QDEAR BARRY: The floors in our new, two-story house squeak and groan. We've asked the builder to do something about it, but he says, "It's normal." Our previous homes never had squeaky floors, so it's not normal, and he needs to realize that. How can we fix the squeaks and groans? And how can we fix a builder who refuses to take care of business? -- Don

ADEAR DON: Some builders have an unfortunate habit of saying, "Oh, that's just normal," whenever construction defects are pointed out. Doors that rub are normal, sinks that drain slowly are normal, heaters that don't provide adequate warmth are normal. To these builders, eager to move on to the next project, "normal" seems to be the default setting in their customer service.

But squeaky floors in a new house are definitely not normal. Responsible builders correct the problem rather than making excuses.

Squeaky floors are trying to tell you something. They're saying that the nails that hold the subfloor to the framing are not secure. These nails slide up and down in response to the weight of foot traffic. The solution is to roll back the carpets and install screws, rather than nails, along the framing. In rooms with floor coverings other than carpets, floors may need replacement to make this kind of repair. This, or course, would be very costly for the builder. But that's the price of doing business.

If your builder is not willing to make the subfloors quiet and secure, file a complaint with the state agency that licenses contractors. And if you haven't already done so, hire a professional home inspector to review all aspects of the construction. A qualified, experienced inspector will find more than just squeaky floors.

DEAR BARRY: The house we're buying has an apartment to rent in the basement. When we asked the sellers and the agent if the unit was legal to rent, they could not give a definite answer. How can we make sure the apartment is OKokay before we buy the property? -- Lucia

DEAR LUCIA: There are two major considerations in determining whether a basement dwelling is legal: Is the unit built with permits? Do the basement bedrooms have windows that comply with requirements for light, ventilation and fire escape?

You can find the answers at your local building department. Those officials are the ones who either did or did not approve the apartment. They can also provide you with applicable standards for basement bedroom windows.

According to the International Residential Code, these are the requirements for standard bedroom windows: For natural light, the window area should be no less than 8 percent of the floor area in the room. For outside ventilation, the window area that can be opened should be no less than 4 percent of the floor area. For emergency escape, the most critical of these considerations, the openable window area should be at least 5.7 square feet, the width of the opening should be no less than 20 inches, the height no less than 24 inches, and the sill no more than 44 inches above the floor.

There are also requirements for window wells when the openings are lower than the outside grade level. Some municipalities, however, use standards other than the International Residential Code.

Barry Stone is a professional home inspector. If you have questions or comments, contact him through his Web site, www.housedetective.com, or send mail to 1776 Jami Lee Ct., Suite 218, San Luis Obispo, Calif. 93401.

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