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When floors make more noise than they should

Scott Gibson

My hardwood floors have squeaks in them that drive me crazy. We have a basement and the floors overhead squeak every time anyone walks on them. Help.

No old house is really complete without a few squeaks and groans in the floorboards. If you have teenagers who like to step out in the evening now and again, squeaky floorboards or stair trends can actually be a godsend. It's that much harder for them to sneak through the house without waking you up.

But OK, you have too much of a good thing.

Floorboards squeak when they rub against each other, or rub against the subflooring or the shank of a nail. If the fasteners holding the floor down have worked loose, or there's a little play in the framing, it's the friction between moving parts that's to blame.

All you have to do is keep things from moving around.

If your basement doesn't have a finished ceiling, this is the place to start. Stand in the basement while someone walks on the floor above. It shouldn't take long to figure out where the squeaks are coming from.

There may be a gap between the subfloor and the framing, which can be filled with a shim slathered liberally with wood glue or construction adhesive. A block of wood glued and screwed to both the nearest joist and the subfloor also prevents any movement. (Just be careful not to drive screws all the way through the floor.)

If the subfloor isn't moving, but the floorboards above are, I would consider running several screws up through the subfloor and into the boards above. Take great care that the screws aren't too long.

I found some commercial products designed to do essentially the same thing. One of them is called the Squeak-Ender, which costs about $7.50. It's a mounting plate that's screwed to the subfloor plus a bracket that hooks over the bottom of a floor joist. Once this apparatus is tightend with a wrench, it draws the subfloor down tight against the joist and presumably fixes the problem (www.squeakender.com).

Suppose you have no access to the floor from below. Now you have to address the problem from above.

With hardwood strip flooring, the least invasive thing you can do is lubricate the pieces of wood that are rubbing against each other. Working a dry lubricant, such as powdered soapstone, into the gaps between floorboards might be enough to solve the problem (it also works, by the way, on squeaky shoes).

Powdered soapstone is available from the St. Louis Crayon and Soapstone Co. (800-466-0646). A 1 lb. sack costs $16.

A more direct approach is to nail or screw the flooring down tight where you detect a squeak or movement in the flooring. Drill a pilot hole and use a finish nail or a trim head screw, then fill the hole with tinted putty the same shade as the flooring.

On a carpeted floor, you can try a product called the Squeeeeek-No-More (this is the correct spelling). This consists of a guide for a drill plus a package of break-away screws. You drive a screw through the carpeting into the floor, then use the guide to snap off the shank of the screw. Fluff up the carpet and, the company says, no trace of the repair is visible (www.squeakyfloor.com).

Any of these methods may work on some of the squeaks. But in truth, you may never get them all. Consider it part of the charm of an old house.


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