Silence The Squeak

By Sharon Naylor

January 4, 2012 5 min read

Squeaky floors can be annoying and embarrassing when your home sounds older than it is, and loud squeaks can wake sleeping family members when you're on your way to the kitchen for a midnight snack. The good news is that they can be fixed without the help of expensive floor repair experts.

*What Causes Floors To Squeak

Floors squeak when age and lack of humidity cause wood floor beams to shrink, resulting in planks that rub against each other, or when space between the floor and subfloor separates, creating a gap that allows nails to rub within the boards when they're stepped on.

*How To Find the Location

In order to locate the exact spot that needs to be fixed, enlist a helper to walk on the floor while you're downstairs below the area. You'll hear exactly where the loose spot is when your helper walks or bounces on particular spots.

*Using the Proper Nails and Screws

Always use specialty flooring nails when conducting this repair. "To tighten down floors, use 6d or 8d spiral flooring nails," says Jerry Alonzy of Natural Handyman. For screws, use square-head Robertson screws that are easier to drive in. Alonzy says, "Using Phillips-head screws is useless in hardwoods because the power screwdriver tip for these small-headed screws will slip too easily."

Alonzy suggests coating screws and nails with construction adhesive before using, to help them hold better over the years.

*Fixing from the Top

When floorboards have spaces between them, Alonzy suggests sprinkling the areas liberally with graphite powder (not liquid graphite, he warns), covering the area with a paper towel or cloth, walking on the area to work the graphite into the seams, and then vacuuming up any excess graphite. The graphite will lubricate the sections between the boards, which will stop the squeaking.

If you still have squeaking, you'll need to secure the boards to the subfloor with flooring nails at least a half-inch from the edge of the floorboard, driving the nails into the subflooring at an angle. "Pre-drilling should be done to prevent splitting the wood or breaking the nails. Use a drill bit that is slightly smaller than the shank of the nail," says Alonzy. Use a nail sink to tap the nails into the wood surface, and then patch with wood filler matched to the color of your floor.

*Fixing from the Top if You Have Carpet

Ideally, you'll be able to pull back the carpet and nail your loose floorboards in. Nailing through carpet is an acceptable solution when you can't pull back carpet, but don't use screws through carpet, which can shred your carpet's fibers. If, however, your carpet sits atop hardwood floor, it's best to roll back the carpet to prevent splitting your hardwood flooring below.

*If You Have Access From Below

If you have an unfinished basement, you may be able to solve the squeaks from the floor below. Your helper above will step on the section that needs to be repaired, and you can achieve a solution in one of several ways.

For small gaps between the floor and subfloor or beams, apply construction adhesive to the thinner edge of a wood shim and slide it into the gap. Don't force the shim in too tightly, says Alonzy, or you will widen the gap.

You also can install a treated screw on an angle through the joist and into the floor. Then apply construction adhesive to the space between the floor and the joist.

Another solution is bridging, which, Alonzy says, is "the installation of a small square piece of plywood screwed and glued under a squeaky seam between two pieces of subflooring," bridging the two and silencing the squeak. Or apply a length of wood in the L-shape formed between the joist and the floor and affix with screws and adhesive.

*If You Don't Have Access From Below

If you have a finished basement, or the squeak is on a second-floor level and you cannot access the subfloor and joists from below, you'll have to use nails from above. "Most modern floors are tongue and groove," says Alonzy. "To avoid cracking the tongues, locate your nails no closer than a half-inch to the edge of the strip, then angle the nails slightly toward the center." Again, use a nail set to sink the nails into the wood, and finish with color-matched wood filler. Ideally, you'll drive nails into the floor beams.

Always work with care not to scratch the surface of a wood floor from above or drill overly long screws up through your floor. These errors would require you to hire professional flooring experts to correct the new, expensive damages.

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