Haunted House Fixes | HVAC, Plumbing & Electrical Explanations
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Posted June 1, 2017
Halloween is right around the corner and our senses are on the rise. Strange sights, sounds, smells, and sensations that we might normally ignore now seem to be symptoms of a haunted house.
Cold spots? Flickering lights? Loud clangs and bangs? It’s enough to drive anyone crazy.
To help soothe your nerves during this frightening time of year, here are some explanations for those supernatural phenomena you are experiencing.
WARNING: The truth may be scarier than the fiction.
Cold Spots & Drafts
The ghosts in your house need energy to materialize so they suck up all the surrounding heat and create cold spots that alert you to their presence. Or… you could have an air leak.
Almost every time a homeowner reports a cold spot, there is a significant air leak nearby. If you feel a draft or cold spot, don’t panic. Instead, try to find the air leak.
It could be coming from doors, windows, fireplaces, vents, attic hatches, floorboards, or walls.
Use a lit incense stick or thin piece of toilet paper to try to detect where the cold air is coming from.
If you are near a door or window, check the caulking and weatherstripping around the perimeter. If the smoke/paper begins to move sporadically, you have an air leak nearby.
Use weatherproof caulk and/or replace the weatherstripping on doors and windows that show signs of air leakage.
- All exterior corners
- Outdoor water faucets
- Where siding and chimneys meet
- Areas where the foundation and the bottom of exterior brick or siding meet
- Electrical outlets
- Switch plates
- Door and window frames
- Electrical and gas service entrances
- Weatherstripping around doors and windows
- Fireplace dampers
- Attic hatches
- Wall-or-window-mounted air conditioners.
- Cable TV and phone lines
- Where dryer vents pass through walls
- Vents and fans
Learn more about detecting air leaks on energy.gov.
Consider hiring a contractor to help assess your home’s insulation and energy efficiency levels.
Carbon Monoxide Leaks
Imagine living in a home where furniture seems to move on its own, beds shake, plants die, and long, terrible wails are heard down the corridor. You and your family feel lethargic and have severe headaches you cannot shake. The house seems to have a mind of its own.
This may sound like the beginning of a ghost story, but it’s actually a true tale of a family who had been poisoned by carbon monoxide. The story was originally published in the American Journal of Opthalmalgy in 1921, but was reproduced for a special Halloween episode of This American Life, produced and hosted by Ira Glass.
The strange series of events that is described in the episode ends with an investigation that found the furnace to be the culprit. The furnace wasn’t ventilating properly and was releasing harmful carbon monoxide gas into the home.
Since carbon monoxide is odorless and colorless, the family went about their business as usual. The carbon monoxide detector wasn’t developed until 1925 by Chester Gordon and James Lowe.
The only reason why the family got out alive was because a family member recognized the symptoms in another story of a family facing similar “hauntings” and suggested they see a professional.
Once the furnace was fixed, the hauntings stopped, and so did their sickness.
Known as the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide kills hundreds of people every year, even during a time when most homes have carbon monoxide detectors.
Some of the symptoms of carbon monoxide include:
- Mental Confusion
- Vision Problems
Carbon Monoxide Detector Safety:
As the temperatures continue to fall, we must pay close attention to the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning. It poisons thousands of people every year and kills hundreds.
Make sure you take the necessary precautions:
- Schedule professional HVAC (furnace) maintenance in the fall, before you need your heater.
- Sign up for a Home Maintenance Plan.
- Install carbon monoxide detectors on every floor of your home and outside of every sleeping area.
- Place CO detectors according to the manufacturer instructions.
- Test smoke and CO alarms every 30 days to make sure they are working properly.
- Never run vehicles or any kind of fueled engine indoors, even if you have doors and windows open.
- If you are warming up a vehicle in cold weather, start the engine and then exit the garage before letting it run. Check to make sure the tail pipe is not covered in snow or ice.
- Inspect dryer, stove, and HVAC vents after any snowstorm to make sure they aren’t clogged.
- When fuel burns, carbon monoxide is produced. Never use grills indoors!
Portable Generator Safety:
- NEVER use a generator within an enclosed space, such as a shed, garage, tent, or home. Opening doors and windows is not good enough.
- If you do use a generator, make sure it is at least 20 feet away from any doors, windows, or vent openings.
- Schedule professional generator maintenance every year.
Visit NFPA.com for more Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips.
DANGER! CARBON MONOXIDE (CO) POISONING
Without any obvious reason, lights are flickering, dimming, and turning themselves off unaided. The television screen keeps shrinking. Menacing shadows are created and you begin to think that this may not just be a simple electrical issue. What if it’s a poltergeist?
To help dim your worries, let’s start with some of the most common causes and see if you can solve the problem yourself.
Dimming and Flickering Lights
If you have flickering and dimming lights, you may be able throw a great Halloween party, but it’s not something you want to ignore. While you may have a serious electrical problem, it’s important to check the basics first:
- Make sure the light bulb is properly screwed in.
- Make sure that the light bulbs connected to dimmer switches are marked as “dimmable.”
- Try resetting power at the breaker box.
- If lights dim or flicker when you turn on a vacuum or appliance, this is a sign that you are overloading your circuit. If it happens frequently, call your electrician to add a circuit or two.
- If lights dim or flicker when you touch the light switch or outlet, you need a replacement. Call and electrician to replace your outlet or switch.
- If you see burn marks on any of your outlets, or smell something resembling fish or burning plastic, it’s likely that you have electrical components that are overheating and causing the housing to melt. Turn off power to the circuit from the breaker box and call an electrician right away.
- Test GFCI and AFCI outlets every 30 days.
Flickering and dimming lights are normally caused by a poor electrical connection. If you checked the light bulbs and reset the breaker, and the light still flickers or dims, you probably only have a problem with a single wire. If there are multiple lights that are flickering, there may be a problem further down the line.
If none of the tips above stopped the flickering or dimming, call your local electrician to diagnose and fix the issue.
Lights Turning Off (or Not Turning On)
If lights suddenly turn off, it’s likely that a tripped breaker is involved. The main cause of tripped breakers is high electrical demand that is overloading the circuit. Sometimes, a breaker trips because of loose electrical connections.
If you are frequently overloading your circuits, ask an electrician about adding a dedicated circuit for your largest energy consumers.
Lights that turn off by themselves are bad enough, but what about lights that don’t turn on at all?
If you are having problems with any of your outlets or switches, it’s likely that they were not installed properly, or the connections have come loose over time.
Even if installed correctly, when switches and outlets age, they eventually burn out and require replacement.
View our Electrical Safety Checklist for more electrical safety tips.
Nobody likes the smell of rotten eggs, which is why natural gas and propane producers are required to add a chemical, called mercaptan, in order to give the gas a distinctive odor. Since the gas used to heat your home is naturally odorless, mercaptan is added.
If you smell rotten eggs, you have been pranked or, more likely, you have a gas leak. Follow these dos and don’ts if you suspect a gas leak.
- Don’t try to find the leak or fix the problem yourself.
- Don’t operate any electrical equipment, including light switches.
- Don’t light anything or use any device that could cause a spark.
- Evacuate the entire household immediately.
- Call 911 or local gas company at a safe distance from the home.
- Do not enter the home until safety personnel have deemed it safe to do so.
Since the smell of rotten eggs is often confused with other noxious odors, make sure that what you are smelling isn’t:
- A Dead Critter
- A Burning Electrical Outlet
- Sewage Gases
All of these things cause more problems than just olfactory ones. If you smell the remnants of a critter, just google “dead animal removal.”
If you smell sewer gases emanating from your drains, you might have a dried out P-trap. In order to prevent this, make sure you periodically run the water in all of your drains. This will make sure there is enough water to form a “smell barrier.”
Odors can sometimes form in sink overflow holes, where gunk and slime can form. Try flushing it out with a mixture of vinegar and water. Click here for tips on how to clean a stinky garbage disposal.
On the other hand, you may have an improperly designed drain system or vent stack that is clogged somewhere. Call your local plumber to inspect the problem and fix your drain, vent, or septic tank system if necessary.
For more tips on how to keep the evil spirits away this fall and winter, complete our Winterization Checklist.
It’s hard to sleep through the night with loud banging, scratching, and creaking. If you are hearing strange noises in your home, grab a flashlight and work up the courage to find the source.
Here are some Common Home Noises and How to Fix Them.