Habitation Investigation

Are Squeaky Floors a Structural Problem?

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Inspections, Maintenance / By Jim Troth

Are you worried that the squeaky floorboard is a disaster waiting to happen? Don’t worry! Many homeowners find themselves concerned with a squeaky floor. Not only are you faced with the worry that you have a major structural issue on your hands, but it’s also downright annoying, especially if you’ve ever tried to tiptoe across the house and still wound up waking a family member. Here is everything you need to know about squeaky floorboards, from the cause to the solution! 

Squeaking Can Be Normal

Are creaky floors normal? Often, it is entirely normal for a floor to squeak. When you step on the floor there is friction placed onto the floorboard causing the board to rub against another board, a joist, or a nail. That movement causes creaking, and this happens because the floorboard is loose. This is not necessarily a reason to panic!

While any floor can creak, hardwood flooring and staircases are the most common offenders. Wood will contract and expand with the changing of seasons, which is entirely unavoidable unless you install engineered wood flooring specially made to be weather-resistant. So, do hardwood floors creak more in the winter? Yes, hardwood floors tend to creak more in the winter. This is because the lower humidity levels during the winter can cause the wood to shrink and dry out, leading to increased friction between the floorboards and more noticeable creaking sounds.

Despite this being normal, too much expansion and contraction can loosen your floor enough that it detaches from the subfloor. Luckily, if the root of the problem is the weather, springing for a weatherproof seal and reattaching the flooring with some good screws will be all it takes to rid yourself of the squeaking.

How about a new build floor creaking? Yes, it’s quite normal for new build floors to creak initially. When a new house is constructed, the materials used in the flooring, like wood or plywood, can adjust to the indoor environment, causing minor shifts and settling. This movement can create temporary creaking sounds as the floor adapts to the temperature and humidity changes in your home. Over time, as the materials stabilize, these noises usually diminish. If the creaking persists or becomes bothersome, consult with your builder or flooring specialist to ensure there are no structural issues that need attention.

In an older build, creaking floors are expected. As we said earlier, wood will shift with the seasons and the soil underneath the foundation of your home will shift and settle as well. If your home is VERY old, it may be worth looking into even just for peace of mind. Having a home inspection done when buying a home or every 5 years can give you peace of mind.

Squeaking Can Also Indicate Issues

Unfortunately, a squeaky floor can also be an indicator of a more pressing issue. The subfloor is what the foundation underneath your flooring is called. Regardless of the material of your home’s flooring, the subfloor is almost always wood. If there is a problem with your subfloor, your floorboards will make noise. You might wonder, “What are squeaking floors most commonly caused by?” To answer that, the most common subfloor issue is excessive space between the subfloor and the joist. If the joists are uneven or the subfloor is not installed at the center of the joist, this will cause gaping that will make the floor squeak when pressure is applied.

This is a problem because it means that certain areas of the floor weren’t properly installed to be able to hold significant weight. These areas can crack and break, destroying the floor and posing a hazard to anyone who walks over it.

Using the wrong nails when securing the floor to the joists is another common problem. This means the floorboard is loose, and the nails holding the sheathing in place can also loosen after the joist is damaged by the movement it wasn’t built to take. Poorly secured floors can slip and slide when you walk on them, and loose nails and screws can work their way up through the floor and cut into bare feet.

If construction workers left debris on the subfloor, this will cause a section of the floor to be uneven and essentially hanging in the air. This also causes squeaking, and the sections of flooring that are improperly supported will be put under excessive pressure, resulting in breakages. 

If your home’s subfloor is made of lesser-quality materials, it will be especially susceptible to damage caused by humidity or rain. You do not want to go cheap on the bones of your home.

Most of these issues are the result of poor workmanship and can be avoided if you hire well-reviewed and certified experts to work on your home.

How To Tell If There’s Cause for Concern?

Identify the area of your floor that squeaks. Does the wood there feel spongy, almost bouncy? This can indicate that the floor is weakened by rot. On ground and basement floors, this excess moisture is likely coming up from the foundation and would be accompanied by other problems such as cracked tile and warped window/door frames. If you’re just noticing a squeaky floor that wasn’t there yesterday, that’s a major sign that you may be facing a structural issue. Normal squeaks will develop slowly over time. A good home inspection company will have identified some squeaky floor areas if present at the time of inspections.

If your floor only squeaks during the rainy season and goes quiet the rest of the year, you can rest easy knowing your floor is only responding naturally to the changing weather. 

How To Fix a Squeaky Floor

Most of these common causes of a squeaky floor are easily remedied on your own. For flooring improperly fastened to the subfloor, Squeeeeek No More and Counter Snap fasteners are two ways to correct this issue. Depending on the access you have to the underside of your subfloor and your choice of floor material, these repairs will be more or less difficult but still possible. Even without access to the underside of your floor, there are floor repair kits that will allow you to do all the work you need from above. These kits generally include joist finders, long screws, and a tool to break off their heads after they’ve been screwed through the floorboards and into the joists. This kit can even be used on carpet!

If you have any reservations about DIY home repair, it is recommended that you have a qualified contractor evaluate and repair as necessary. 

Squeaky Floors Generally Not a Concern

Most often, a creaking floor is nothing more than an annoyance. Unless paired with another indication that your home is in distress, it is nothing to worry about and is a natural part of your home’s life. If the noise is driving you crazy, it is absolutely still worth it to get the tools out, reach out to a contractor, or invest in a nice rug to dampen the noise!

If you have younger children, then you may want to keep the floors squeaky to help you hear if the kids are awake and moving about the house.

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