7 Creepy House Oddities, Explained

Haunted by a household head-scratcher? You're not alone. Here are RS Facebook fans' most common unsolved mysteries, and pro advice to make them—poof!—disappear.


Our Stairs Are Creaky.

Photo by Craig Cutler

What’s going on? Plain and simple, the creaks stem from wear and tear. Each step is made up of a few parts: the tread (the piece you walk on); two or more supports, called stringers (one on each side and sometimes one in the middle, under the step); and a riser (the panel that extends up from one tread to the next). Over time, constant usage—along with wood's natural expansion and contraction from changes in temperature and humidity—can cause nails and screws to move, and walking across the loose spots makes them creak, says home inspector Frank Lesh.

What to do Tighten up the creaky areas with reinforcements. "If you can access the underside of the stairs, you can glue shims between the treads and the stringers in the creaky spots," says Lesh. If you don't have access, you'll have to screw down from the tread into the stringer. Use a stud finder to locate the middle stringer, if that's where the creak is coming from. For screws that stay concealed, try the Squeeeeek No More floor-repair kit ($24, amazon.com).


The Microwave Turns on by Itself.

What’s going on? If you have an over- the-range microwave, the vent may be powering on automatically when you're producing a lot of heat or steam on the cooktop below, says Chris Zeisler of RepairClinic.com. Another possibility: "The cooling fan inside the microwave is starting up because a switch inside the door has been damaged," says Zeisler.

What to do If it's the vent situation, there's no fix—this is a safety feature. If it's the cooling fan that's turning on, you'll need to call an appliance technician to replace the door switch. (Microwave work can be dangerous if you don't have experience.) Going forward, take care to close the door gently to avoid damage.


One of Our Doors Won't Stay Open.

What’s going on? Over time, the screws holding a door to its hinges can loosen, causing the door to hang out of plumb. The off-kilter weight slowly pulls the door closed.

What to do Hold a level against the outer vertical edge of the door, says home-improvement expert Lou Manfredini. "The bubble in the vial of the level will tell you which way the door has to move so it hangs correctly," he says. Remove a screw from the hinge that's loose (top or bottom), and replace it with a screw that's at least 2½ inches long. "This will tighten up the hinge, and the door to the wood framing behind the jamb, so it functions properly."


I See an Orange Hue in the Bathtub—After I've Just Cleaned It.

What’s going on? If you scrubbed the tub with bleach, the chemical has reacted with the cast iron under the porcelain veneer, leaving an orange tint, says cleaning expert Brian Sansoni.

What to do Treat the stain with a nonchlorine-bleach product, such as Clorox 2 or hydrogen peroxide. The oxidizing action will neutralize the stain. In the future, don't use bleach to clean the tub. Instead, use white vinegar or a bleach- free commercial bathroom cleaner.


Our Windows Rattle and Whistle.

What’s going on? You may have loose window sashes (the frames that hold the glass) or poor weather stripping around the sashes, and this allows the windows to move back and forth when it's windy or during changes in pressure between inside and out.

What to do "Check the condition of the weather stripping and trim that holds the sashes in place, and replace any that's damaged or missing," says Manfredini. If the window wriggles even when it's latched, you may also need a new lock, says Lesh. You can find a lock at any hardware store, and the spooky sound effects should stop.


We Hear Banging or Knocking Sounds Inside the Walls.

What’s going on? "A loud sound inside the walls is sometimes called "water hammer," " says Lesh. "It happens when there's too much air in the water system, which can be caused by a number of things, from a problem in the well pump or a leak in a pipe to a malfunction of the water-treatment system." Another possibility is that the clamps that hold long runs of pipes in place inside the walls have come loose, so pipes are knocking against the framing structure as water rushes through.

What to do It's easy to eliminate water hammer by draining the pipes to get rid of the air bubbles causing the banging, so it's worthwhile to troubleshoot that first, says Lesh. "Turn off the main water valve, where the water comes into the house," he says. "Next, turn on all the faucets and flush the toilets until there's no water running out of them or into them. Then turn off the faucets and turn the water main back on." Still hear knocking? It's time to call a plumber. Your problem may be pipes coming loose from their fasteners, which is a tricky fix and can involve opening up a wall.


I Hear Running Water When Nothing Is Turned on.

What’s going on? "Most of the time, this is the result of a leaking toilet valve," says plumbing pro Chuck White. "Water is running into the overflow tube—a small vertical pipe that controls the passage of water from tank to bowl—so you hear it running and then refilling."

What to do "First, on each toilet, adjust the fill valve [the mechanism with an arm attached to a float, located on the left side of the tank]. Do this by tightening or loosening the screw on top of the vertical tube connected to the fill valve; then flush. You want the water level about a half-inch below the overflow tube," says Manfredini. "If this doesn't solve the problem, replace the flapper valve [sold at hardware stores]. Turn off the water to the toilet, unscrew or snap the old flapper from its hinges, and insert the new one."

The Home Improvement Pros

  • Frank Lesh, Executive director at the American Society of Home Inspectors
  • Lou Manfredini, Ace Hardware's home expert and host of the Mr. Fix-It call-in radio show
  • Brian Sansoni, Vice president of communication at the American Cleaning Institute
  • Chuck White, Vice president of technical and code services at the Plumbing Heating-Cooling Contractors Association
  • Chris Zeisler, Technical service supervisor at RepairClinic.com