Nothing's More Annoying Than a Floor That Creaks and Squeaks. Fixing the Problem Means Finding Its Cause
Wood floors, especially well-kept ones, are charming, easy to maintain and look great. But what do you do when the floor talks back? Constant squeaking and creaking from below can grow irksome. We can tell you how to silence that wood floor once and for all.
Why is my Floor Creaking in the First Place?
Floor noise is caused when loose flooring rubs together, or is the result of a loose nail sliding up and down on a piece of wood. Your talkative floor could also be telling you that it is rubbing against pipes or air ducts, so it's best to be sure if you can.
Where do I start?
The good news about your squeaky floor is that you have many options for repairing it. Most home improvement stores sell squeaky floor "kits" that may be all you need. Before even heading to the store, try pouring baby powder into the squeaky spot(s). This will absorb the space between the boards and may be all you need to finally get some peace. For more complicated projects, we recommend that you fix squeaks from the bottom up, meaning you should try to get underneath the spot(s) where the squeaking is occurring, if possible. Usually this means putting on grubby clothes (remember those acid-washed jeans?) and going underneath the house with a flashlight.
A Little Background
Once you're under the house, you'll notice that the floor is held up by beams. Think of your floor of looking something like a raft. The beams are called joists, and they sit under the subfloor, the layer of wood underneath floor you walk upon. Some houses have 4X6 beams approximately every 48" with a 2X6 subfloor, running perpendicular to and nailed directly onto the beams. Other houses have 4X6 beams with 2X6 or 2X8 joists sitting atop the beams every 16" on center. Those joists usually have ¾ or 1 1/18 plywood as a subfloor. Knowing the exact thickness of the subfloor as well as the hardwood floor is crucial to floor repairs of this caliber, so write it down!
Your goal is to find the precise spot of the loose floorboard and attach it to the subfloor. You may want to grab a friend and have her walk around to find the exact location while you listen from below. If possible, use a cell phone, since shouting through the floor isn't always terribly productive.
Once you locate the spot, most of the time all you'll need to do is drive a nail or self-tapping trim screw into it, connecting the loose board to the subfloor. (A self-tapping screw just refers to how the screw fastens to the material) Pick a nail or screw that's long enough to connect well into the squeaky board, but not so long that it'll poke up through your flooring.
Can't Get Under?
If you can't get underneath the noise, you can go at it from the top. First, drill a pilot hole into the floor at angle where you hear the noise coming from. (Drilling the holes prevents the wood from splitting) Then, drive a finish nail directly into the spot. Your nail should be just slightly larger than the pilot hole. It is recommended to use a nail set (a device for driving the nail deep into the wood?it is also referred to as a nail punch) to drive the nail. This way, the nail disappears beneath the surface and you can conceal the hole with wood putty. Again, a self-tapping finish trim screw can be used in lieu of a hammer and nail.
Creaking Under Carpet
If you have wall to wall carpet and you can't access the flooring from underneath, you're in a trickier spot. If the source is near a wall, your best bet is to pull up the carpet and deal with the wood underneath. But if that squeak is out in the middle of the room, you may want to try to screw that board down to an underlying joist. You'll need to drill a pilot hole for the screw first (at an angle), then countersink the top of the hole (drilling a shallow hole wide enough and just deep enough for the screw-head to sink down into and not stick up). Then, go ahead and sink the screw right down into the carpet, through the pad and into the floor.
Other Quick Fixers: Shimming
Sometimes there is extra space between the joists and subfloor, and that can be the cause of your squeaking. If you have ever cured a wobbly table with a wad of napkins, you know what is going to happen next. At the hardware store, buy shims-thin little pads-and slip them between the joists and the subfloor. Do not force them in place; just gently tap them in. Extra elbow grease on this one may cause the floor to lift and-oh no! - cause more squeaking.
If you find that several of the boards are moving when you walk over it, you can install a cleat instead of shimming the floor. A cleat is made from a 1X4 piece of wood that you hammer between the joist and the subfloor.
If your squeaking has graduated from a cute whimper to a prolonged moan over a large area, you may need to do some reinforcing. Two or more of your joists may be shifting underfoot. Luckily, this too is easy to handle. You will need some steel bridging, so once you have located the problem area, measure the length between the wobbly joists. The bridging should consist of two thin metal posts, which you will install in a criss-cross (X) between the joists, hammering them into place.
If you have noticed that a few of the boards of your wood floor are just the slightest bit raised, this may be contributing to the noise factor. Again, you will need to get underneath the floor. Drill a hole through the subfloor to the squeak spot. Then, drill another, smaller hole into the floor. Have a friend stand on the spot from above to push the floor down into place. While she does that, secure the area with a wood screw. Repeat around the spot as necessary.
Silencing Spooky Stairs
Creaking stairs are a common problem and are a result of all the intricate parts of the staircase becoming loose and/or rubbing together. The two main parts of a stair you will need to know are the tread (the part that you step on) and the riser. Risers are the boards that reach from level to level, in other words, the boards that hold up the treads. (You may also hear someone talk about stringers, which are the long, angled pieces of wood holding the whole staircase up.)
Are you still with us? Good!
Just like the floor, you will need to get behind or underneath the staircase to silence any squeaks, using basically the same method just described-attach the loose board to the nearest stable piece. If getting underneath the stairs is not feasible, that's okay.
If you can tell that the edge of the tread has worked its way loose from the riser, you can simply hammer a nail right though the tread to secure it. First though, follow our instructions on drilling holes in the wood. Again, you will drill holes at an angle, and then drive in the nail with a nail set.
Similar to shimming a floor, you can insert a small sliver of wood between the back part of the tread and the riser. (Imagine stepping on a stair. Your toes would be pointing directly at this crack) Gather a few pieces of scrap wood and play around with them to see which one fits in the crack best. Then, cover it with wood glue and drive the wedge into the spot, trimming away any excess wood when the glue is dry.
If you can get behind the staircase, you can brace the tread and riser together with a 2X2 piece of wood, similar to the cleating we did on the floor. First, drill holes into the 2X2 blocks of wood on two adjacent long sides. To secure it to the wood without using a helper, glue it against the tread and riser first, and then screw it into place.
Good luck putting the lid on your noisy floor! Now if you could only do the same with that noisy neighbor...