Q: Four years ago, my wife and I moved into our smallish condo in a 1950s, 12-unit building in San Francisco. At the time, I was amazed by the fact that there was very little noise coming from our pipes when others in the building ran water, showered or flushed the toilet. That has changed. Now the pipes are very noisy.
Over the past few years, several units in the building have been remodeled, including bathrooms and kitchens. New toilets, tubs and showers, sinks and dishwashers have been installed. Could air have gotten in the pipes during the remodelings? Would that make them noisy? And, if that is the case, is there anything that can be done to make it quieter here again?
A: This might sound silly, but we think all the remodeling has disturbed the harmony in your building’s plumbing system. We know this sounds like Zen, but the truth is that when you mix new pipe and fixtures with original pipe and fixtures, the rate of flow through the pipe changes. We think this is the source of the noise.
We doubt there is air in the lines. Any residual air left in the lines after installation of new fixtures would have been purged the first time the water was turned on.
According to your description, your building was built in the 1950s, most likely as an apartment complex. The water-supply lines were probably galvanized steel pipe. Today, those pipes have endured more than 50 years of use and corrosion. Galvanized pipes corrode from the inside.
We’ve removed pipes during the remodeling we’ve done in which a nominal half-inch-diameter pipe was reduced to a quarter-inch diameter. The flow of water moving through the pipes is restricted, and noise of the water flow is dampened.
As your neighbors have remodeled, new piping was probably added, reducing the restrictions on the water flow in the pipes. More flow equals more noise.
As for solutions to the noise problem, we don’t see much hope. All of the repiping is behind the walls now. The deed is done. You aren’t specific about the kind of noise the pipes are making. Depending on the type of noise, there could be a future action a plumber might take.
If the noise is the steady flow of water through pipes, we’re afraid you’ll just have to live with it. Making sure the plumber secures the pipes properly during future remodels may help with vibration.
If the noise is a sharp bang when the neighbors turn fixtures on and off, this is called a “water hammer.” Water hammers result when the flow of water in the system is suddenly stopped. The water crashes into the pipe and creates vibration of the pipe. Plumbing-supply houses sell a fitting that dampens water pressure when the water is turned on and off at a fixture.
You might want to discuss these issues and proposed solutions at your next homeowners’ meeting.