Squeaking Floor Fixes
LESLIE: Ann in North Carolina, welcome to The Money Pit. What can we do for you today?
ANN: I have an upstairs and a downstairs basement that’s about – almost the full length of the house but it’s about 60 feet. And throughout the house, when you make certain steps, it just squeaks like there might be settling. I’m not really sure what’s going on.
TOM: Ann, what kind of floor covering do you have on that first floor?
ANN: There is part linoleum and part carpet.
TOM: OK. The carpet is a little bit easier to straighten out than the linoleum but here is the reason you have squeaks. How old is the house?
ANN: Twenty years.
TOM: OK, and that’s perfect timing for this. When your house was built – you probably have a plywood subfloor. The plywood subfloor would have been nailed in place with a type of nail that is known in the business as a cooler. It’s a seven-penny common nail. It’s called a cooler because it’s rosin-coated with like glue and as – the theory goes that as you drive the nails through the plywood into the floor joist, the glue melts because of the friction and then helps the nail stick in place. Unfortunately, what happens is it doesn’t stick in place but because it’s rosin-coated, whenever the boards get loose they make a terrible noise because of the friction.
TOM: So you’ll get noises as the nails pull in and out of the wood. You’ll also get noises as the tongue and groove of the plywood subfloor rub together. No matter where the noise is though, it’s always fixed the same way and that’s by securing the subfloor to the floor joist better.
Now, if you have carpet and it really, really bothers you, the best way to do this is to pull the carpet up and then screw the floor down with case-hardened screws. It’s a very easy thing to do once the carpet is pulled up because these screws can be put in with a power drill and a power driver and zip, zip, zip – you know, about every 24 inches …
LESLIE: Mm-hmm. That’s if you’re wanting to pull up the carpet.
TOM: Yeah, that floor will never, ever move again.
Now, if you don’t want to pull the carpet up, I’ll give you a little trick of the trade. You can take a #10 galvanized finish nail and you can find the floor joist below the carpet by using a stud finder.
LESLIE: (overlapping voices) A stud finder.
TOM: Electronic stud finder. And you can drive the nail through the carpet, through the subfloor into the floor joist and as you do that the carpet will sort of look like it’s nailed down. Then you grab the nap of the carpet and pull it back up through the tiny head of the finish nail and you don’t see it again. Now, that will work but not as well as screwing it down and I wouldn’t do it on the entire house; I would do it in a couple of spots. But that’s the way that you deal with this; you’ve got to secure the subfloor down.
Now, in the places where you have linoleum, the easiest thing to do there might be to work this from the basement and see if there are gaps between the subfloor and the top of the floor joist. In those cases, I would take a block of 2×4 material and I would use construction adhesive and I would glue it to the bottom of the subfloor and the side of the floor joist and I would screw those blocks in place in the area where the noise is and that will tighten that up and hopefully take the sound away because you can’t work on that from the top, obviously.
ANN: Oh, OK. So …
TOM: And that’s all there is to it.
ANN: (chuckling) Sounds like a big project there.
LESLIE: (overlapping voices) Not too bad.
TOM: (overlapping voices) Well, you’ve got loose floors. Listen, if you’re ever going to replace that carpet that’s the time to do this. If you’re ever going to pull the carpet up and get new carpet down, I would screw all the subfloor down in the whole house at that time and you’ll never have a squeak again.
ANN: Well, we have been thinking about hardwood floors. This would be a good time.
TOM: (overlapping voices) Yeah, it would be and …
LESLIE: (overlapping voices) It would be a perfect time.
TOM: And believe me, the squeaks will happen right through the hardwood floor so make sure you pull that carpet up. You get all that subfloor screwed down nice and tight before you put the hardwood down, Ann.
ANN: OK. I appreciate it.
TOM: Alright. Thanks so much for calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT. Hopefully, it’s a little quieter now in North Carolina at Ann’s house. (Leslie chuckles)