Ask the Architect

This house sounds spooky


Q. Our home seemed very normal when we first moved in, but little by little, things began to happen that we couldn’t explain. Doors would open and close, floors creaked with nobody in the room, a particular wall only “sweats” one day a year, and we keep hearing a low moaning sound followed by tapping coming from our den. We’ve had a handyman come and try to assess some of the door stakes and things, but is any of what I described normal, or could some of it truly be a sign of something unexplainable?

A. When things go bump in the night you cannot always run to your mummy. It seems we humans have always had a fascination with death, and our minds create endless possible scenarios.
The first two things I was taught in architecture school were that we need to always be concerned about water and movement. How water affects our lives as a gas, liquid or solid is fascinating and maybe a little spooky. The center of a tree trunk now exposed, sanded and coated becomes reactive to humidity we cannot easily see as it causes the wood to re-swell. The fibers in wood were once a set of feeding tubes drawing water from the roots to the leaves before someone came along and cut the tree down, stripped, sliced and kiln-dried it.
Nature is super and natural, so it’s no wonder that it seems supernatural for wood to want to regain its former capability and creak and moan as it delightfully regains its former life. Some things can’t be explained easily, like why someone doesn’t check to see that a door is hung correctly, to be plum in the horizontal and vertical, so that the slightest breeze or pressure change makes it seem to move on its own. When heated or cooled, water moves through a metal pipe (more so than through a plastic pipe), expanding it or contracting. If the pipe hangers holding it in the floor structure or the holes it snakes through are only the size of the pipe, the materials push and pull against each other, making banging and tapping sound or squealing sounds in some cases.
I’ve often explained that homes are in many ways just like other living things, possessing nervous systems with electric wiring, a skeleton, a skin and the ability to breathe in and out. Even though your home may have “good bones,” it still gets creaky and expands and contracts with the heat and cool cycles of being hit with the hot sun and cool winds. Every day your home lifts itself out of the ground, expands outward toward the sun and then, as you lie in bed in the darkness, you hear the materials all move past each other as they contract, settling in for the night, just like you.
Just remember, if you don’t pay your exorcism bill when it comes due, you run the risk of being repossessed.

© 2021 Monte Leeper. Readers are encouraged to send questions to, with “Herald question” in the subject line, or to Herald Homes, 2 Endo Blvd., Garden City, NY 11530, Attn: Monte Leeper, architect.