We’ve all had that interaction before – the “is that normal?” exchange between you and someone else in the room, when you go to wash your dish in the kitchen sink, and it sounds like your water pipes have gotten punched in the stomach and are hitting an octane higher. Is that normal? It’s a good question and depends on what is causing the sound. To decide whether it’s a quick fix that you can take care of with that dusty toolbox in the garage or if you need to call professional, let’s go through the different scenarios.
Valve or Pipe?
If you think you can pinpoint the source of the sound to a faucet or valve, it's probably occurring because a gasket or washer is worn down. If the noise is coming from the pipes, however, it may be because the water turbulence is too high, and high water turbulence itself has different sub-scenarios.
It is possible, especially in the case of old piping, that mineral deposits inside the pipes are restricting the water flow, much like a hamburger does to the human artery. Hard water is your water pipes’ Double-Double, and calcium deposits are its plaque. Mineral deposits are bad. Over time, they can be torn from the pipe, and cause a clog in the system.
Another possibility is that your pipe fittings were poorly installed. If the original installer of the water system in your house used subpar soldering methods, substandard materials, or simply didn’t take his or her time installing the system, then one or more of the elbows and or tees may be poorly fitted. In this case, the sound of ill-fitted piping systems is accompanied by movement, which can cause the fittings to denigrate more, eventually resulting in leaks. If this occurs in the walls or somewhere that is difficult to catch early, you may see the more severe damage, such as increased water bill, wood rot, or even black mold.
Maybe the whistling is being caused by air restricting water flow within the pipes. To revisit the human circulatory system analogy – this is an aneurysm for your water pipe system. If air gets into the pipes and is trapped, then water will have a difficult time getting past that bubble, and the air bubbles can even stop water from flowing altogether. What happens when the air gets into your pipes, is that it tries to escape by traveling to the highest point, which is typically an upper-level bathroom or its surrounding walls. To get the trapped air out, you need to increase the water flow high enough to the point where it reaches the elusive air bubble. To do this (you may need a helper), turn on all the faucets, let the water run for a second, and then flush all the toilets at the same time. Hopefully, you can get a strong enough thrust to purge the air bubble from the pipes.
High Water Pressure
Lastly, your water pressure may just be too high. Testing for high water pressure is pretty straightforward. All you need is a pressure gauge, which you can buy at Home Depot, and access to a threaded faucet – check outside or the laundry room. Screw it on and check the pressure. Most systems operate between 40 and 80 lbs per square inch (psi). If you are way above this range, then the good news is that you found your problem. The bad news is that high water pressure is the worst-case scenario, leading to both joint failures and leaks. Reducing water pressure is something you may be able to take care of yourself. Check near the water meter. If there is a pressure regulator near it, you can reduce the water pressure yourself with just a wrench. Simply locate the nut on top of the regulator and turn it clockwise.
In the case that you cannot fix the problem yourself, or simply prefer the expertise, experience, and insurance of a licensed professional, make sure you follow through, rather than ignoring the problem and letting it get worse. Hiring a plumber may mean paying him or her to fix just a minor adjustment such as retrofitting bad areas from poor installation or, in the case that the fittings are poor because a corner is difficult to navigate - rerouting that area of the system. If your pipes have corroded, however, these easy fixes will not be sufficient, and if you are a licensed professional, you will need to call one to repipe your entire system. Rest easy knowing that this may be a blessing in disguise. The fact that you listened to the signs means that you may have avoided many worse-case scenarios that happen when people ignore their water systems, such as leaks that you never find until they cause tens of thousands of structural damage to your house.