Q. The wood floors in our 1950s ranch are becoming increasingly creaky. What might be the problem? And is there any solution short of a massive upheaval?
A. Wood floors are prone to squeaks because wood expands and contracts as humidity fluctuates. You’re especially likely to notice the sounds when a wood floor that was installed in unusually humid or dry conditions is subjected to the opposite condition. But if the squeaks are becoming more noticeable over time, there’s more going on, says Tom Bouffard, a principal at Ehlert/Bryan Consulting Structural Engineers in McLean. “A floor shouldn’t creak more at 30 or 40 years old,” he says.
Bouffard’s hunch is that your house has settled a bit, not enough to cause any structural damage but enough to create slight gaps under some of the floor framing. Because your house was built in the 1950s, under whatever finished flooring you have, there are probably diagonal boards nailed side by side to the framing. But because of the settling, some of the boards now ride up and down a bit as you walk across the floor. The edges rub against one another, resulting in the squeaks. (Newer floors aren’t as prone to squeaks because subfloors usually are made of large plywood panels, so there are fewer edges, and because the plywood is fastened with adhesive as well as screws or nails.)
If you can close up the gaps between the subfloor and the framing, the noise should subside, Bouffard says. If you have carpeted floors, that’s fairly easy to do. Pull back the carpet, and nail or screw the subfloor boards securely to the joists, using fasteners about 2½ inches long. Then have a carpet installer reinstall the carpet. There are also break-away fasteners, such as those in Squeeeeek No More kits (www.123itsdone.com) that allow you to refasten a floor without having to roll back the carpet. They also work for other types of flooring, including hardwood.
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