Mystery Noise Near Crozet... A Mystery No More?

Nov 1, 2018

Just before Halloween, a mystery that has been the talk of Crozet in recent weeks appears to have been solved.  WMRA's Andrew Jenner reports on a noise that's been going "hum" in the night.

Alice Faintich first heard the noise in early September, around 11pm, as she was nodding off at her home in Crozet’s Old Trail neighborhood.

ALICE FAINTICH: The best way I can describe the noise is a very loud hum, something like hmmmmm. That’s as close as I can get it.

Her husband guessed it was the air conditioner. Faintich wondered if she was developing tinnitus. Then, a few nights later, she heard it louder than ever before, definitely coming from somewhere else.

FAINTICH [nat sound track] So we went outside. [Footsteps, door opens]. We walked down the street here towards Old Trail Drive, and it was clearly coming from roughly the intersection of 250 and the interstate. It’s hard to hear over the traffic right now.

Here's a recording of it recently made near her house – with levels boosted so you can hear it better.

[Hum]

Faintich started a thread on Nextdoor, a neighborhood-based social media site where people usually post about missing pets and teenagers driving too fast. Soon, people from all over the area chimed in, saying that they, too, were hearing the loud hum.

FAINTICH: I ended up having to buy a white noise machine. I can’t handle earplugs.

She first suspected the R.A. Yancey Lumber Company, which is less than a mile away down 250 by the interstate, and which, being a lumberyard, can be noisy.

[Nat sound – lumberyard]

But since moving to Old Trail two years ago, Faintich had never been bothered by it before. She called up one of the owners.     

FAINTICH: I asked her if they’d had any new equipment installed recently that would account for a noise we’d never heard before. She said she would check into it and call me back, and she did so the next day, and said, ‘no, they hadn’t had any new equipment’ and she couldn’t understand what might be making the noise.

The gabbing on Nextdoor – as well as real-life neighborhood interactions – started to snowball. Lots of people were hearing the noise, and lots of them found it extremely disruptive. Theories ranged from local construction to work on some nearby high-voltage transmission lines to things that, in Faintich’s view, amounted to obnoxious Nextdoor trolling about giant hummingbirds and aliens. In late September, she filed an official complaint with county zoning officials. Lisa Green, Albemarle’s senior code compliance officer, received dozens of these calls.

LISA GREEN: When we normally get a call about a complaint, there’s a definite, ‘I saw this on a specific property.’ And this particular call was a lot of different people with a lot of different logistical information. ‘I heard it at this time, I heard it at this time, I didn’t hear it. I don’t know where it’s coming from.’

And, of cours, descriptions of what the sound sounded like varied.

GREEN: A hum. Nails on a chalkboard. Some type of hydraulic motor. A large generator.

It’s important to note that not everyone in Old Trail consistently noticed or was bothered by this noise. Angie Brement, who lives up around the curve from Faintich, heard it exactly once, about three weeks ago.

ANGIE BREMENT: It woke me up. I checked to make sure something wasn’t going on in my house, and then realized it was coming from outside, and went back to sleep.

And that was that. She never heard it again. Other neighbors, though, still did. Lisa Green’s phone kept ringing, the police got called, the local county supervisor became involved, and the lumberyard decided to make extra sure that it wasn’t the source of this sound that had become the talk of Crozet.

DONNIE ROSE: I said, ‘you know, we just need to get the guy in here that does the sound testing, you know, just to say, ‘hey, we tested and it’s not us.’’

Donnie Rose is president of the R.A. Yancey Lumber Company, and his plan didn’t go according to script.

ROSE: But when we got him in here and we tested, we found out it was us.

It turns out that the problem was an induction fan that’s part of a boiler in a kiln. The company had recently refurbished this boiler, and after it returned to service, complaints about the hum began – even though this boiler had long been in operation before. So what changed?

BILL YODER: I’d love to give you some concrete answer that’s really interesting, but unfortunately, we don’t know. Right now, it’s unexplained.

Bill Yoder was the acoustical consultant Rose hired to diagnose the problem. Though he had all sorts of fancy equipment at his disposal, all he needed in the end were his ears. One evening in mid-October, standing with Faintich near her house on a night when the hum was humming along loud and clear, he had the lumber mill try shutting down some equipment. Once the switch was thrown on that boiler –

FAINTICH: The noise very clearly wound down and stopped.

[Nat sound: lumberyard hum fades to silence]

Faintich was thrilled.

FAINTICH: That’s what I thought it was. It came from the mill. And it was such a relief that it wasn’t humming.

The lumber company issued a statement apologizing for the disturbance, and put some special muffling equipment on rush order that should be installed soon. Until then, Rose says, they’re scaling back operations at night. Faintich was at a bridge tournament in Charlotte, North Carolina when that decision was made. Last Sunday night, she returned to silence.

FAINTICH: It was wonderful. It’s the best night’s sleep I’ve had in weeks.

And so, problem apparently solved – if not entirely explained.