Flickering lights. A slamming door. The scent of perfume wafting through the air. These could all be signs of paranormal activity in your home. But there’s probably a far less haunting explanation—though what it's costing you could be scary. Just in time for Halloween, Consumer Reports takes the fright out of five household phenomena.
While drafts could be the result of a restless apparition, they’re more likely caused by air leaks or inadequate insulation. Professional energy auditors often use infrared instruments to identify such cold spots, but Consumer Reports has found that a simple incense stick can do the trick. 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 locations. A combination of caulk, weather stripping and insulation should eliminate the cold spot. That will keep you comfortable this winter and could lower your heating bills by hundreds of dollars.
Appliances that turn on and off
Here’s a case where the scientific explanation is scarier than the paranormal one. In the last year, Consumer Reports has noted many cases of appliances turning on by themselves, posing serious safety risks to homeowners. Just last week, Electrolux recalled 122,000 smoothtop ranges and cooktops after liquid pooling under the control knobs caused 70 units to turn on unexpectedly. Earlier, a Magic Chef range was reportedly being turned on and off by the wireless signal from a nearby cell phone. And we’ve heard cases of toaster ovens coming on without warning.
Countertop appliances should be unplugged when not in use, or else plugged into a power strip that will prevent them from turning on arbitrarily. With larger appliances, be on the lookout for phantom activity of any kind, and report problems right away to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, as well as to Consumers Union through our Report a Safety Problem page.
Lights and electronics can also turn on and off without cause. If storms are passing by, this could be due to a whole-house power surge. Otherwise, the activity is probably related to a defective switch or loose circuit connection. Both issues pose a serious fire hazard, so have them checked out immediately by a licensed electrician.
Things that go bump in the night
It could be a flying witch, but a flying squirrel is more likely. Besides making a racket in the attic, squirrels and other rodents can wreak havoc on insulation, driving up energy bills. Haunting a home’s lower levels, small rodents like to hang out in large electrical appliances, where their wire chewing can cause fire hazards or expensive repairs. The best way to control pests is to block their entry by plugging holes in your home’s exterior, including foundation walls and roof soffits.
Your home’s heating system can be another source of knocks and pings, many of which are perfectly normal. For example, electric baseboard heaters and the ductwork in forced-air systems both click and clank as they heat up and cool down. Plumbing lines are another source of knocking, due to pressure changes in the pipes. If the hammering becomes too nerve-wracking, a qualified plumber should be able to dampen it by installing a pressure regulator.
Doors and cabinets opening
There’s something in the air with this one—low relative humidity. Drier air causes wood to shrink, which in turn can make doors, drawers, and cabinets open on their own. Leaving the bathroom door ajar when you shower in the winter is one way to raise humidity levels in your home. You can also invest in a humidifier. We’re about to wrap up our latest review of more than a dozen new models.
Cabinet drawers with slides that have cheap nylon wheels, as opposed to ball-bearing assemblies, are also likely to open suddenly. See our reports on cabinets and cabinet organizers for more information on quality construction.
What's that smell?
The perfume of a former habitant who died on her wedding night? The muddy boots of a Civil War soldier who once quartered in the back room? Maybe. But before you call an exorcist, look for other sources of unexplained smells in your home. Wet fiberglass hidden behind walls can give off a musty odor. Dead rodents are also none too sweet-smelling. As for floral aromas, the perfume cards that come and go with magazines could be to be blame for the intermittent aroma. Or if you’ve started using a new fabric softener, we've found that many of the products we've tested have a powerful fragrance.
I like this. I like this alot.
I especially like the 'What's that smell' paragraph.
The depth of which you explain things is utterly magnificent! :D