Explanation for Marble Dropping & Chair Dragging Sounds at Night

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Hear marbles dropping at night? Or chair dragging sound at night?

Over here in the Goody Feed office, our very kind boss often forces a few of us to work during the weekends, and even when it’s quiet in the entire building, we can occasionally hear sounds of furniture moving even when all office units around here should have carpet flooring.

In 2020, as most of us are stuck at home, a man living in Hougang called the police 80 times because his neighbour who lives upstairs has been allegedly repeatedly dragging his chair against the floor. The neighbour, however, denied making those noises, claiming that he has put rubber paddings on his chairs and table.

Even Mr Tan Chuan-Jin received a bone-chilling complaint from one of the residents in Marine Parade back in 2017, saying his neighbour upstairs has been dragging chairs but it turned out that there was no one living above him.

Have you ever wondered where these sounds come from? Are they really caused by your neighbours?

Well, maybe not.

Also, do you know that here in Singapore, HDB has once responded to these weird sounds?

Now, let Goody Feed tell you more about the weird sounds you hear at night.

If you prefer to watch a video about this topic instead, here’s a video we’ve done (watch till the end for a solution!):

YouTube video

Fake Stories

I’m not sure what kind of myths to justify such sounds are spun in other countries, but here in Singapore, there’s a famous paranormal explanation for the marble sound.

It’s said that in the 70s, children went missing when bridges or overhead flyovers were built. Legend has it that in order to appease the spirits that abducted the kids, the workers embedded a kid’s head into bridges to appease the spirits.

During this period, many buildings were built as well. The construction workers were afraid that the children’s spirits would haunt the new buildings, so they placed marbles in between floors to entice them into playing instead of disturbing the occupants.

Of course, this is a story and well, let’s just say that nowadays, kids are playing with iPads instead. Perhaps HDB should look into installing iPads in between the floors of BTO flats. Give the spirits an earpiece too and there’ll be no noise to disturb residents.

I shudder to think of the prices of such flats.


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Interestingly, this phenomenon isn’t restricted to just buildings in Singapore. In fact, it’s a worldwide issue, even in other countries whereby people live in a single, large house (and therefore can’t blame their neighbours).

So, what could have caused those sounds?

HDB’s Response

For a start, let’s look at HDB’s response.

Almost 80% of Singaporeans live in HDB flats, which leads us to wonder if this is an HDB issue. Moreover, it’s been revealed in a poll that 1 in 5 people living in an HDB flat has heard marbles dropping at night.

Back in 2005, someone wrote in to the national newspaper to seek an answer. However, HDB said that it could be due to the neighbours and that we should continue to be civil to our neighbours—a very PR answer.

Here’s what they’ve said:


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HDB flats are designed based on prevailing building codes. Hence, the acoustic properties for flats are no different from other residential buildings.

To date, we have not received any feedback on the sound of dropping marbles where there has not been any attributable cause. HDB Sengkang Branch Office, which manages the flats at Punggol Town, has not received any feedback about the sound of dropping marbles in the area. In Mr Wong’s case, we have contacted him and offered HDB’s help.

We will be checking with his neighbours over the next few days to see if we can locate the source of the sounds Mr Wong mentioned. Madam Shamsuddin mentioned that her eldest son described hearing similar sounds as Mr Wong. If she would like us to look into the matter too, she can contact our Toll-free Branch Office Service Line: 1800-2255-432 to provide us with her address.

In a high-rise, high-density living environment, a certain degree of noise is inevitable. It would also be in the interest of neighbourliness for residents to ensure that the activities carried out within the flat do not generate excessive noise and to exercise some degree of tolerance towards their neighbours.

But how about the case mentioned in Marine Parade, where there was simply no neighbour?


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And the Hougang case, whereby the neighbour denied making the noise and had rubber padding on their chairs?

And how about the case in our office, whereby there shouldn’t be any sounds?

Well.

It might not be your neighbours after all.

Thing You Need to Know First: Sound Travels. A Lot.

Before anything, here’s something you ought to know: while we can’t travel now due to COVID-19, sounds travel.


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So for you to blame your direct neighbour might not be wise, because the sound could’ve come from three floors above and travel down to your unit.

And here’s another thing you should know: whatever is mentioned here are theories, because whatever happens here might be different from what happens in your house

Also, the sounds could be something else.

For example, an MP in Choa Chu Kang said in a 2017 report that a resident complained about knocking sounds at night, but investigations show that they’re actually just sounds of the lift motor.

Now, let’s look at the more common source of the sounds…other than your inconsiderate neighbour.


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Water Hammer

The piping system is a very complicated system, and taps aren’t like your bladder whereby you open and close them for drainage easily without any consequences.

Instead, pressure is needed in the pipes to ensure that water can flow out and stop easily.

Within those pipes, the movement of water has to stop abruptly, and while it’s possible to do that, it will create some kind of “shockwave” in the pipe. Not only is water being moved and stopped quickly, but the pressure is also changed as well.

This leads to a “bang” sound within the pipe, and sometimes, it’s so strong that it can break pipes or loosen pipe joints.

The sound, after it comes out from the pipe, would sound like someone dragging a chair. Aha!


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If you listen carefully, it does sound like a “braking” sound instead of a chair being dragged.

Of course, different buildings might create different sounds after the sound has been “filtered” by the pipes and floor, but the source is the same: it’s the sudden change in pressure and water in a pipe.

In fact, it’s been said that the change in pressure due to change in temperature could also cause the pipes to create the “bang” sound.

Also, there are theories that the change in temperature will also cause movement in other parts of the building, like the concrete or whatnot.

But hey: why does it sound like marbles dropping instead?


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According to engineers, the sounds of “marbles” could be due to pipes bouncing a little repeatedly due to the effects of the water hammer as well, and that explains why it will slowly stop once the pressure is back to normal.

Now you’re probably wondering: but it happens only at night. It can’t be a coincidence that more people use the tap at night, right?

Why At Night

Well, as the matter of fact, more people do use the tap at night!

I mean, if you work office hours or are a student, you’d only be at home at night, won’t you?

But the key reason why it’s much more pronounced in the dead of night is due to the lack of white noise. You see, when you’re not sleeping, you’d have your TV on, your radio on and your smartphone will be paying Goody Feed videos on YouTube because we heard that our videos can lull people to sleep.


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Even if you’ve turned them all off, your mind would be on something else, like the book you’re reading or the #fitspo image you need to post that night.

The theory is that you hear them at night because you’ve got nothing else to focus on, so anything that you hear becomes more pronounced.

One of us here at Goody Feed actually thought that his neighbours were making a lot of noise during the Circuit Breaker (i.e. lockdown in Singapore), but when he was faced with more work, he realised that the sound had disappeared altogether. But when he focused on the sounds, they came back!

In other words, the sounds have been there all along: his mind had made the sounds disappeared and appeared.

Scary?


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Nah, not really.

Dr Lily Neo, a retired politician in Singapore, said this in a Straits Times article: “It does have to do with our psycho-emotional state too. At night, noises seem more acute, especially when you are alone with no other distractions. That’s when people concentrate more on their own thinking and perceptions.”

Why Do I Still Hear Noises

But then, you might still hear the noises without a tap around.

Even if you think there are no pipes around because there’s no tap around, the water coolers in your office require a pipe. The air conditioner also uses pipes. And despite what you think, there might be pipes in the walls with water flowing from the 17th floor while you’re on the 8th floor.

Remember: sounds can travel, so it doesn’t matter whether you live next to a toilet or not; you’ll still hear them.


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So if your family member is looking to confront your neighbour soon, maybe you can show this article to him or her.

Featured Image: cacar / Shutterstock.com


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