Deciphering The Sounds Of House Talk


October 06, 1990|By Rob Kasper

Houses talk to me, often at night.

The other night, for instance, my house woke me up. The walls rattled.

It sounded like the rattle of a machine gun. That is how a visiting 6-year-old boy described the noise the first time he heard it.

He thought it was a special effect that came with the house. He liked "the machine gun sound" and wanted to know how he could get one installed in his house.

I told him I wasn't sure. I had no idea where the sound was coming from. The first time the "machine gun" went off was about 9 o'clock at night. And as soon as I prowled around looking for the source of the noise, it stopped.

The rat-tat-tat-tat returned at 3 o'clock in the morning. It jarred me out of a deep sleep. I was awake, but I was still in bed. "It will pass," I told myself, and tried to drift back to sleep. Just as I was nodding off, the rattle returned. So I got up, walked to the top of the stairs and waited for the walls to sound off again.

As I waited, I attempted to figure out what the house was trying to tell me. Was it saying that the hot water radiators needed to be bled? Nope, the furnace wasn't on yet.

Was it a half-opened door, shimmying in the wind, that wanted to be shut? Nope, all the doors were closed.

Had a raven, or worse yet, a termite colony come tap, tapping on my wooden doors? Common sense, and a glance out the front door, eliminated the raven. And a bug service had guaranteed that the house would have termites nevermore.

I went back to bed, tossing and turning, unable to decipher the message.

The next day I figured it out. On the top floor of the house a bathtub faucet was slightly open. The water in the pipes was getting on-again, off-again signals from the faucet. And the ebb and flow of the water pressure had caused the water pipes to rattle. When I fixed the faucet, the pipes were silent.

The house has spoken to me at other times, in other ways.

When the cold winds blow, the old window in the family room whispers, "Caulk me, caulk me."

The cheap air vent that runs from the bathroom ceiling through the roof also talks to me during high winds. It flaps and flaps and sometimes lets in the rain. That, I have learned, is vent talk for "Replace me."

When I lived in another house, I had big trees in my yard. The trees used to team up with the house to send me messages.

The tree would drop tree parts on the roof, often the bedroom roof. Often in the middle of the night. This was their way of reminding me to "clean the gutters."

Some homeowners I know regard this kind of house talk as nagging. I like to think of it as a way of "keeping in harmony with forces much more powerful than myself," namely the mortgage company.

So I listen to houses, even houses I don't own. Years ago, for instance, when I rented a house in Louisville, I was roused in the middle of the night by strange noises from the ceiling. First I heard scratching noises. Then the scratchers would scoot around. The landlord told me it was simply squirrels racing through the attic.

But there was more to it than that. The house was sending me a message. It was telling me to move.

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