When it comes to a noise complaint, you have one chance to get it resolved … if you’re lucky. The reason? People seem to be programmed to listen for sounds that annoy them. The old saying “waiting for the other shoe to drop” is a perfect example of this. The saying is from the days when boarding houses had thin walls and floors that transmitted noise; someone would come in late at night and accidentally drop a shoe as they were taking them off. Realizing they had probably woken someone, they would very quietly remove the second shoe. After a while, the people who were awakened would yell, “Would ya drop the other so we can get some sleep!”  The reason? They were expecting the noise to happen again, and couldn’t sleep until it happened. This is the same concept with HVAC noise complaints … kind of.

When a salesperson sells a new system, they tell the home owner about all the fantastic and wonderful features it has and why they “need” to have the best — energy efficiency, fantastic temperature control and quiet operation — some even take it a step further by referring to the system as “whisper quiet.” What the salesman has just done is set the customers expectations very high. Because people are programmed to hear what they “expect” to hear, you need to take noise complaints very seriously; this is exactly what most service technicians don’t do. When they are dispatched to a service call concerning a noise, they breeze through it so they can move onto a “real” service call.

If a home owner calls concerning a noise issue, take it very seriously, more seriously than a no cooling or no heating call. Calls concerning those issues are child’s play; you repair the problem, the house gets warmer or cooler, the home owner can feel the change, and everything is good in the world.

But sound complaints are treated differently by the technicians and even dispatchers at times. The assumption is you’re going to find something “dumb” like a rattling balancing damper and you’ll be on your way in a flash. Unfortunately, that’s the mindset that gets you in trouble in the first place. What kind of trouble? Well, how many times can you afford to visit this job for free because you didn’t fix it the last time around?

How to Address Sound Issues

  1. Make sure you’re hearing the same sound the home owner is. This may (pardon the pun) “sound” stupid, but its not. Remember you’re listening for what you picture may make a noise — vibrating refrigerant line, squeaky bearings, whatever. Stop imagining what would make a noise and instead actually listen for the noise.
  2. Record what is going on when the noise occurs. Is it in heating or cooling? Is the fan on high speed or low? Are all the zone dampers open or just one or two?
  3. Now track down the source of the sound. This can be easier said than done because sound and vibrations can be transmitted through duct work, framing materials, refrigerant lines, you name it.
  4. Now attempt to stop the noise with the home owner listening. If it’s a refrigerant line try securing it better, isolate it from the structure, add a snubber or weight to the line.
  5. Once the home owner agrees the sound is gone, bring it back. That’s right, undo whatever you did and make sure that was the noise the home owner was hearing. If it was, apply whatever measure you took to stop the noise.
  6. Last but not least, cycle the equipment through every mode to be sure the noise is gone.

That’s it. You’re done, Muffles. On to the next call!


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ABOUT Patrick Peterson

Avatar photoPatrick Peterson of ZenHVAC has seen the HVAC industry from all angles, serving as a technician, manufacturer’s tech rep, salesman, technical trainer and business owner.