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Strange Home Quirks – and How to (Finally!) Make Them Go Away

Home maintenance solutions for the quirkiest things.

Upside down house
Image: Pascal Willuhn/Flickr

Sometimes you swear you’re sharing your house with a spirit — either that, or your home is very much alive and has a mind of its own.

It makes the strangest sounds. The water smells funky. The lights flicker. 

You didn’t notice any of this when you first bought your house, but now, well, it’s starting to make you wonder. Should you be concerned?

In most cases, no. But sometimes, your home really is trying to tell you something’s wrong. Here’s how to interpret your home’s strange quirks, and how to fix them for good:

Flickering Lights

Cause: Odds are eerie light flickering isn’t paranormal activity. But if groups of lights flicker together, it could be something just as scary: dangerous, loose electrical connections that can cause power to jump over the gaps. Pros call this “arcing,” which can cause fires. If, however, lights dim when the refrigerator or another appliance turns on, the circuit might be overloaded.

Cure: Call in a licensed electrician. The $150 to $250 you’ll pay for a new circuit (or $500 to $700 for a new electrical panel) is way less than what you’d spend to recover from a fire.

Peeling Exterior Paint

Cause: Moisture is probably getting underneath the paint. Leaky gutters or a steamy bathroom on the other side of the affected area are often the culprit.

Cure: If it’s a brand-new problem (you know it wasn’t there a couple of weeks ago), you might be in time to save your siding — and a costly replacement bill. What to do:

  • Stop the moisture at the source so the problem doesn’t repeat.
  • Scrape off the loose paint, then prime and repaint.

Delay too long and the siding might rot. Patching and repainting the whole house could easily rise to $10,000! 

If the root cause is a damp bathroom, a new ventilation fan with a humidity-sensing switch (about $250) should take care of it. 

Related: They’ll Think You Hired a Pro If You Use These Painting Hacks

Rustling in a Wall

Cause: Typically, it’s termites and carpenter ants — tiny beasts that love to feast on your home’s bones. Tap on a wall and then press an ear against it. If you hear a rustling sound, it could be termites. A sound like crinkling cellophane could mean carpenter ants

Cure: Call a pest-control professional. Cost is $65 to $100 for an inspection.

Loud Knocking

Cause: If the knocking occurs when you turn off water, you have what’s known as “water hammer” — when fast-moving water comes to a sudden stop and there’s no air chamber (usually a short pipe) to cushion the shock wave. If knocking occurs when your furnace switches on or off, metal ducts are expanding or contracting as temperature changes.

Cure: If there’s an air chamber, it may be filled with water and only needs to be drained. If it’s missing one, it needs one installed. Call a plumber ($65 an hour) to add one. Those snapping ducts? They aren’t a cause for concern — just part of your home’s personality.

A Toilet Tank That Refills All on Its Own

Cause: Worn interior parts may be causing water to trickle through the toilet constantly, causing the water level in the tank to lower and trigger the refill mechanism. A leaky toilet potentially wastes 1,500 gallons a month (not to mention the wasted $$$!).

Cure: Untangle or loosen the chain — it may be too tight and preventing the flapper from seating fully, letting water leak out the flush valve. Or, try bending the tube connected to the float ball. If those don’t work, replace the valve and flapper inside the toilet tank (under $25 if you do it yourself, and a little more if you upgrade to a water-saving dual-flush valve).

Related: How to Fix a Sweaty Toilet

Creaks and Growns

Cause: All houses creak and groan a little as parts expand and contract with temperature fluctuations. Changes in levels of humidity can be the cause, too.

Cure: You don’t really need to do anything — it’s normal for a house to make a few snaps, pops, and groans as it gets older (like all of us). But if a creaky floor is driving you nuts, get an anti-squeak repair kit — or dust some talcum powder into the seams where floorboards meet. The talcum acts as a lubricant to shush boards that rub together.

Musty Odors

Cause: Mildew is the root of all that’s musty. It’s a yucky, not-good-for-you fungus. Basements are favorite haunts for this nasty life form. But basically, any place that is humid enough to allow condensation to form on cold surfaces can grow mildew and assault your senses.

Cure: Keep surfaces dry. A few ways include:

  • Running a $20 fan to keep air moving, which creates dryness.
  • Adding a dehumidifier (about $175 or so) to stubborn spaces that a fan can’t handle. 
  • Make surfaces warmer by adding insulation throughout your home.

Related: Mold. Ugh. Sooo Gross. Here’s How to Kill It Forever

Rotten-Egg Smell When You Run Water

Cause: A type of bacteria that produces hydrogen sulfide gas (the scientific name for rotten-egg smell). It could be in your water heater or in your drain. To find out which:

  1. Fill a glass with hot water.
  2. Step away from the sink.
  3. Take a whiff.

If you smell it, your water heater is the likely culprit. If not, the bacteria is in your drain. 

Cure: Pouring a $1 bottle of 3% hydrogen peroxide solution down the drain should kill the fungus. Follow that up about 20 minutes later with baking soda to curb the smell. 

Your water heater is another issue: Call a plumber to disinfect the system. If hot and cold water both smell, call your water supplier (or health department if you have a well).

Related: 10 Clever Uses of Hydrogen Peroxide

Strange-Tasting Tap Water

Cause: If the water tastes metallic, iron, or copper may be leaching from pipes. If you taste chlorine, your water supplier may have overdosed on disinfectant, or a correct level could be interacting with organic stuff (like that bacteria mentioned earlier) within your plumbing system.

Cure: If chlorine seems high at all taps, or if you taste metals, call your water supplier or have your well water tested. If only one tap has water with high chlorine, or if the taste goes away after you run water for a few minutes, flush your system or call a plumber.

If it’s an ongoing problem, a permanent water purifier ($150 to $200) might be the cure you need. With a top-quality activated carbon filter, it can remove heavy metals, bacteria, and other contaminants. Sweet water at last!

Trembling Floors

Cause: If all the bottles on your newly set-up bar jiggle and shimmy each time you walk by, or if your floor feels like it gives under your weight, the floor joists might not be sturdy enough. That’s often caused when homeowners remove walls during remodeling. 

Cure: Have a structural engineer or experienced contractor see whether you can add more joists, boost existing ones with an additional layer of subflooring, or add a post to support the floor better. You’ll pay up to $500 for a structural engineer to evaluate your problem. A contractor will cost less, but make sure they have the experience.


Jeanne Huber

Jeanne Huber is the author of 10 books about home improvement. She writes a weekly column about home care for the Washington Post.