Squeaky Hardwood Floors — Forum — Bob Vila

Squeaky Hardwood Floors - Forum - Bob Vila

Squeaky Hardwood Floors

10:02AM | 12/10/08

Member Since: 12/09/08

1 lifetime posts

This applies to hardwood floors what are not accessible from below. The suggestion in the site that screws be set and countersunk, then plugging the resulting large screw hole with a dowel would be totally impractical for a floor that needs hundreds of screws. Instead, I am using the «Squeek No More» kit (sold in many internet hardware sites) that uses screws specially made to snap off 1/4 inch below the surface when tight. This avoids the need to place a large number of plugs in the floor, which could be very disfiguring in a floor that needed hundreds of screws.

I am now in the course of applying this approach to 1100 square feet of seriously squeaky upstairs floors. The ceilings below are plastered, so it is necessary to work from above. The results have been helpful so far, and my skill in doing the work is improving. But the number of screws I have needed to use has so far been much higher than I expected, and I have not able to completely eliminate squeaks. However, the improvement so far has definitely been worth the effort.

This house, in central Houston, was built in the 1930’s and uses the same kind of 2¼ inch tongue and groove hardwood flooring still used today. This is red oak, not white oak. Also, rather than the plywood used in more recent construction, the subfloor under the hardwood is 1 x 8 inch pine shiplap set at a 45 degree angle to the joists. There is no evidence that anything other than nails were used to construct the floors, i.e. no screws, ring-shank nails, glue, etc. The combination of oak strip flooring and subfloor therefore is about 1-1/2 inches thick. By looking at accessible locations, I was able to determine that the joists were set on 20 inch centers, not the 16 inch centers currently referred to as standard. The floor squeaks in most places but in a few spots the squeaks are more like groans. Where the noise is greatest you can see or feel the floorboards flex slightly.

Because the hardwood was nailed to the subfloor at random spots, a magnetic stud finder gives a lot of «false positives» when searching for the underlying floor joists. I used a pretty good battery-powered tool that lights up when it magnetically senses a nail beneath the surface. But I’m now shopping for a more advanced instrument to improve joist-finding. Nevertheless, I was able to locate a number of joists, and in those locations I had better results stopping or reducing the squeaks. However, for every solid «hit» that noticeably reduced a squeak I placed three or more that produced little or no noticeable improvement, even in spots where I was definitely drilling into a joist. When I missed the joist, however, or when I intentionally placed a screw between apparent joist locations, I usually have not reduced the squeak. Additionally, when not screwing into a joist, the screw would frequently fail to snap off as designed. I then would have to back the screw out, drill it back in without using the standoff, stop at the depth of the standoff, then grip the screw with pliers and snap the top off by rocking it back and forth. This does work but it makes the screw hole a little larger.

The Squeek No More hardwood kit uses a small stand-off tool designed to snap the screw when it hits the proper depth. I have not used the much larger stand-off tool used on carpeted floors. The hardwood snap-off tool almost always works in locations above joists. I also have found that speeding up the drill just before hitting the stand-off tool seems to increase the likelihood of the screw snapping off. I used the smaller recommended pilot drill holes (3/32″) rather than the slightly larger recommended 7/64 pilot hole. I experienced no splitting of the flooring. Because so many of my screws failed to snap off the first time, however, I am thinking of experimenting with a 5/64 pilot hole to increase the friction on the screws. Note that you should be careful not to let the drill chuck hit the surface of the floor, because this can leave a circular dent surrounding the pilot hole.

Especially when I began, I used a huge number of screws. My score gradually improved, but I still have needed to use far more screws than I imagined would be necessary. So far, I have used around 75 screws to achieve significant improvement, but this only covered an area of about 35 square feet. I have another 1100 square feet to go, so I am need to radically improve my accuracy. I have ordered 500 more screws, but I will need even more if I don’t improve my targeting. But every time I have hit the exact spot that eliminates a specific squeaking spot I have learned something, so my score should improve. But this is a slow, tiring process.

It is very fortunate that the below-surface snap-off works well, which leaves a hole like that left by a countersunk finishing nail. The 75 holes I have made in a small area sound like a disaster, but they are actually camouflaged well by the very prominent grain of this dark red oak, and are not readily noticeable even before filling. However, one would need to be very careful about placing holes in a floor with a less prominent grain, especially select or quarter-sawn white oak. The holes in a floor with an indistinct grain, such as maple, would be even more challenging. I am using wax filler so the filler can be revised when I refinish the floors.

I will supplement this report when I have more experience. In the meantime, if any readers have advice, I would like to hear from them.


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