factory set to 50psi and may be adjusted to a maximum of 75psi is also a one way check valve with an arrow on the side indicating direction of water flow. If the pressure relief valve were to fail and if you have a pressure reducing valve then you are sitting on a bomb. By deleting the pressure reducing valve, the excess pressure is sent back into the street water main pressure which depending on where you live will run between 50psi & 95psi. Years ago most people ran on well pressure which is usually between 40psi & 55psi so fauct and valve manufacturers built their products to operate with the low pressure. Now they are designed to operate at full water main pressure so the pressure reducing valves are no longer needed.

it could very well be debris in a tub and shower valve... Delta, for example has a check valve assembly in their tub valve body. When you run water from a particular part of your home it will reduce pressure in other areas, when the valve you are using is shut off it quickly increases pressure back to those other areas. When the check valve assembly in the tub valve is compromised by debris it will now 'flutter', causing pockets of air to 'hammer' inside the tub valve body, thus causing your noise. Depress your toilet flush handle slightly, allowing a small amount of water to drop from the tank into the bowl until your fill valves starts to run. This will save a bit of water and reduce the waiting time for the fill valve to shut off. Listen near your tub valve for a rapid, hammer... it will be very obvious if this is the problem. In my experience this 'has' been the cause of a majority of hammering issues that I've been presented. Many brands of valves are easily disassembled and cleaned, some require valve cartridge replacement. Determine the manufacturer of your valve, contact their customer support department and discuss your options... it could also very well be that your valve is under a limited warranty that will provide a free replacement part.

Hello, Just wanted to add to Angie's response concerning water hammer. Being an experienced plumber myself, she is right on the money with her diagnosis. I would be more inclined to think it is most likely due to no type of an arrestor being installed on the piping from installation. One thing that may help, if not already installed is adding an expansion tank at the water heater. Years ago they were very seldom installed but now it has been adapted as plumbing code in most counties. An expansion tank is primarily designed to avoid damage to the dank of the water heater but have found that it too can assist with pipe rattling issues throughout the house. The expansion tank needs to be sized based on the gallon capacity of the water heater and installed on the cold water line no closer than 18" from the inlet to the water heater. Given it being installed on the cold water line it also assist with absorbing the sudden shock on the related piping when a valve is closed to quickly. Hope this information was helpful.

all that person has to do is find a section of pipe that is as close to the vibration as possible that is accessible and install a shock absorber on that line.a shock absorber is a mechanical device that has a dedicated air chamber in the top of it,when the toilet or faucet shuts off quickly the water hammer is absorbed into the shock absorber thereby stopping the vibrating pipes.you can also use a length of pipe about a foot long with a cap on the end of it in place of a shock absorber,when you install this piece of pipe and turn water back on,there will be an air chamber in the top of this pipe,thereby making it a shock absorber,and each time the water is drained down more air will be in the pipe.

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