Creaking, squeaking wood floors can be a problem in homes of any age, and it is often difficult and frustrating to find a cure. Here are some tips for solving a creaky-floor problem:
* Lubrication. An easy treatment, which works sometimes and is worth a try, is to lubricate the cracks and joints of the floor in noisy areas. Lubrication will sometimes stop floor noises because they are usually caused by slight movements and rubbing of the floor boards against other wood or nails. Talcum powder, swept into the cracks, is sometimes used as a lubricant. Another excellent lubricant is powdered graphite, sold at home centers and hardware stores for lubricating locks. Graphite is relatively expensive and can be messy to use, so it should be carefully injected into cracks.
Care should be taken to keep lubricant in the cracks. Any lubricant on the floor surface can be slippery and dangerous.
* Re-nailing. Wood floors without carpeting or other covering can sometimes be silenced by re-nailing the boards that are moving and causing the noise. Locate noisy areas by walking around on the floor and marking noisy spots with chalk or masking tape. Use 21/2-inch flooring nails for re-nailing and, if possible, nail into the joists or framework that supports the floor. If the noise is between joists, nail into the subfloor -- the layer of plywood or rough boards under the finish flooring. Joists, which are usually 16 inches apart, can sometimes be found by thumping on the floor with a hammer until a "solid" sound is heard. If the floor has a basement under it where the joists are visible, check to learn their direction and general location. Drill a pilot hole, slightly smaller than the diameter of the nail, for each nail driven into a floorboard. Slant the holes slightly so the nails get a better grip. Using pairs of nails, slanted so they form rough Vs, is effective. Drive the heads of the nails slightly under the surface of the wood, using a nail countersink, and fill the holes with wood putty that matches the floor.
* Tightening from underneath. This is often effective if the floor is over a basement and there is access to the underside of the floor. Stand in the basement and have someone walk over the floor so noisy areas can be located and marked from below. Examine the subfloor to see if there are gaps between the subfloor and joists in a noisy area. If there are gaps, which permit wood movement, drive thin, wedge-shaped wood shims into them to fill the space. Packs of shims are sold at home centers and lumber yards.
If shimming doesn't stop the noise, try adding "bridging," or supports between the joists in the problem area. Bridging often consists of 1-by-4-inch strips of wood nailed diagonally from the top of one joist to the bottom of the adjacent joist. Bridging is generally installed in pairs so the two boards form an X. Check existing bridging in the basement to see how it is installed. Metal bridging, which is easier to install, is also available at some building-supply outlets.
A simple but strong type of bridging can also be made by cutting a length of 2-by-6-inch lumber so it fits snugly between adjacent joists under the noisy area. Nail the support between the joists so the top edge rests firmly against the subfloor.
Special brackets are also available to tighten flooring from underneath. The brackets are sold at home centers and hardware stores. Brackets are also available from Improvements (800-642-2112 or www.improvementscatalog.com; item 105064, four brackets for $15).
* Carpeted floors. Floors covered with carpet are a special problem. If there is access from underneath, try the measures described above. If there is no basement access, squeaks can sometimes be silenced with special screws that can be driven through the carpet and flooring with a power drill. A kit with 50 screws and a special tool for guiding the screws is available from Improvements (Improvements, item 110189, 50 screws for $30). The tops of the screws can be broken off and the carpet fluffed up so the screws are not visible. The longer the carpet nap, the easier it is to hide the screws.
Questions and comments should be sent to Gene Austin, 1730 Blue Bell Pike, Blue Bell, Pa. 19422. Send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Questions cannot be answered personally.