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October 31, 2012

Six noises that make your house sound haunted

By Linda Melone, InsWeb.com

Doors that open and close on their own and banging sounds from the basement don’t always require an exorcist. In fact, many of these spooky sounds can be traced to natural causes.

What is truly frightening is the impending homeowner’s insurance claim you have to file if you delay fixing these spooky perils.

For example, creaky floorboards that come loose constitute a clear case of carelessness or neglect if a visitor trips and gets injured, says Kevin Lynch, associate professor of insurance at The American College in Pennsylvania. “You’re liable whether you knew of the danger or not,” Lynch says.

The liability portion of your homeowner’s policy covers you for injuries. “Home repairs are not covered by homeowner’s insurance, however, unless they are caused by a covered event, such as fire or water damage,” Lynch says.

Fortunately, most causes of creepy sounds and occurrences don’t require filing an insurance claim. A paranormal investigator and a homebuilder give you the lowdown.

1. Flickering lights.

During one investigation, a client’s kitchen lights flickered several times during the day, says James Kelly, an investigator with Arizona Paranormal Investigations. “They were sure it was a ghost. We found that if you flushed the toilet nearest to the kitchen, the lights would flicker,” Kelly says.

The cause? Wires rubbing against the pipes, shorting out the lights inside the wall.

A faulty switch also could be the cause, says Patrick Perkins, founder of J.E.P. Contracting Inc., a homebuilder in Massachusetts. Perkins tells of a homeowner who reported a light that had a mind of its own.

“It would go on in the middle of the night by itself, but it would not turn off when you’d flip the switch. It was one of the strangest things I’d ever seen,” Perkins says. Replacing the switch resolved the problem.

If you suspect a short, Perkins advises listening for a humming noise, which may indicate a faulty switch.

2. Doors opening and closing.

Leaving a room and hearing the door close behind you may send shivers up your spine, but there may be nothing to fear, Perkins says. As a house settles, parts of the house, such as door frames, no longer may be level. If the door isn’t level, it could swing on its own and shut behind you.

“This happens more often in older homes, but may occur in a newer home if the door is not fastened correctly,” Perkins says.

In a restaurant investigation, one of Kelly’s clients reported that an upper storage room would pop open by itself from time to time when the owner was working inside. “We found that if you walked on a certain floorboard near that door, it would pop open. No ghost,” Kelly says.

3. Creaky footsteps.

Creaking boards may mimic a person walking across the floor or going up a flight of stairs. Fasteners – screws that hold down the floor boards – loosen, causing the boards to move up and down, Perkins says. “This happens most often in homes 25 years or older,” he says.

4. Cold spots.

A sudden cold spot in the middle of a room can feel like a ghost draining the energy out of the atmosphere, ghost hunters say. Likely not, Perkins says. “It’s often a draft coming in through an outlet,” he says.

5. Thumping sounds in the basement.

Bangs, booms and other loud noises coming from the basement could indicate a spirit trying to communicate — or it may be a leak in your hot water system, Perkins says. Air inside the system can make a hammering sound called “water hammer.” It indicates that air has accumulated inside the heating line and isn’t being released properly, Perkins says. Consult with a plumber or your local hardware store for ways to fix it.

6. Noises from the backyard.

Strange popping sounds coming from your backyard might just be your newly built deck, not a mythical creature sneaking onto your property. Today’s decking materials include composite products, using a mixture of plastic and wood fibers, that expand and contract at different rates, Perkins says. These products heat up during the day and cool off at night, leading to creaking and other strange noises.

Perkins tells of a husband and wife sitting in a hot tub in the backyard at night. They became alarmed by odd noises, which were traced to the composite trim on both the deck and railing of the hot tub.

As for noises and phenomena not included in this list, you may need a ghost hunter. Just be prepared to foot the bill, as your homeowner’s policy won’t cover it.

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