It's not uncommon for plumbing pipes to make rushing or clanking sounds, but gurgling or bubbling sounds may indicate that your plumbing isn't working properly. Diagnosing a bubbling sound is the first step in repairing the problem, and the sooner your identify the source of the noise the more likely you are to avoid a costly repair.
Identifying the Source
A bubbling sound in the pipes near your toilet may have a different cause and solution than bubbling sounds in the pipes that run through your hot water baseboard heaters. An isolated bubbling sound often indicates a singular clog or blockage, while bubbling sounds throughout all of the plumbing fixture in your home more likely point to a design issue. Pinpointing the location of the sound will aid a plumber in identifying the cause and solution for your bubbling pipes. Experiment with flushing toilets, turning on faucets and turning on the heat to identify what seems to cause the bubbling sound.
Clogs and Blockages
When plumbing pipes are clogged, air becomes trapped in the pipe and the force of the water pushing past the clog causes a bubbling or gurgling sound. Drain cleaners or drain snakes are usually enough to remove common clogs caused by hair or accidentally flushed items. Another blockage that causes gurgling is a clog on the exterior plumbing vent. Exterior vents are an essential part of your toilet plumbing, but they are prone to blockages from outdoor debris like leaves and grass. Clearing off the blockage should eliminate the bubbling sound.
If your bubbling sound is consistent throughout your home, or if unclogging the pipes doesn't have any effect on the sound, you likely have a design flaw or pipe damage. Cracked pipes allow air into the pipes and create bubbles that make noise while water rushed through the pipes. Another problem is inadequate drain venting systems. Older homes or homes where a do-it-yourself plumber has attempted to fix an existing problem are more likely to have improperly installed plumbing traps in sinks; S-shaped plumbing traps are notorious for being prone to blockages that cause bubbling. For plumbing to function properly, all pipes must be installed within 5 inches of the vertical plumbing pipe that delivers and distributes water; pipes further from the vertical pipe may make choking or bubbling sounds as they struggle to receive or distribute water.
Unclogging a drain that is causing bubbling sounds rarely requires a professional plumber, but flaws in design or damaged pipes require a well-trained eye to properly diagnose the problem and well-trained hands to provide a lasting repair. A plumber can also tell you if your older home has plumbing that is currently to code to prevent more serious concerns like flooding in the future.