Cottage Q&A: Noisy plumbing

Published: April 7, 2021

A closeup of the hands of a man fixing a plumbing pipe By Andrey_Popov/Shutterstock

At our cottage we pull our water from the lake. Recently, when we flush the toilet and the pump turns on, there is a high-pitched whining noise while the toilet tank fills up. This happens at other times when the pump turns on, like when showering. What’s going on?—Gary R., Ril Lake, Ont.

This sounds more like a plumbing problem than a pump issue, says Brad Hallam of the Pump House in Richmond Hill, Ont. Whining, whistling, or squealing plumbing often indicates trouble with a washer somewhere. It’s either distorted from, for example, scale buildup or wear, or the brass screw that holds it in place has become loose.

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In a toilet, these problem washers are often in the tank’s ballcock assembly. If it’s your shower that’s whining, it could mean a loose washer in a tap (assuming the shower has a two-handled faucet; one-handled faucets don’t use washers).

But just because you’re hearing the sound when you shower or flush the toilet doesn’t necessarily mean that the problem is with those fixtures. As soon as you turn on a tap, water travels from its entry point into the cottage and through the building’s network of pipes, carrying sound. So, in theory, a loose washer could be almost anywhere in the water system, says Lauren Holman, the owner of Holman Plumbing and Water Treatment in Shawnigan Lake, B.C.

If you’re not sure where the noise is coming from, use the process of elimination to find it. Shut off the water supply to everything except the fixture that you’re testing. Then go from fixture to fixture: toilet, washing machine, tubs and showers, and sinks. “Usually the problem is with the fixture that’s most used,” says Holman. Kitchen sinks are a common culprit—so you might want to start there.

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You can replace or tighten a washer yourself, but plumbing can also make noise if the pipes have become narrow—from debris or mineral buildup from hard water—and water is forced through the smaller space. This is a larger fix and likely means calling in expert help.

This article was originally published in the Summer 2018 issue of Cottage Life magazine.

Got a question for Cottage Q&A? Send it to answers@cottagelife.com.

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