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Loud popping noises in residential wood framed construction

MillR (Structural) (OP)
19 Aug 11 18:58
I've done an investigation of a house and have mostly sorted out the structural issues, but the owners are concerned about ongoing extremely loud (they scare the dog) popping sounds that occur pretty continuously all over the house.

The house has some foundation problems, has had a foundation repair, expansive and collapsible subgrade, but I'm not sure what to tell them about the noises.

One thought I have is that they may be from compression breaks (rather than other wood noises, like scrapes, squeaks, thermal changes).

abusementpark (Structural)
19 Aug 11 19:30
In my professional opinion, they just need to put the dog outside.

rowingengineer (Structural)
19 Aug 11 20:19
the popping sound is most probably from the roof heating and cooling.  


MillR (Structural) (OP)
19 Aug 11 20:55
As I research, I see thermal changes as a common explanation, but I have doubts in this case.  There are a number of things that point to movement of the foundation and few that seem related to heating and cooling - primarily, western Colorado has terrible soil conditions but few weather issues in August.

But I agree: it's not going to make your house fall down, so put the dog outside :)

I suppose really I'd like to understand better what happens to wood when it contracts and expands (from temperature or pressure), what kind of irritation this causes if you live next to it, and how it's been solved by others.
4thorns (Structural)
19 Aug 11 22:00
Here's one recipie. 6x6 pine columns...excessively high, dry, wood heat. I helped a gentleman put in some decrative 6x6's purely for asthetics. Creating a post and beam type motif. One night while they were relaxing wathcing TV one of the posts split and the sound lifted both of them out of there seats. They had no idea what it was. It took me a few minutes of investigating but I found an insane crack in one of the posts.

How many people living in "Haunted" houses have no clue?

a2mfk (Structural)
20 Aug 11 16:11
You need to inspect the exterior walls for indications of new distress to see if the homeowners concerns are founded. I do a LOT of forensic investigations and most of them have to do with foundation issues. This "popping" sound is a very common complaint. In the absence of other distress or evidence to indicate foundation movements are to blame, I usually attribute it to expansion and contraction of the wood roof and ceiling framing due to thermal and moisture cycles.

Homeowners also become pretty hyper aware once they have any structural problem at their house.
emmgjld (Geotechnical)
21 Aug 11 20:39
My first thought is --Nail Pulling. Remember that common framing is accomplished with coated nails. The coating is a hot melt glue. The friction of setting the nails in the wood generates sufficient heat to melt the glue, which then 'glues' to the wood fibers when cooling. The nails do not want to come out and when stressed enough, release with a real bang. I should also point out that during foundation repairs, the nails may want to re-enter the wood, also with a bang. I have dealt with this quite a bit in forensic work.

You mention western Colorado, which is mostly VERY dry (This is my backyard). Wood shrinkage is a normal occurrence in this area and loud 'nail pops' are a usual problem when foundation movement occurs.
"ongoing extremely loud (they scare the dog) popping sounds that occur pretty continuously all over the house"

This tells me the structure has a lot of stress which must be relieved.  I would suggest the foundation repair either wasn't the proper type or wasn't complete.  A building can be underpinned but if not properly adjusted, the superstructure deflection may remain.  I see quite a few repairs which do not accomplish proper adjustment of the superstructure.
MillR (Structural) (OP)
21 Aug 11 21:05
emmgjld - thank you for your post, "a lot of stress which must be relieved" is just right. i think the foundation repair was probably not the best type for the situation and the nail movement is a good explanation. i wasn't thinking of the nails as moving suddenly, more of the fibers suddenly breaking. and for sure, the repair didn't address the superstructure problems.

emmgjld (Geotechnical)
21 Aug 11 22:10
I am often reminded how poorly thought out many structural (foundation & superstructure) repairs are. I am sorry to say that many Engineers have a problem of looking at the entire picture.

My heart is gladdened to read the following. A laugh can go a long ways.

abusementpark (Structural)     
19 Aug 11 19:30
In my professional opinion, they just need to put the dog outside.

msquared48 (Structural)     
21 Aug 11 20:49
Old forgotten popcorn in the attic?  
Ron (Structural)
21 Aug 11 22:21
emmgjld....don't encourage those two!  Shocked that you didn't get similar from a2mfk....!lol
emmgjld (Geotechnical)
21 Aug 11 22:46
I should not admit that I am hoping for a quotable line.
I have faith that someone will come thru.
msquared48 (Structural)
21 Aug 11 23:16
Outside of the structural issues, and the popcorn, have you ruled out waterhammer?  Seriously.

Mike McCann
MMC Engineering


hokie66 (Structural)
22 Aug 11 1:30
Good guess, Mike, the waterhammer, that is.  A small leak somewhere can cause persistent waterhammer, will drive you crazy...not you...I know that is no longer required.
csd72 (Structural)
22 Aug 11 9:11
Now its nice to see engineers giving each other an appropriate level of respect.

nuche1973 (Structural)
22 Aug 11 9:41
Was any new imposed loads added to the exterior of the house?
 Things like a new sidewalk, drive way, etc.., that could have been placed next to the foundation.  I rented a house several years ago that had foundation problems. The in-situ soil was a heavy clay and when we got a large volumn of rain over several weeks the foundation cracked. It was LOUD! The remediation was expensive and thankfully not on my dime. However, the owner also installed  new AC unit on an over sized slab that was part of a new walkway that encirlced the house.  This led to some cracking. Several weeks prior to the rain we heard popping from the foundation due to the settlement of the grade with the new imposed load. Then with the rain, the expanding clay finished the job. I'd check the exterior grade.
You also mentioned western colorado...I'm from that area. The soild conditions will depend on where you're at. Alos, this may be wind related, due to the wind having to ascend the Rockies. That is also dependant on where the house is located.

There are days when I wake up feeling like the dumbest man on the planet, then there are days when I confirm it.  

MiketheEngineer (Structural)
22 Aug 11 12:25
So will a slightly leaking toilet!!!

I am making a wild guess here.  Any two or three story atriums, any large vaulted or scissors trusses??  Does this happen more in Spring and Fall??  IS this ALL wood construction??  Is this a newer home??

If any of the above is true - it is likely caused by changes in humidity which affects the wood.  Hot and cold changes do not help either.

I have been in houses with two story 30 x 40 atriums - and it sounded like a 22 gauge pistol going off.  Scared me.

As we build these "huge" homes, it becomes a problem.  Once the house finally "dries" out and reaches some equilibrium - it will quiet down - but probably never go away completely.  Seasonal changes are usually the worst times.

I had a scissored truss great room in my previous house. Room was like 15' x 20'.  Spring and fall - like clock work - it would start popping for a few weeks, then settle down.

Good Luck
Splitrings (Structural)
22 Aug 11 13:27
Here in Vermont on really cold winter nights, ring shanked siding nails can make very loud noises. The other is hot water heating pipes that pass through holes in framing members that are much too small can make pretty loud noises. Obviously, both of these only occur during cold winter nights.
oldrunner (Structural)
23 Aug 11 0:46
You might check whether the attic has adequate ventilation.  Also look at the sheet rock ceilings nailing to the underside of the roof trusses and whether there is an allowance for the truss movement, particularly at the non-bearing walls.

Once was called to Dubuque to look at a stone building which was moving. (The floor had a large hump - i.e. the side walls sinking).  Told the people (it was a store) to move out on Friday.  I worried all weekend about the building, but the building collasped on Monday.  No one was hurt.  
msquared48 (Structural)
23 Aug 11 13:40
Oldrunner said "You might check whether the attic has adequate ventilation."  

This is true as elevated temperatures will make the popcorn far more likely to pop.

Mike McCann
MMC Engineering


a2mfk (Structural)
25 Aug 11 11:13
Honestly, now that I read all the jokey and half jokey responses, which are appreciated, I realize we don't have much info from the OP to offer quality advice. A common theme on the list.

Foundation problems are my main gig at the moment...

Describe the structure from the foundation up: basement, stem wall,bearing walls, wood trusses or conventional frame, etc? All wood frame?

Describe the foundation repair methods in detail. Any soil tests, what exact kind of soil do we have? Any Atterberg tests to determine the plasticity?

"expansive and collapsible subgrade" - plastic clays??
MiketheEngineer (Structural)
25 Aug 11 13:28
See my previous post - and there is no "REAL" fix if it is caused by humidity/temp changes.

You could spend thousands of dollars re-nailing all the trusses, walls, plywood and drywall - and it will still continue - might even get worse......


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