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How to Prevent Squeaky Floors

What are the Causes of Squeaky Floors and How to Fix Them

A squeaky floor is certainly a source of irritation. Although preventable, many builders a couple of decades back did not take the time or invest the money to ensure homes would be reasonably free of the dreaded squeaks. Most builders today however, recognize that call backs are expensive and have taken more care to reduce squeaky floors. Generally this means they are using an adhesive to secure the floor sheathing to the top of the floor joist, giving the joist a brief period to dry out and go through the shrinking process before they screw the floor sheathing to the joists.

Although this extra care will eliminate most squeaks, a squeak or two is inevitable, and not necessarily a sign that you have a bad builder or that they used inferior products.

Causes of Squeaks

Squeaks are caused by two building materials rubbing together. They are noticeable when you walk on an area of your home and your weight causes a slight movement or flexing of a material. As it flexes, it moves slightly and may rub against a second material. This rubbing causes a squeaking sound.

The classic example is the nails used to secure the floor sheathing to the joist. Over time, a floor joist may shrink as it dries out. This shrinkage causes a small gap between the underside of the floor sheathing and the top of the joist. When you stand on this area, the sheathing moves down towards the top of the joist and literally rubs along the shaft of the nail. This motion results in a squeak. Today, better builders are using screws and glue to help keep the joist and the sub floor together.

The best offence for a squeaky floor is attention to detail when the house is being built. These items include proper nailing of all members, the use of construction adhesives in joist hangers and between the joists and sub-flooring, leaving a small gap between cross bridging and installing proper fitting solid blocking.

Spacing of nails: According to the Ontario Building Code, the proper spacing for nails that attach the plywood or wafer board to the joist below is every 5 7/8” on the sub-flooring joints and every 12” along all other joist where there is not a joint. Keep in mind that sub-flooring can be made from either plywood or wafer board and that the joint perpendicular to the joist does not have the full bearing of solid lumber underneath it, but will have a tongue and groove joint that locks the adjoining pieces of sub-flooring together. Do not try to secure this joint with screws or nails.

Types of Bridging Cross bridging nailed too close together: Cross bridging is an intermediate member, installed between the floor joists in a continuous manor (a row), giving the joist more rigidity throughout its span. The location of cross bridging is dictated by the various building codes. Generally, bridging is required every 6'-11”. So a floor joist spanning 14' may require 2 rows of cross bridging installed at equal distances from each other and the bearing points of the joist. Cross bridging is generally made from 2 pieces of 1x3 or 2x2 and is installed from the top of a joist to the bottom of the next joist in a continuous fashion creating an X or cross. The individual pieces of bridging are required by code to have 2 nails installed at both the top and the bottom.

The source of squeaks from cross bridging comes when the bridging is not properly nailed, i.e. not enough nail or the nails were improperly angled toward the joist and only a small portion penetrated the joist. However, more commonly, when the 2 pieces of cross bridging touch each other where they cross and as you walk on the floor, floor movement causes the bridging to rub together and squeak.

Solid Blocking: Solid blocking are pieces of dimensional lumber used in places where the standard sized X bridging does not fit. They must fit snugly and be securely nailed. If this blocking is not cut to fit snugly in between the 2 joists, it is bridging - and it may cause a squeak.

Is It a Squeak or a Creak?

Sometimes we hear noises in our homes that are not actually squeaks, but rather a creak. The difference is that a squeak is the rubbing of 2 materials together. Where a creak is the (for lack of a better word) "groaning” of a material within your home. Generally, joists that have reached or come close to their maximum span may creak when walked on. This creak is more evident when listening from underneath and at night when it is very quiet in the home, as the floor acts as a giant amplifier. Aside from invasive and structural reinforcement, not a lot can be done with a creak. Creaks are also not generally warranted by your builder.

Eliminating Squeaks

The best offence for a squeaky floor is attention to detail when the house is being built. Using the guidelines above will all but eliminate the problem. These items include proper nailing of all members, the use of construction adhesives in joist hangers and between the joists and subflooring, leaving a small gap between cross bridging and installing proper fitting solid blocking.

Repairing Squeaks

Dealing with a floor squeak can be a difficult task, especially when the joist is covered top and bottom with floor coverings and drywall. I have seen handymen try to put a finishing nail through carpet to get the plywood seated back down on to the joist. But this is a hit and miss proposition and can result in other more serious problems.

If you have access to the underside of a joist, you can do the repairs from there. Generally having someone on top of the floor moving their weight up and down on the squeak so the person underneath can determine its exact location works well. Once you have determined where the squeak is, you can assess how to undertake the repair. If the problem is lack of nails, adding the appropriate sized nails may solve the problem. If it is X bridging that is rubbing, simply force a wedge in between the 2 pieces until there is a separation and pull the wedge back out. Ensure you tap the nails on the bottom of the X bridging to ensure they are tight.

If the problem is a piece of solid blocking that is too small, you should remove that piece and replace it with a snug fitting piece, and nail securely. You may be able to add some construction adhesive to an area such as a joist hanger or to a spot where the plywood has separated from the joist. Try to avoid jamming a wedge onto the top of a joist where it has come away from the sub-flooring as this generally will just move the squeak to a new location as the sub-flooring lifts under the pressure of the wedge.

If you are in the process of changing floor coverings, ensure you re-screw the floor after lifting up the existing floor, even if squeaking has not been an issue. The removal and replacement of the flooring may have just been enough to get a squeak or 2 started.

If you absolutely must get rid of the squeak and all else has failed, it’s time to bring in a professional and have them deal with the squeak(s). This may mean more severe actions such as the removal of the finished flooring or of drywall. Please do not hesitate to call us at Harlequin Homes for a free no obligation quote on ridding your home of squeaks.

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