Haunted House in the woods

Is My House Haunted? 5 Ways To Find Out

Lauren Nowacki11-Minute Read
August 26, 2022

A few years ago, my family rented a cottage for the weekend to celebrate my sister’s 40th birthday. During our stay, my 4-year-old nephew made a new friend known as “the man with glasses.”

Throughout the weekend, we’d catch him talking to himself, in a room alone, and he’d tell us he was talking to “the man with the glasses.” He’d also tell us where the man was standing or when he was watching us play.

The idea that our Airbnb could be haunted didn’t cross our minds (imaginary friends are easier to believe) until we found a picture of the homeowner and her father, who we learned passed away earlier that year. He was a tall, older man, with glasses.

We were even more convinced there was a ghost in our house when my nephew confirmed that the man in the photo was indeed his new friend.

Hauntings aren’t usually included in Airbnb listings. They aren’t typically included in home listings, either. So when weird things start happening around the home, you may find yourself asking, “Is my house haunted?”

Sometimes, the only way to find out is by looking for the signs yourself. 

Help! I Think My House Is Haunted!

If you believe in hauntings, you’re not alone. A 2019 poll by YouGov suggests that as many as 43% of American adults believe that ghosts can come back to haunt certain places, while 36% believe they have felt the presence of a spirit.

There are several reasons a spirit may come back to haunt certain places. It could be a spirit’s attachment to a place, item or person or the home itself could have a sad, nefarious or storied past, which is often the case for castles and historical houses.

While these may be the cause of paranormal activity in your home, there may be another explanation for what’s going on.

You may be relieved (or disappointed) to learn that not all things that go bump in the night are supernatural. More often than not, there’s a perfectly reasonable, non-paranormal explanation for what’s occurring.

How To Tell If There’s A Ghost In Your House

A child claiming to have seen a ghost can be a sign that the house is haunted. Many believe children are more receptive to the supernatural simply because they have yet to be told what to see or believe.

However, kids also engage in pretend play all the time – and often haven’t had their imaginations stifled by the real world around them. 

Did my nephew really see a ghost? Possibly. But it’s more likely that he’d seen a picture of the man, who also happened to bear a striking resemblance to my nephew’s grandpa, glasses and all. And our reactions to his ruse most likely encouraged him to keep it up.

The lesson here? Take everything you experience with a bit of skepticism.

While your home could very well be haunted, a good ghost hunter will also err on the side of caution.

Below, two paranormal investigators share a few other signs that lead people to believe their house is haunted, along with normal and paranormal reasons why these things are happening.

1. Feeling Changes In Temperature Or Cold Spots

Paranormal explanation: “The theory is that spirits can change ambient temperature,” says Todd Bonner, co-founder of Detroit Paranormal Expeditions, a Michigan-based team that researches and investigates reported hauntings across the country. “When we feel cold spots, it could indicate paranormal activity.”

“The idea behind why cold spots happen is that the spirit is needing an energy source to do something, so it’s pulling the thermal energy out of the air, causing the cold spot to happen,” explains Noah L., founder and lead investigator of Paranormal Investigators of Milwaukee, a non-profit organization that offers public education on the paranormal and free home investigations.

Other explanations: “The cold spot could be anything from a draft or an air conditioner blowing air through the vents of the home,” says Bonner. Make sure you search the room for vents that may be installed in unusual spots or hidden behind furniture and check your windows and doors for any drafts that may be blowing in.

According to Noah, who prefers going by his first name only in interviews, humans can also create a microclimate around them, caused by body heat that’s generated to keep us warm. “After sitting for a while, the ability for your body to heat the air around you diminishes,” he says. “You’ll start feeling colder because that microclimate around you has broken down and is making you feel chilled.” 

2. Hearing Strange Noises

Paranormal explanation: Knocking or thumping noises, footsteps or even voices are often believed to be a spirit trying to get your attention or the result of a residual haunting, in which the spirit repeats an action from their day-to-day life over and over again.

Other explanations: “Thumping noises are often associated with plumbing,” says Noah. “They’re most common in homes with radiant heat or loose plumbing that’s not secured to the rafters. Whenever the radiator turns on or the hot water comes in, loose pipes can slam against the floor, causing thumping or knocking sounds.”

As for voices and footsteps, Noah recommends checking your attic space or walls for infestations that may cause rustling or shuffling and other animal noises that often sound human.

“Squirrels jumping around can sound like someone walking above you,” he says. “Some rodents can also make noises that sound like children laughing or crying when heard through the floorboards.”

3. Smelling Unexplainable Scents

Paranormal explanation: Sometimes, unnatural smells like sulfur, tobacco or perfume can be a sign of a spiritual presence. “Sometimes ghosts can give off scents from their former lives,” according to Bonner. “We had a case where the grandfather smoked pipes. We could actually smell the tobacco. It’s very rare, but it does happen.”

Other explanations: Before diagnosing the odor as paranormal, first look for a source for the odor in the home. Drop citrus rinds into your garbage disposal, check your trash for cigarette butts or ash and check rooms for lit candles or spills. Consider any materials that are nearby, too.

“The most common explanation for these scents is that certain materials can absorb odors and release them from time to time,” Noah explains. “This is usually because of heat.”

According to Noah, you may notice a scent around a certain time of day. During that time of day, the sun shines into the room where it happens, heating the room and causing the fabric to release the scent.

4. Lights Flickering

Paranormal explanation: A ghostly presence can cause lights to flicker as well as other electronic glitches because it is believed the spirit is manipulating the lighting as a way to communicate or is pulling energy from your devices so it can manifest.

Other explanations: You may have a faulty electrical connection. Do your own investigation by jiggling the switch to see if it’s loose or checking the bulb to make sure it’s screwed in all the way. Check the voltage of the appliances to make sure they aren’t too high for the circuit you’re using. If none of these is the culprit, consider calling in a professional electrician to investigate.

You’ll also want to consider your windows in relation to their view of the street. According to Noah, headlights from cars on the street can come into the home and bounce off any reflective surface. That light can also generate shadows that appear to be moving as the car outside moves.

5. Objects Moving On Their Own

Paranormal explanation: In a haunted house, objects may move on their own, fly through the air or go missing, possibly being hidden from you.

“Seeing something move by itself is the holy grail [for paranormal investigators], aside from seeing full apparitions, of course,” says Noah. “The object they’re moving could be something they’re interested in, something that had meaning to them, or something they don’t like and want to get rid of. For kids, it could be that they just want to play.

“We don’t know how they’re able to do it, but the idea I would subscribe to is some sort of transference of energy,” says Noah.

Bonner has another explanation. “This type of haunting [would be] considered a poltergeist,” he says. “It’s a type of ghost or energy that is responsible for physical disturbances. They can [move objects] by using water currents, electrical currents or your own energy.”

Other explanations: One of the most common explanations for moved or missing objects is that people just forget where they put their stuff, according to Noah. He also warns that you can also be the victim of trickery in which a person finds out you think your home is haunted, then moves objects to further convince you.

An even less-sinister explanation is simply the wind currents in your home. If you notice an object moving, see if there are any windows or doors open, check for drafts and consider any areas where there may be a cross breeze. 

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So Your House Is Haunted. Now What?

Let’s say you’ve ruled out any other possible explanation for the paranormal activity in your home and have decided your house is haunted. Now what?

Do Research Your Home’s History

Some of the most famous haunted houses in America have even scarier histories. If you’re curious about events that could have led to the haunting, consider researching your home’s past. There are several ways to get more information:

  • Start by asking your real estate agent, reviewing the title and checking the home’s listing on the multiple listing service (MLS).
  • Search property records through your city’s or county’s public records.
  • Google your home’s address and any known names of the previous owners for any newspaper articles or obituaries.
  • Ask your neighbors about their experience with the previous owners and if they know any stories about the home.
  • Review census records to learn more about the home’s previous owners.

Do Record Paranormal Activity In A Journal

Todd and Noah both recommend keeping a journal of the things you’re experiencing. When keeping a record, make sure you include as much information as you can.

“Write down what happened, what time it was, what the weather was like and who else was there,” says Noah. He recommends doing this for at least 2 weeks, which will give you enough time to see if a pattern emerges. “If there’s a pattern,” he says, “there’s most likely a more reasonable explanation for the activity you’re experiencing.”

Even if the journal doesn’t help you narrow down what’s happening, these notes can be extremely helpful for paranormal investigators, if you decide to hire them.

Do Hire A Paranormal Investigator

“If the homeowner has tried things on their own and nothing helps, calling [a paranormal investigator] would be kind of your last resort,” says Bonner. “We can sometimes figure who is doing the hauntings but, mostly, we help the homeowner understand what’s happening.”

Paranormal investigators often bring an unbiased view to the situation and know the various causes – both natural and supernatural – to test. Investigators also use equipment that may be difficult or expensive for homeowners to purchase.

“A lot of it the equipment we use are standard video cameras and high-quality audio recorders. We also have equipment that records variables, like temperature, humidity, vibration and radiation for the entire investigation,” says Noah.

While these groups can help you understand more about what’s going on in your home, you’ll want to be careful about who you hire.

“Go with a reputable group who have references and at least 2 years of experience,” warns Noah, who notes that homeowners often share personal stories with investigators. “Ask about other cases they’ve done and make sure they don’t charge you. No group should charge for what they do.”

Don’t Provoke Spirits

“Provoking spirits is one thing you should never do,” warns Bonner. “There are a few theories out there that claim Ouija boards, seances and spirit boxes are ways to try to communicate with the other side. I wouldn’t recommend trying these on your own. At the end of the day, we really don’t know what we are dealing with as far as hauntings go.”

Don’t Immediately Move

While selling your home is an option, it’s often an extreme – and one that may be completely unnecessary. As you can see, there are several non-paranormal reasons you’re having certain experiences in your home. Before putting up the for sale sign, try to rule out all of the other possibilities.

Even if you prove your home is haunted, there are a few other important truths to remember.

“Even if your home is haunted, 99.9% of the time you don’t have to do anything,” says Bonner. “Most energies that I’ve encountered have not been negative. People can coexist without any issues at all. Humans are stronger than any spirits, so live your life and enjoy your home.”

Thinking of Buying A House That Might Be Haunted?

If you’re considering buying a haunted house that’s for sale, you shouldn’t shy away from it just because it’s haunted, suggests Noah. “The previous owners probably just didn’t find explanations for their experiences,” he says, adding that home buyers could actually use the haunting to their advantage. “If [the haunting] is disclosed, see if you can purchase the home at a cheaper price,” he says.

As far as debunking the claims, Noah says that one important step in the home buying process, the inspection, could help with that. “A home inspection will cover plumbing and electrical issues that could explain some of the issues,” he says. He also recommends having pest control go through the location to rule out any infestation or other pest problems.

If you do notice a haunting listed in the disclosures, ask your real estate agent if the sellers can give more detail about what they’ve experienced in the past. You may find it insignificant or find that it points to a larger problem with the home.

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Bottom Line

Whether you believe in ghosts or not, there is usually another explanation for paranormal activity that’s happening in the home. If you’re experiencing any of the activity listed above, consider the alternative explanations and test them out for yourself. You’ll likely find that something else is going on.

Even if your home isn’t haunted, you can make it look and feel that way this spooky season by adorning your home with popular Halloween decor.

Lauren Nowacki

Lauren Nowacki is a staff writer specializing in personal finance, homeownership and the mortgage industry. She has a B.A. in Communications and has worked as a writer and editor for various publications in Philadelphia, Chicago and Metro Detroit.