It's happened to most of us: Late at night, it seems like something's shifted in the shadows... The door floats open on its own, the floorboards sound like they're whining, and the lights flicker for no apparent reason. Something about these occurrences seem bone-chillingly otherworldly. Most of us brush them off and go on our merry ways unbothered, but what if those things keep happening—and keep getting increasingly unsettling? More importantly, what if you really aren't alone in your home like you thought you were—and instead, it's haunted?
Nearly one in five people say they've seen a ghost, according to the Pew Research Center, and almost one in three people have said they've been in contact with the dead. So, if you've been questioning your sanity over some strange, seriously creepy things happening in your home, you're clearly not alone.
While many would argue there's no way to definitively prove your house is haunted, there are some signs that'd suggest things aren't quite right. As an investigator for the New York Paranormal Society, Laura Pennace has spent the past 12 years researching and examining haunted houses.
They're real-life ghostbusters, but their intent isn't to get people riled up—in fact, their first order of business when they take on a case is trying to find a logical explanation for exactly what's going on.
"We try to debunk as we go," Pennace explains. "Whatever's left, that's the stuff we hold onto and try to investigate further. It's important not to jump to the idea that anything is a ghost." Author and psychic medium Joni Mayhan echoes a similar sentiment. "I'm skeptical of things myself," she tells us because while she hosts paranormal investigations and is a ghost magnet herself (meaning, she can see, hear, feel, and interact with ghosts), she thinks it's important to eliminate natural explanations before coming up with a plan of action.
When the New York Paranormal Society explores a house, there are a few things they look for in particular—and a few things they dismiss entirely. So, are you cohabitating with ghosts? Discover the five signs that your house is haunted, according to Pennace and Mayhan below.
1. There's a Distinct Smell, and You Can't Find Its Source.
These are known as "phantom scents," and Pennace's not talking about that strange smell from the back of your fridge. In this case, it's a very specific scent that wouldn't otherwise exist in your home.
"If you smell perfume [that isn't anything you own], why would you? What's going on there? That could be a sign of something," she says. "Same for cigar smoke," if you're not a smoker. Still, her team would be quick to look into other potential causes before saying it's paranormal. (On that note, one NIH study hypothesized that phantom odors that only one person can smell may be the result of dry mouth or a reaction to certain medications.)
2. The Temperature Changes Abruptly.
"This can get a little dicey: 'Oh, there's a draft,' that sort of thing," Pennace says. "If you're in the middle of the room and it's very cold in that one spot, that shouldn't happen." However, Mayhan adds that ghosts "feed more off the energy of the people [in the house] than the temperature of the home." She's not totally certain why this is, but it might have something to do with their makeup.
Since ghosts don't have physical bodies, she probably can't physically feel the temperature in a location, "but they can detect the uncomfortable level of the human occupants," Mayhan posits. So "if someone is stressed or fearful, they are emitting a huge amount of energy that can then turn around and feed the ghost energy." So if a draft gives you chills in your home, you might get scared and thus, give the being more power. On the other hand, it's possible that even if ghosts don't experience temperature themselves, they could emit a certain energy that changes the way we are living beings experience temperature.
3. Your Phone Is Always on the Verge of Dying.
And not because your phone's old or you keep forgetting to place it on the charger. The same rule applies to all of your electronics. "If you just switched the battery in your remote, and the next day it's dead, you wouldn't necessarily think it's paranormal, but it's worth taking note of it," Pennace says.
The theory behind this, Pennace explains, is that spirits try to absorb whatever energy is around them, and your tech is a prime source. It's a topic Doug Hogate Jr., founder of the Jersey Unique Minds Paranormal Society, elaborates on further to NewJersey.com, saying that he believes ghosts need this energy to manifest themselves. Ghosts are thought to communicate through electricity (like turning the lights on and off) for similar reasons... It's all fun and games until your resident ghost starts running up your electric bill.
4. There Are Mysterious Noises.
Again, this is where Pennace's team tries to debunk first: "Do you have a rodent problem? A raccoon in your chimney? They could get in and out, and you'd never know," she explains.
What Pennace looks for is the frequency of the noises and the type of sound. "Every house settles, but you start to learn your house and what's normal," she says. "I'm just going off my own experience, but when you're downstairs, does it sound like someone's running around upstairs? Anything that's out of the ordinary is worth investigating."
She cites one building the society examined in Staten Island, where the entire team heard the sound of footsteps, even though no one else was there. The noise kept happening throughout the night, eventually hitting a point where it sounded like someone was charging at them, full-speed—sending a Subway footlong wrapper flying as the sound "passed" that spot—only to stop abruptly the second it seemed like the invisible intruder was about to collide with them.
"It sounded like bare feet on wood running—that's a very distinct sound," she says. "I have no idea what happened. It was very odd."
5. You Regularly Feel a Weird Sensation on the Back of Your Neck.
Don't worry—if that sentence just instantly sent a chill up your spine, that's probably just because it's a creepy thought, not because a ghost jumped through the screen and clung to your neck. But if you are experiencing all of the above, and you consistently feel like there's something on the back of your neck, Mayhan says you may want to reach out to a spiritual healer of some kind, as it can indicate that a ghost "attached" to you. That's right, some paranormal experts believe that it's people who become haunted, not just places.
Ghosts aren't "just stationary unless something is keeping them in a specific place, like, if they feel stuck there," and so they often actually attach to certain people, Mayhan explains. And when ghosts do become attached to certain people, she has observed that it's "usually the back of the neck, and they just hang there." She does clarify that this typically only happens to metaphysically gifted people.
Good News: Orbs Aren't Necessarily a Sign Your Home's Haunted.
While some people view photos with flecks of light—or orbs, as they're often known—as a sign of supernatural activity, the society doesn't. "There are way too many things to explain it," Pennace says. "It could be bugs. Most of the time, it's dust. You can't always see dust particles in a room, but if you're using flash photography, it'll often pick it up."
Misty areas—say, if you're standing next to a waterfall—also pick up the light, which can make orbs appear in a photo.
So You're Convinced Your House Is Haunted... Now What?
At the end of the day, if you believe there's a ghost or something supernatural in your home, Pennace recommends talking to it like you'd speak to an acquaintance.
"Set some boundaries with it: 'I want you to leave. You're not welcome here anymore.' Or, 'You're welcome here, but please don't make noise here. This is my home, and I need to feel safe here.'" she says in a calm, even tone. "Speak out loud and acknowledge it, and give it a strong request or demand, but don't yell at it."