Squeaking Floors: Annoying But Fixable

Floors that talk back to you when you walk on them are trying to tell you something. The squeaks you hear are, technically, pieces of wood rubbing together, telling you that the subfloor may have separated from the joists or that loose boards need to be fastened down.

Eliminating squeaks is often relatively simple, once you know what’s causing them. A little detective work will help you locate and identify the problem.

What causes squeaks:

Squeaking floors can result from any one of a number of causes. Listed below are a few of the more common ones:

• Joists that are undersized or weakened by rot or termites, permitting excessive deflection (bending) and movement.

• Joists that have dried out and pulled away from the subfloor.

• Inadequate nailing of the subfloor to joists—common nails don’t have the holding power of the annular ring nails or threaded nails recommended for securing subfloors.

• Settling of the house that has caused the subfloor to separate from joists.

• Weak or inadequate bridging between joists.

• Poorly manufactured wood strip flooring with undersized tongues that don’t fit snugly into the grooves.

• Warped floor boards that rock when they’re walked on.

• Sleepers that have worked loose from the concrete slab be low them, permitting movement of the floor.

Locating the squeaks

Squeaks in floors with finished wood surfaces can originate in surface areas or in the subfloor. In floors with flooring materials other than wood laid directly over the subfloor, the squeaks will come from the subfloor.

In a typical frame home with exposed joists (visible from the basement or crawl space), it’s easy to locate the area of the offensive squeaks. In homes where joists are not exposed or when it’s the upper floors that are making noise, locating and correcting squeaks can be considerably more complicated.

If joists are exposed, watch from below while another per son walks across the floor above; you should be able to detect the probable cause of the squeak—unusually springy floors, excessive deflection of the joists, or simple movement between joists and the subfloor.

Check the bridging between joists to see if it’s firmly in place (see this fig for the two most common types of bridging).

If you see or feel movement in the subfloor or joists, be sure to make all the routine checks for structural problems to see if the problem is traceable to rot, in sect damage, or structural weaknesses (see “Locating the cause”). Get help from a professional if you suspect serious structural problems.

Getting rid of the squeaks

Following are some relatively simple remedies for squeaking floors. Try whichever one seems easiest and most appropriate for the problem you’ve identified. If your first efforts are not successful, move on to what you believe to be the next logical step.

Shims and cleats eliminate movement. Simple wood shims can be used to eliminate squeaks caused by movement between joists and the subfloor. Locate those areas under the floor where movement can be detected. Tap shims lightly into the gaps between the joists and the subfloor (see drawing), but take care not to drive them in too forcefully or they’ll further separate the subfloor from the joists.

Fig. 93-0

If the subfloor is made of individual boards laid diagonally, movement in an individual board or between boards can also be stopped with shims. If there are several loose boards, place a length of 1 by 4 or 1 by 6—it’s called a cleat—against the joist and the loose boards; prop the cleat in place with a piece of 2 by 4. Tap on the 2 by 4 to hold the upper edge of the cleat snugly against the subfloor (see drawing). Then nail the cleat to the joist with 8-penny common nails. Make sure that no one is standing on the floor above while you install the cleat.

Fig. 93-1

Plywood panels used for subfloors are commonly laid with their long sides at right angles to joists; joints between short sides of panels fall directly over joists. If you observe movement between panels in the space between joists, cut a 1 by 4 or 2 by 4 to fit under the joint between panels and attach it to the ply wood with screws. This will eliminate movement and stabilize the panels.

Try tapping out squeaks. If you find that squeaking is limited to isolated areas of a wood strip floor, another simple approach is to try to eliminate the squeaks by tapping them out.

Take a piece of 2 by 4 about 1 foot in length. To avoid marring the floor, wrap the 2 by 4 in an old towel, or tack carpeting to one face of it. Then place it over the area that squeaks, at a right angle to the wood strips and, moving it in a rectangular pattern around the area, tap it sharply with a hammer (see this ill.). Avoid hammering over the same spot with too much force—this can damage tongue-and-groove flooring.

Fig. 94-0

Lubricants reduce friction. Several different kinds of lubricants that reduce friction between boards can be applied to the surface of the floor to eliminate squeaks. This is a useful remedy for squeaking floors that are inaccessible from below. These are the possibilities:

Graphite. Powdered or liquid graphite squirted between boards will work its way down into the tongue-and-groove joints. Use it very sparingly: graphite is a messy substance if tracked across a floor.

Talcum powder. Dust the cracks between boards with talcum powder and wipe away any excess with a barely damp cloth or sponge.

Floor oil. Apply a liberal coating of good floor oil over the squeaking area and wipe up any excess with a dry cloth. Oil that soaks down into the cracks will expand the wood and tighten the flooring to eliminate squeaking.

Mineral oil. Another lubricant, mineral oil, can be used in minimum quantities to help eliminate friction. A few small drops in the cracks between boards will be sufficient. Too much mineral oil can stain the surface of a floor.

Drive glazier’s points into cracks. Squeaks not vanquished by lubricants can often be silenced by glazier’s points driven into the cracks between boards. Put graphite on the points and drive them into place between the boards, using a hammer; then use a piece of scrap metal or the edge of a putty knife to make sure the points are well below the surface. Use no more than one point every 6 inches along the squeaking area.

Fig. 94-1

Pull boards tight from below. If individual boards are loose or bowed, the problem is more difficult to correct. If your floor is supported by exposed joists and it’s possible to work from below, the best way to secure loose boards is to pull them tight with screws driven up through the subfloor. This makes it unnecessary to nail through the surface of the floor—an approach to avoid unless there are no alternatives.

Select woodscrews with round heads in a length that will not come to within ¼ inch of the finished surface when in stalled. Bore a hole up through the subfloor with a bit the size of the shank of the screw. Using another bit slightly smaller than the threads of the screw, drill a pilot hole directly into the underside of the flooring. Be careful not to drill too deep—no closer to the surface than ¼ inch.

Slip the screw through a large-diameter washer and up through the hole in the subfloor. As the screw is tightened, the loose board will be pulled snugly down against the subfloor.

Fig. 94-2

If space permits, add glue. Most wood strip flooring has little or no space between boards. But if your strip flooring has wide enough cracks between boards—space enough to insert a putty knife—common white glue worked into the cracks will help bind the boards.

After adding glue, wipe away any excess. Then put some weight on the glued area and leave it in place overnight. Books, bricks, or any other heavy objects can be used, as long as you take care to protect the finish of the floor. Cover the glued area with a sheet of plastic before placing the weights—you don’t want a prized book glued to the floor.

Surface nailing -- a last resort. If working through a strip floor from above can’t be avoided—be cause lubricants haven’t worked or the floor is inaccessible from below—you can secure loose boards by nailing.

Using annular ring nails, drive the nails at a slight angle through the surface flooring and into the subfloor and, when possible, into a joist. If the flooring is hardwood, drill pilot holes slightly smaller than the diameter of the nails. This will reduce the risk of splitting boards and make it easier to countersink nail heads.

Fig. 95-0

When the nails have been driven and countersunk, select a wood putty in a color that matches the finished floor, and fill the holes.

If a strip floor is covered by carpeting, finishing nails can be driven down through the carpeting. Take care, though, to avoid damaging carpet fibers with your hammer.

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Thursday, 2020-02-27 10:33