Secrets to a Squeak-Free Floor

Home construction with wood showing how the decks are arranged and fastened with metal pieces at the joints.

Properly spaced joists and the use of I-beams in subfloors, like Weyerhaeuser’s TJI joists used in this new home, are just a few ways to avoid squeaky floors. (Photo Courtesy of Weyerhaeuser.)

When Jeffrey Veffer moved into his 80-year-old house, he thought he was prepared for any of the challenges that came with it.

A year after moving in, the architect in Ontario, Canada, pulled out the carpet to find a botched patch job in the wood floor and very squeaky floors. “Ripping out the entire second floor is not in the budget," Veffer says, "so we will have to put up with the squeaks.”

A noisy floor can be extremely annoying. There are ways to lessen the squeak in older homes – but not always eliminate it. And there are steps that can be taken during construction of your new home to help prevent floor squeaks before they occur.

It’s important to understand why squeaks happen in the first place. There are lots of potential causes for squeaky floors, says Brett Miller, director of certification and education for the National Wood Flooring Association in Denver, Colo. “There could be movement of the wood flooring system or the underfloor supports,” he says. “Squeaks can also be caused by improper joist spacing, though with new construction, this is not as much as a problem.”

Seasonal moisture fluctuations also contribute to squeaks. Over time, wood expands and contracts, causing gaps in flooring. When there are gaps, nails come loose and there’s space for wood to move when you step on it, resulting in squeaks. Miller likens the process to a wet sponge. “A sponge is similar to a piece of wood – when a sponge gets wet, it swells and gets bigger. When it’s dry, it shrinks. That’s what happens to wood when it gets wet.”

Squeaky floors often start below the surface, at the joist and subfloor level, where expansion and contraction can lead to nail pops that can cause shifting and bumps on the finished floor above. Miller says advanced technology has allowed builders to use I-beams in subflooring that are much more stable and sound than their predecessors.

Made of engineered wood, I-beams or joists are available from several suppliers. A leader in the industry, Weyerhaeuser, has the largest share of market. Their Trus Joist brand of engineered wood joist, known as TJIs, helps builders frame a home with strength and stability. By making framing material even stronger and consistently straight, engineered wood joists greatly minimize squeaky floors and reduce the feel of bouncy floors.

“Trus Joist TJI joist floors aren’t just built, they’re engineered for strength and consistency,” says Greg Wells, marketing manager for Trus Joist products. “TJI joists are dimensionally stable, which helps them resist the warping, twisting and shrinking that can lead to squeaky floors.”

Learn more about TJIs for homeowners here. Ask your builder what framing solutions are right for your new home. In addition, Wells suggests asking your builder to follow these guidelines to prevent floor squeaks:

  • Ensure that joists are sized and spaced to meet or exceed code requirements and that subfloor panels are adequate for applied loads;
  • Space subfloor panels with a one-eighth-inch gap;
  • Use correct nail sizes and spacing and ensure nails penetrate the floor joists; and
  • Use a glued-and-nailed floor system, with construction adhesive selected and installed per manufacturer’s instructions.

One way you can help protect the floors in your new home is to use a humidifier in the winter and a dehumidifier in the summer. Keeping your home at an ideal temperature (based on the part of the country you live in) and at an optimal humidity level (ranging from 30 percent to 50 percent, based on your region) can slow down the aging process of your floor.

In existing homes, there are some temporary fixes, such as applying baby powder or talcum powder between squeaky floorboards, which can lessen squeaks for a time. For Dana Humphrey, owner of Whitegate PR in New York City, the solution was as simple as putting down a floor rug. “When I first moved in, my downstairs neighbor thought that there was a family of five in my home,” she says. “She asked me to get a runner. According to Gina in 1G (I live in 2G), there have since been significantly less squeaks.”

But, in many cases, longer-term fixes are necessary. If this is the case, Miller says it’s important to determine exactly where the squeak is coming from. You can use an injector kit to apply epoxy to the area of the floor that is causing the squeak. If you have a wood subfloor, you can repair the floor by applying screws directly to the seams of the joists where it meets the subfloor – take care not to use too long a screw or to crack the wood.

You can also opt for a silent flooring system, built for deadening sound. Miller says this type of flooring system is most common in high rises and apartment buildings, where it’s important to keep sound from floors at a minimum. Miller says that these floors will not prevent squeaks altogether, but will lessen the sound of, say, running children or noise from high heels.

Squeaky floors can become more than a nuisance – they can be a sore point in an otherwise wonderful home. Architect Jeffrey Veffer and his family have since repaired one level of their home, but still deal with squeaks on the second floor. “Some say the squeaks add character to a house, but, me? I'm not so sure.”

Don’t wait until a squeak is driving you up the wall. And if you're building a home, talk with your builder about steps that can be taken during the construction process to help ensure the golden sound of silent floors.

Patricia L. Garcia is an award-winning journalist and former content manager for NewHomeSource. You can find her on Google+.

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