"Frost Quake" Causes Houses to Go Bump in the Night

Seasonal Temperature Shifts Following Brutal Winter Makes for Noisy Houses

The calendar may tell us that springtime is nigh, but for residents throughout Michigan, below-average temperatures and winter-like weather continues to blow through our cities and towns.

At the same time, fleeting hints of the coming spring make themselves evident every now and again. It’s the time of year when a day of snow squalls and howling winds can be followed by one of sunshine and mild breezes. But once the sun goes down, the air turns frigid again … and that’s when your house might have some serious talking back to do.

We’re talkin’ bangs and pops that go beyond the usual creaky floors. Bumps and thumps from within the walls that residents have compared to sounding like a softball or a two-by-four hitting against the side of the house. If you’re the one inside the home, it really can sound eerily like someone – or something – is trying to get in.

But have no fear, these claps and slaps are actually quite harmless, caused by radical differences in temperature between the outside of the home as compared to inside, combined with extreme weather shifts from day to day. As outdoor temps dip to 10 below zero or lower at night, many common household materials including nails, bolts and particularly wood, which is very porous, contract. That contraction causes a series of totally random, nerve-rattling, fright-night worthy sounds.

Contraction and expansion of materials making up a house is a very common occurrence that actually happens every winter, of course, but because this particular winter has been so brutal, it’s happening much more loudly and frequently than most residents have ever experienced. It even has a name – “frost quake.”

Think your newly built home will save you from the racket? Think again. Newer homes with PVC pipes may experience the loudest bangs of all. But the good news is there’s usually never any resulting damage for any of these homes save for maybe a few new cracks in the drywall around doors and windows.

The damage to the psyche for anyone caught off guard by the noises (which have a tendency to come crashing through in the middle of the night)?

Well, that’s another story …

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