Bay Ridge Hum

Posted by Steve on Tue, 11/06/2007 - 9:52pm

Out-worlders would probably expect Brooklyn to sound like inner-city traffic, police sirens and "Yo! Vinnie! T'row me down some money fa a' egg cream!" Actually, it's pretty quiet down here by the harbor, except for the low-flying NYPD helicopters.

Nevertheless, I have two "bizarre noise" stories. I'll talk about the most public one first and, if I can keep it short, I'll tell the other one.

In late 2005, I was at the dog run when an obviously exhausted woman told me that she was kept awake all night by a loud hum outside. She lives only three blocks from me so she asked if I'd heard it too. I told her I was sorry but I hadn't heard a thing. She bore on, telling me that it sounded like a low engine rumble, almost like a fog horn, except it was non-stop. I thought there might be a simple explanation: she was nuts.

A few months later, I read an article in our local paper, the Bay Ridge Courier. It was a brief interview with a resident on Colonial Rd complaining about "this awful noise". She had heard it too. I still hadn't.

Shortly after that, the Brooklyn Paper picked up the story. Then the NY Sun. Then the NY Daily News. I'm told that even FoxNews did a story on it. A local reporter, Matthew Lysiac, has made it a cause célèbre.

Okay, even though I still haven't heard it, lots of people in my neighborhood have. They can't all be crazy. On the other hand, I'm not deaf either and I'm usually out walking the dogs at 1am when it's so quiet I can hear a traffic accident across the harbor in Staten Island. Is this something like Tinkerbelle? You have to believe it to hear it?

Whatever, the local pols are all over it too. Last month our city councilman, Vincent Gentile, said that he'd solved the mystery. The culprit was the bizarre looking oyster toadfish and its noisy mating ritual.

Mr. Gentile had contracted the services of a prominent marine biologist and that was his conclusion. Case closed, right?

Not quite because nobody had actually seen an oyster toadfish in the waters along Owls Head. His former Republican rival, Marty Golden, had a little fun with the Hum buggers in this photo.

But Gentile wasn't sold on the answer either and asked a Cornell professor of Neurobiology with the improbably funny last name of "Bass" to confirm the toadfish story. He couldn't. In fact, he didn't hear or see any toadfish either.

So we're back to square one and all the convoluted and fantastical explanations: global warming and an inversion layer funneling refinery noise from New Jersey, wind causing the Verrazano Bridge cables to vibrate, secret underground tunneling for some Men In Black headquarters, which of course leads us to UFOs.

Bottom line, there's an awful noise that's apparently loud enough to disturb the sleep of reasonable people over almost a square mile which I haven't heard and no one knows what it is. Maybe it's just an elaborate practical joke against me.

I'll tell my own strange noise story in a later installment.


Posted by Kathy from NJ (not verified) on

I would like to buy a saw to cut approx 1/2" off of a kitchen cabinet filler piece. I was thinking that a jig saw might be the tool to buy. I read somewhere on the net that I can buy a Rip Guide to help me get a straight cut. does not have a rip guide for their jig saw. Would a power planer be a better choice? Whatever I buy will then be gifted to my favorite oldest nephew (he does not mind receiving used items) so I don't want any junk.


Posted by Kathy from NJ (not verified) on

Sorry to bother you again but I think a power planer might make my 1/2" reduction more accurate because my hands are not too steady. I'm looking at the DW680K - should I use steel or carbide blades? I'm going to cut red oak cabinet filler. I can buy it for $99 without the case or $139 with the case. I haven't found a reconditioned one yet, still looking.

Posted by Steve on

Hi Kathy

I wouldn't recommend either a jig saw or a power plane for this job.

A power plane is made to shave a surface. I'd use it once you got a board down to around 1/8" of the finished width. But it won't make a straight cut, let alone a parallel one. It's actually the opposite of that. You often use a plane to get a board to fit against something that's not quite straight. If you use one, be sure the board is well secured. A power plane can be dangerous.

Many jig saws come with guides for making a straight cut but they have another problem. Because the thin blade is only supported on one end it tends to wander though the wood. It's usually impossible to get a perfectly perpendicular cut with a jig saw, especially in 1-by hardwood.

You would normally use a table saw for this or, alternatively, a jointer.

Posted by Kathy from NJ (not verified) on

I bought the DW745 portable table saw because it is light enough that I'll be able to move it myself. I got it from: for $305.10 plus $6.50 shipping (flat shipping charge regardless of size of order). They are having a special 10% off from various mfgrs. today, tomorrow & Sunday only. I ordered it this afternoon and UPS already has it! Scheduled for Monday delivery. I also treated myself to a power screwdriver - I've been using our 25 year old drill that weighs a ton.

Thank you for all your help. How much practice do you think I should have before I destroy, I mean cut, the kitchen cabinet filler piece?

Posted by Steve on

It doesn't take much practice to successfully rip a board. The table saw does most of the work. You just push the board, hopefully with a push stick. If there's a Rule #1 for table saw use it's to never let your fingers get close to the spinning blade. There's also the chance the wood could kick and the momentum of your hand could take it right into the blade.

The best accessory for a table saw is a quality carbide tipped blade. Dull table saw blades are actually dangerous.

Set your blade height so the cutting edge of the blade peaks over the top of the board by no more than a 1/2". This will reduce burning, increase cutting speed and reduce the chance of the board kicking back on you.

One area I'd practice is (if you can) how to turn off the saw with your knee. This way you can use both hands to secure the board.

Posted by Steve on

But I'm also down at the Owls Head dog run, right on the harbor, most mornings and in the park almost every afternoon, wind, rain or snow. I'd assume I would have heard something by now.

Posted by Anonymous (not verified) on

My wife and I live in West Rogers Park, Chicago. We've been experiencing this awful hum for some time now. Heard with power main off. No attic fan. Checked gas line, took down roof antenna, gutters are tight, windows good, roof vents tight, etc. Thought it might be an oxidizer from the Federal Mogul plant 1/4 mile away, and it may be, but it doesn't cause a hum in every home, but it does in ours. Chimney cap tight, heard even when heat is off, we don't have a sump pump, believe me we've covered all the bases.
Heard the most around 11 pm until sunrise. Peaks around 4-5am.
Like a truck idling outside, go outside and ...nothing. I don't know if it is possibly water related, I've turned off both toilets, still heard it.
I'm offering a $500 reward/prize to anyone who can detect what is causing it and provide a solution. Seriously.
Last thing... seems to be loudest when temps are roughly 45-65 degrees outside. Ten weeks in spring and fall when I go nuts. Hum is too low for a fan or white noise or ear plugs to block.. not LOUD loud, just low and constant drone, it vibrates your ear. ANYBODY HELP PLEASE?

Posted by (not verified) on

Dear Noise sufferers,
I can totally relate to your situation. For many years I was hearing a constant low frequency noise every ten seconds. It kept me awake all night making me crazy. For years it was a mystery to me. I lived in downtown Jersey City and kept walking down to New York harbor where the sound emanated from. It wasn't particularly loud but could not be blocked with ear plugs. It seemed to vary with seasonal wind direction. It was like chinese water torture. After complaints of a humming sound making people nuts across the harbor in Bay Ridge,Brooklyn made the press I realized I wasn't alone in my suffering. But it was still a mystery. I started researching other "humming" noises and ran across a story in England that was similar and unsolved. There people complained of feeling like their fillings could fall out and a actual case of door-pin hinges popping out. Serious low frequency vibration! Anyway a man studying the problem after putting up with for three long years thought that it could be "long-reach" drilling going on near by. Being that he was an engineer knew that there is a "singing" effect as the drill twists and turns. That when a lightbulb went off in what was left of my brain! The drilling of the New York Water Tunnel. Sixty stories below ground under Manhattan is a 24 foot diameter drill tunneling down the west side of Manhattan toward the harbor. It is manned twenty four hours a day seven days a week and my theory is that the vibration was/is being projected out into the harbor and bouncing off Bay Ridge Brooklyn which lies in a direct path from the tunnel in Manhattan. My best guess is that there is some kind of underground drilling going on near you. Hopefully yours ends soon. I had to leave the New York harbor area after living there twenty five years. It was literally making me sick. They plan to drill under New York harbor next. No end in sight for me!

Posted by Anonymous (not verified) on

i live in bridgeview,il and for about 3 weeks now i've noticed a humming noise in my home. it's constant with an occassional pause,more annoying at night. it doesn't seem to bother my family, my wife states she can hear it if she tries, but she says it's high pitched, to me it's a low pitch, like a purring engine. i've checked my sump pump, i've turned off all the electric power in my home and it continues, i even hear it in my garage(detached) but not as loud. some days i can manage to block it out or ignore it but other days it just seems more prominent. at first i thought it might be underneath my home but it seems louder on the 2nd level of my home. it's really puzzling and ANNOYING.

Posted by Karen King (not verified) on

I just moved to Madison Wi from Mississippi last year. I dealt with this awful humming for nearly 8 years. I moved to another location and it stopped but to my dismay I've found the same thing here in Madison. In fact that's why I'm up at 4 this morning! :(

Posted by Anonymous (not verified) on

I have the hum at my house in Madison WI too. I've lived in this house for 12 years, but I first noticed the vibration last Fall (2008) and it is 24/7 and throughout the house. It sounds like a clothes dryer tumbling or maybe an engine running, with subtle oscillations. It's not the sound that is driving me crazy but the vibration in my ears. I can feel it with my ears plugged. I've turned off the power and water and it persists. It seems to be emanating from exterior walls. I'm not sure what else to test. My latest theory is our new roof that has the new style full length roof vent? Or the 4 new vinyl-clad windows we installed? But both of these things were done a year before I noticed the hum. My husband can detect the hum but he hadn't noticed it until I pointed it out, and it does not bother him.
If anyone has ideas on what is causing this, or solutions I would like to hear from you.

Posted by Liber8tor (not verified) on

Let me know when you find out. I'm in Florida. I have spent a fortune on Roofers and caulking. The hum sounds like when you blow air across the top of a soda bottle, right? Always louder at night and towards 4-5 am. I know I am not crazy.. but I'm not sure about everyone else.

Posted by Anonymous (not verified) on

I live in inverness IL (NW chicago burbs) I've run into this same exact noise on several occasions, generally also in the evening to early AM. very deep, low vibration hum with an oscillation to it, at times strengthening in sound to the point where it's unnerving. similiarly to you, I go outside, and the noise is gone. Back into the house, and it's there again. We have done all the house checks, everything is functioning as per normal. Very puzzling. Whatever vibration is occuring, is seemingly not being heard if you're not in some sort of 'structure' that's able to absorb vibration, like a house. Could that indicate the vibration is being radiated downward towards the earth from some sort of large craft? After checking off all the other options, you really do start to ponder the alternatives.

Posted by Anonymous (not verified) on

I am seeing this 2/28/2010 as I am constantly in search of an inexpensive way to go about stopping the vibration and noise coming from what we know to be the municipal water treatment plant, 1/2 mile from our home. They run either the underground pumps at varying cycles 24/7 and when at the highest, cause the foundation in our single story home to vibrate. It's possible acoustic air waves are also emanating from this plant, striking the roof line of our home, travelling thru the joists down to the foundation. A double dose. Eventually the joists start "singing" and a loud buzz travels thru the roof space, until the plant cycles down again. It is definitely a tortuous experience. We've contacted the director of the utilities in the county and his sorry excuse is "if no one else is complaining, there's nothing we can do about it". We are positive others must be suffering this problem, but the way the county is handling it, not allowing any complainers to become aware of others, they are in control of and plan to do nothing about it. We've thought of hiring a "sound engineer" but they are very costly. One wanted $4000 for approximately 20 hours of their time, just to come set up the equipment and do some recording. No guarantees.
I am telling you this in as short a form as I can, just in case your problem is being caused by a similar industrial plant. Our problem began the same way as yours, we thought it was an idling diesel semi-tractor truck. My neighbors both say they are not affected. So we've determined it must have something to do with the position of our home in relation to the plant, and it has developed a "noise signature" with the plant. We've had 3 different plumbing companies tell us there is nothing wrong with the plumbing. Also an electrical company said they pick up the buzz but nothing more. We've done the turning off of the water, air conditioner, etc, to no avail. The frequency of the vibration seems to be below 20 decibals. It even penetrated the best Bose noise-cancelling headset we hoped would be a way to escape the noise.
I don't know what type of plant the Federal Mogul is, but it's likely that is the source of your problems, if it is operating anythng underground or blowing from towers (another source of our problem being the lime hoppers which have blowers in towers). Or if you live by a water or sewage treatment plant, that could also be a source.
Hope any of this helps you track down your problem. I pray everyday that others come forward complaining about the water treatment plant so we can get some relief. Even though we know the source, we puzzle why it is affecting just us (supposedly!)
Good luck, Barbara