How to Fix a Squeaking Floor

What can I do about squeaky floors?  My house is about 20 years old, built over a crawl space.  The floor covering is vinyl in the kitchen and baths, and carpeting over the sub-flooring in the rest of the house.  The  squeaking occurs in both the vinyl & carpeted areas; e. g., when I installed a new, heavier refrigerator in the kitchen I get a "groan" every time I step in front of the cabinets adjacent to the fridge.  Another irritant area is around the bed in the master bedroom.  The underside of the floors in the crawl space is fully insulated.
rburt 12-29-07 1:15pm

Of the hundreds of calls and emails we receive each week to our national radio show, The Money Pit, floors are the #1 most asked about topic.  Of those calls and emails, seeking the solution to a squeaking floor is a popular question.  Floor squeaks are pretty common and can occur in homes that are brand new or very old. 

Squeaks happen when loose floors move as you walk over them.  While they are annoying, a squeak seldom means you have an underlying structural problem.   

The actual sound stems from one or a combination of two sources.  Either loose floor boards are rubbing together or the nails that hold down the floor are squeaking as they move in and out of their holes.  

Fortunately, squeaks can be about as easy to fix as they are to find - if you know what to do.  The solution to either scenario is to re-secure the floor to the floor joists (the beams that floors are nailed to). Here's what to do:

Carpeted Floors
When it comes to fixing squeaks that are under carpet, the best solution is always to remove the carpet.  Once it's removed, use hardened drywall screws to hold the floor in place by driving one next to every nail in the floor.  Screws never pull out so they are much better than nails.

If removing wall to wall carpet is too much of a hassle for you to tackle, there's a way that may allow you to fix the squeak from above. 
 
Using a stud finder, locate the floor joist beneath the carpet in the area of the squeak.  Usually, joists run perpendicular to the front and back walls of a home so check in that direction first.  Once you've located the joist, drive a 10d or 12d galvanized finish nail through the carpet, through the sub-floor and into the floor joist.  You'll probably need to do this in two or three places.    Make sure to drive the nail in at a slight angle as this will help prevent the floor from getting loose again.  Lastly, grab the carpet by the nap or pile and pull it up until the head of the finish nail passes through it.  Hopefully, as the nails disappear through the carpet, so will the squeaks. 

Hardwood Floors
Fixing squeaking hardwood floors is a little trickier than fixing a carpeted floor, but the principles remain the same.  Locate the area of the squeak and then use a stud-finder to locate the joists. Note that since the joists will be 1 to 1 ½" under the hardwood floor, you'll need to use a stud finder than has a "Deep Scan" feature to be sure you are in the right spot.  Once you've identified the location, you can either screw down the loose area or re-nail it as suggested above with the carpet.  In either case, you'll need to pre-drill the floor.  For screws, purchase a bit from your local home center or hardware store that includes a counter bore.  This will leave a hole that is exactly 3/8" in diameter and the perfect size to fill with an easily available oak plug.  If you are nailing the floor, use a drill bit that is slightly smaller in diameter than the finish nails you are using. This way, the nails will pass easily though the floor without bending or splitting floor boards.

Squeaking floors may be one of life's little annoyances, but they are easily kept under control.  However, if squeaks ever really get under your skin, remember the technical term they are sometimes referred to by: Charm!  . 

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