How to Explain Your Home's Strange Behavior

David Deem

Do you hear things that go bump in the night? See lights that flicker on and off? If you’re worried that your home might be haunted, there’s probably a far less exciting explanation. Consumer Reports (CR) unravels the mysteries of unexplained “phenomenon” around the house.

The unexplained draft. Feel a shiver up your back? If you have unusual cold spots or drafts in your home, they’re most likely caused by air leaks or inadequate insulation. Professional energy auditors can use infrared instruments to identify such cold spots, or CR recommends simply using an incense stick. If smoke from the stick blows sideways when you hold it up to windows, doors and walls, air is seeping in and out from those areas.

Caulk and weatherstripping around doors can help eliminate drafts, or insulation for larger gaps should eliminate the cold spot.

Appliances that turn on and off. Unfortunately, CR has documented many instances of appliances turning on by themselves or spontaneously combusting—and the cause is not paranormal, but a serious manufacturer’s defect. CR advises reporting any such occurrence with larger appliances right away to, as well as to Consumer Reports through its Report a Safety Problem page at

If lights or electronics are turning on and off, it could be due to a power surge caused by a passing storm, or it could be something more serious, such as a defective switch or loose circuit connection. Since both are considered a serious fire hazard, consult a licensed electrician immediately.

Noises in the night. Lots of things could be the culprit behind the variety of sounds you’re hearing at night, starting with a squirrel or rodent in the attic. Both can wreak havoc on insulation, and small rodents can chew electrical wires in appliances. Control such pests by blocking holes in your home’s exterior, including foundation walls and roof soffits.

Knocks and pings can also be the result of your home’s heating system, many of which are normal, as heat and metal interact. Plumbing lines are another source of knocking, due to pressure changes in the pipes.

Open doors and cabinets. This particular mystery is all about humidity—or lack thereof. Drier air causes wood to shrink, which, in turn, can make doors, drawers and cabinets open on their own. Try leaving your bathroom door ajar when you shower to raise the humidity level throughout your home, or invest in a humidifier. 



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