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Do Renovations Wake up Ghosts?

There is an old theory that doing building work or changing the character of a building inspires ghostly inhabitants to start playing up. Is there any evidence for this theory? PSI tries to find out.Pipes

The anecdotal evidence certainly seems to be there. Most paranormal investigators will have heard prospective clients talking about how their house or work-place has felt different during or following renovations. Often unusual noises are heard, or unusual sights seen.

The theory follows that ‘spirits’ often lay dormant in a building, familiar with their surroundings. When people begin knocking a building around and changing it, these same spirits want to make their presence known. Somehow feeling threatened or discomforted that ‘their’ building is being changed from what they know.

Needless to say there is no evidence or model under-pinning this explanation of events. It is likely that the theory was made to fit the evidence. One can picture the scene. Someone is changing their house or workplace and they start to hear odd sounds or see odd sights that they perceive to be ghostly and out of the ordinary. They make the link based on the major event going on in their life at the time: ‘we’re changing the building and the ghost doesn’t like it’.

Forgetting for a moment that this theory may not be the best way to explain the evidence, let us consider the evidence.

Do ghost experiences increase during renovations? The answer is only anecdotal. There would appear to be plenty of buildings where this is the case.

However even if we accept this evidence, there is a far more compelling and prosaic explanation. Research into the ‘new house theory’ tells us that when people attend to a new environment they will often hear new sounds that someone familiar with that environment would not – for example moving next to a busy road and being aware of the constant drone for the first few days, but ‘tuning it out’ after that.

The New House Theory, though, applies not only to novel environments but to looking at familiar environments in a novel way. Experimental research has shown that by simply paying attention to a familiar environment, in a spooky context, it can lead to many more reports of odd noises.

Renovating a building can ‘change’ the natural sounds that the building makes in very obvious ways. ‘Suddenly’ hearing ‘new sounds’ in a familiar environment with no obvious cause can be a startling experience. Where one already thinks of a place as being haunted (having dormant ghosts, in this context) this can feel like the ghosts waking up. And to complete the cycle, the link is made with the renovations. But the cause behind the link is confused, it’s not the ghosts angry at their building being knocked around but our perception changing as our environment changes.