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Floors Squeak and Pop?: Tips for Repairing/Preventing

Floor Framing Before Subfloor Install

Floor Framing Before Subfloor Install

As you walk through your home, your floors squeak or pop.  What is causing this and how do you go about eliminating them?  Here we will describe some of the different types of floor noises you can have and discuss how a builder would go about removing them.

Hardwood Flooring: Hardwood floors squeak and pop.  This is a natural byproduct of using wood flooring.  Many people like the noises…after all it gives our homes character and allows us to make great horror films.  If you don’t want the noises, you should probably look at other alternatives because it will be a full time job trying to silence your hardwood floor.  If you already have hardwood flooring and your floors squeak and pop, you might try the old remedy…baby powder or powdered graphite.  Placing these powders down between the planks helps to eliminate the squeak in some cases but is typically not a long term fix.  You can also eliminate major squeaks by having a friend stand on the squeaky board while you drive a screw up from below (if you have access) through the subfloor and into the plank.  Make sure your screw is of the proper size…you don’t want it to come up through the floor (and potentially into your friends foot).  You can determine the depth of your hardwood by removing one of the floor registers.

For all other flooring types…

Floors Pop/Oil Can Noise:  If your floors squeak only when you walk across them and sounds like an oil can (a metal flexing sound), you probably have an HVAC duct that is deflecting when the floor moves.  If the noise is in the first floor and you have an unfinished basement, you should be able to correct the problem relatively easily.  Have someone in the basement identify the location of the noise as you walk across the floor.  All ductwork in the basement should have a 1” gap between the sheet metal and the joists.  This allows the joists to deflect without rubbing on the metal.  If you don’t have access to the heat runs because the ceiling below is drywalled, you need to decide how bad you want the noise to go away.  To make adjustments, you will need to either remove drywall below or remove the flooring and subfloor from above.  Whenever my floors squeak and pop, I look at the cost and effort required and decide how bad I really want them fixed.  You may decide to turn up the stereo and leave it alone.

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Floors Squeak:  This is typically either a nail rubbing or a loose subfloor panel.  If you have access from below, locate the squeaky area as someone steps on the floor from above.  Check to see if any nails missed the joist in the location of the noise.  Sometimes a nail that misses a joist will rub on the framing below as the floor deflects.  If this is the case, remove the nail.  If you find the subfloor material is loose, squirt some subfloor adhesive (or construction adhesive) between the joist and the underside of the loose subfloor panel.  Then take a 1’ long piece of 2×4 and squirt glue on the top and position it so the glued surface makes good contact with the underside of the loose subfloor and nail it to the side of the joist.  Now place some weight on the floor above the affected area until the glue dries.  If you don’t have access and you know there are no plumbing or electric wires in the location of the squeak, you can try driving trim nails through the carpet into the joists below.  Use a trim nail with no head.  Be careful not to catch carpet fibers under the nail.  This type of repair works about half of the time from my experience.  If your flooring is something other than carpet, you are out of luck.

Floor Squeak or Tick at a Wall (when walked by):  Sometimes a floor will deflect and the wall stays in place. The wall is connected at the top and sides and is therefore fixed, while the floor still deflects.  Any nails that were driven down through the base of the wall into the floor can rub as the floor deflects down.  This can sometimes be repaired by removing the basemolding and driving 3” long screws through the base of the wall into the subfloor (make sure you don’t hit any mechanicals).  This secures the subfloor to the bottom of the wall preventing the nail rub and resulting floor squeak or tick when the floor deflects.

Proper Expectations:  Keep in mind, floors squeak and pop in most homes and can be difficult to eliminate entirely.  As the home settles and as the wood framing’s moisture content goes up and down, stresses and strains will create different noises as loads are placed on them.

Prevention: The best way to minimize floor noises is through proper building techniques.  Notice I intentionally said minimize because you cannot eliminate them.   The following good building practices will help keep most of the noises at bay.

  • Apply construction adhesive between floor joists/trusses and the floor sheathing.  Apply the glue in a small area at a time.  If the glue dries before you set the sheathing, you will have squeaks.
  • Use ring shank nails and screws to secure the subfloor sheathing to the joists.  These fasteners stay in place better than standard smooth nails.  Make sure your carpenter contractor’s fasteners hit the framing members.  Those fasteners that miss the framing should be removed during the framing activity of your building project.
  • Design your floor framing to a deflection of L/480.  See this our previous post titled..Question:  Use Manufactured Floor Joists or 2x’s. The stiffer your floor framing, the less deflection you have which means fewer squeaks.
  • Be sure to discuss the importance of best practices with you HVAC contractor.  Let them know you expect the ductwork to be noise free as you walk across the floor.

Have you ever thought about building your own home?  Be sure to stop by the Armchair Builder How to Build Your Own Home resource page.

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