Q. We have a problem with squeaky stairs. We would like to eliminate this problem before we have our new carpet installed. Do you have any recommendations? -- A.N.
A. Most stairway squeaks are easy to repair. An understanding of stairway construction is important. Basic components of a staircase are the treads (the step), risers (the portion that elevates the tread) and stringers (the sideboards that support the treads and risers).
If any of these parts works loose, squeaks develop. Methods of correcting the problem vary, depending on whether the staircase is closed or open.
Sometimes simply lubricating stairs with powdered graphite or talcum powder can correct the problem. Forcefully blow the powder into the joints, especially where the backs of the treads meet the risers.
If that doesn't help there are other ways to silence squeaky stairs. Open staircases, like basement stairs, can be repaired from underneath.
It's best to work with a helper who can slowly walk up and down the stairs while you watch from below. This way you can identify where the stairs squeak and mark the area with chalk.
Wedges inserted in the joints during initial construction may have worked loose. These can be replaced or reglued and reset.
Staircases usually have hardwood blocks attached to the joints between treads and risers. If the blocks are loose, replace or refasten them. Glue each block to both surfaces of the joint.
When the glue has thoroughly dried, reinforce the block by driving wood screws through the block and into the wood construction of the stairs.
If the stairs are enclosed on the underside you will have to correct the problem by working from above. Carpeting must be removed to gain access to the joints between the treads and the risers.
Locate the squeaks by walking slowly up and down the stairs, marking the problem areas with chalk.
Treads that are loose at the front of the tread can be secured with screws or ring-shank flooring nails driven through the tread into the riser at slight angles to each other. Drill pilot holes first and countersink the screws or nail. Fill holes with wood putty.
Loose joints at the rear of the tread can be treated in two ways.
One option is to drive small hardwood shims into the joint crack to force retightening. Dip the wedges in wood glue first, then drive them in with a hammer and block. Trim away the excess when the glue has dried.
Another option is to use quarter-round molding. Nail this in place against the tread and the riser. Alternate nailing into both the riser and tread along the molding.
Send inquiries to Here's How, Copley News Service, P.O. Box 190, San Diego, Calif. 92112-0190. Only questions of general interest can be answered in the column.