Sounding Out the New House

Gael Hannan
October 6, 2015

They say that moving into a new house is high on the stress list—packing, physical exertion, excitement about a new place and yearning for the old, figuring out which way the cupboard doors open or what light a switch turns on, etc.

And then there’s getting used to all those the new house noises. A person with hearing loss needs time to ‘get sound situated’, as I’m discovering in the new house that we just bought and moved into near Victoria, B.C.

I’m not asking for crystal clarity and perfect volume level on the new sounds; I just want to know what they are and where they’re coming from. Apparently that’s a tall order. In our Toronto house of 16 years, I’d ask the Hearing Husband, what’s that sound?  For years, the same questions—and for years, the same answers.  Hey, it’s not my fault the fridge sounded different every time it came on. That fridge had a split personality, sometimes rumbling, sometimes hissing, and often I didn’t have to hear it; the dining room light would dim momentarily when the fridge sucked up all the electrical juice.

Because people with hearing loss aren’t so good at sound localization, we need more time than hearing people to identify them. We need clues, like knowing the general direction whence cometh the sound, such as ‘somewhere above my head’. It’s not a foolproof strategy, though.

Hon, what’s that sound upstairs—the cats running around?”

“No, they’re asleep over on the couch. It was a motorcycle a few streets away.”

Now, I have two problems with that comment. First, it reminds me once again that I’m not a trustworthy human sound compass. Birds that I hear in the tree over there to the left (my better ear) are just as likely to be squawking in the tree over there, to the right. My second issue is that he could actually hear, from inside a solid brick house, a freaking motorcycle a ‘few streets away’. Another show-off hearing person.

Our new house is in a beautiful, secluded, woodsy setting. That’s the outside description. The current inside décor is more difficult to classify—the still-unpacked boxes tastefully arranged throughout the house put us somewhere between Extreme Country Rustic and Hoarders-R-Us. Regardless of how it looks, the house offers up a new set of sounds.

What’s that, honey?

A squirrel running across the deck.

I heard that? Me, Gael Hannan, really?

No. I just saw it go by.


Doug, come and tell me what I’m hearing here in the kitchen. Oh hang on, it’s coming from the dishwasher—which isn’t on.

The noise turns out to be the furnace fan coming through the floor vent, right next to the dishwasher. (Note to self: fix noisy furnace fan.)

As we get ‘situated’ to the house layout, I’ve lost my husband a few times – not an easy feat with a guy who tops 6’6″ – forcing me to try calling him from another room, the classic exercise in hearing loss frustration. He answers, I can’t pinpoint his voice, and I end up having to hunt him down, which I should have done in the first place. He’s easy to find if he’s standing up but yesterday, he was talking on the phone—somewhere. With my new hearing aids, he sounded loud and clear although I couldn’t understand his words. He didn’t appear to be on the main floor, but when I headed upstairs, his voice became more distant. Back to the main floor bedroom, but still no Doug and by this time I’d forgotten why I was even looking for him. Back into the living room where his voice was loud but coming from an invisible body.

Exasperated, I sat on the arm of the couch and looked down. Now, I’m telling you, my husband never talks on the phone while lying on the floor. But he’d pulled a back muscle and stretched out on the floor to talk, making him almost invisible among the large cardboard boxes. He gave me a small wave and continued talking, oblivious to the fact that I’d squandered another few life minutes in pursuit of an elusive sound, simply because he should not have tried to move that cupboard by himself.

There are many sounds I’ll have to get used to, some I can’t anticipate as well as familiar sounds now altered because of a new house layout. The beep on the dryer, the coffee, the microwave, the garage door opening. No one has yet rung our doorbell but…hang on a minute….ok, I just made the Hearing Husband go out and try it. (Note to self: get a visible doorbell thingy.)

In addition to the sounds, apparently we have motion lights sensors.  At 4am on our first or second night in the house, when we were still restless from jet lag, a bright light lit up our walkout bedroom deck.

Doug, psstt, someone turned on the deck light!

No, it’s a motion sensor light.

Alrighty, then that means something’s out on our deck that’s probably bigger than a squirrel.

We spent a couple of minutes, groggy but wide-eyed, waiting to see what was out there. He was hoping for a deer and I was hoping for not a raccoon. Whatever it was had moved along and I hope “it” isn’t going to be a regular visitor or we’ll never catch up on our sleep.

I love my new house—I just have to get used to the hear of it.



  1. Strange sounds are difficult to identify for people with hearing loss. If I hear a sound that I do not recognize I first look for Benny the cat and he will let me know if it is important by raising his head from his nap or hiding under the table. Much joy in your new house and it is lovely.

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