ASK THE INSPECTOR Theres no quick fix for your squeaky floor — Winnipeg Free Press Homes

ASK THE INSPECTOR Theres no quick fix for your squeaky floor - Winnipeg Free Press Homes

ASK THE INSPECTOR: There’s no quick fix for your squeaky floor

Updated: December 12, 2009

Schemes to fix squeaky floors without removing existing carpeting are half-baked and prone to failure. To do it right, remove the carpet, install as many new flooring screws as needed and replace the carpet.

QUESTION: I live in Winnipeg and have a 25-year-old home. Unfortunately I have a few squeaks in the floor. I have tried shims, special pull-down bolt mechanisms and even reinforcing between the joists, all to no avail.

I did see on the web a product called Squeak No More which consists of a screw system which, using a jig, allows a special screw to go down into the carpet, through the subfloor and enter the joist. Because a special jig is used the depth of penetration is constant and because you use a special screw, it is designed to break off right at the subfloor and be hidden by the carpet. I have found their website but can’t seem to contact them, via telephone or internet, for a Canadian supplier.

Do you know of this product or any other way to fix a squeaky floor?

Thank you, Dave Hatcher

ANSWER: Squeaky floors are one of the most common complaints of homeowners, no matter what the age of house. Rarely, if ever, is this annoying issue solved with quick-fix solutions. I will tell you the proper way to stop the noise, as well as elaborating on the source of the problem.

Buyers of new homes often complain of squeaky floors because they don’t expect that problem, which can still occur in new homes due to material shrinkage or sloppy workmanship. In older homes noisy floors are anticipated, but can often become excessive due to older wood floor boards and loose nails.

In a home of your age, noisy floors are usually due to a combination of structural movement and poor fastening of floor sheathing. As the house settles and interior footings and teleposts move upward, so do the corresponding components of the main floor structure above. This movement, combined with normal shrinkage of the floor joists and wall plates, can cause small gaps to appear between the joists and the plywood subfloor. If the floor has been screwed down and glued with subfloor adhesive, squeaking may be minimal, but that may not be the method of construction in your home. If your plywood subfloor is nailed down, substantial movement can be caused by loosening of the nails over time.

Getting more to the point of your question, elimination of noise related to floor component movement is very difficult without removing the existing floor covering. As you’ve said, attempts to minimize gaps by installation of blocking or shims from underneath may be futile. Unless you have excellent, unobstructed access to the area, you may not be able to close the gaps sufficiently to stop movement when the area is walked on.

Quick-fix methods rarely work, and there appears to be several fundamental flaws in the product you are enquiring about.

Firstly, if you are successful in pulling down the existing floor sheathing through the carpet, once you break off the head of the fastener you will lose all the holding power and the floor sheathing may easily rebound. This may not happen if the fastener has multiple heads and you are only breaking off the uppermost one, but I would be concerned about excess sections of the metal shaft extending up through the floor. This could be a safety hazard and lead to cuts and scrapes on your feet.

Secondly, due to the nature of most carpet weaves, any threaded fastener could easily bind on fibres in the floor covering while being installed and cause irreversible damage. If you have high quality carpeting it would be a shame to ruin it just to get rid of a few squeaks.

The possible reason you are not able to find any information about the manufacture of this product is that they may no longer be in business. Often, dormant websites may still be viewable and show up on search engines.

There are thousands of these types of products designed to make a lengthy or difficult renovation job seem quick and easy. I also admit to buying a few of these items, often from very legitimate retailers, but in my experience they rarely work. I have several bottles of one-step wood-finishing products, miracle adhesives, and other similar products in my basement and cupboards. While some may provide a somewhat satisfactory result, they’re never as good as a proper repair. For that reason, I’d recommend that you not waste any more time or effort, unless you are ready to fix the problem properly.

To eliminate or substantially minimize the noisy floors in your home, you must remove or lift up your existing carpet and underpad to expose the plywood or OSB sheathing. Once exposed, the floor joists below can be easily found and marked for proper repairs. The repairs should require nothing more than purchasing several kilograms of hardened flooring screws and the appropriate screw gun or drill-bit attachment. You can also rent a specially designed flooring installation gun that requires minimal bending if you want to save your back.

If you have installed a large number of shims or altered the subfloor from below, these items should be removed or remedied prior to screwing down the floor sheathing to ensure they are not causing new bumps once the floor is re-fastened.

If your carpet is older and nearing time for replacement, which may be the case if it is original, the decision to fix the floor properly should be easy. If that’s not the current state of affairs, repairs may be possible even if it’s not worn out. If you have a high-quality carpet and underpad which were properly installed with self-edge nailers, it may be possible to lift it in the noisy areas only and reinstall and stretch it back into place after screwing down the subflooring. There’s probably less chance that it will become irreparably damaged by that process than by attempting to screw through the surface with some half-baked quick fastener.

Ari Marantz is the owner of Trained Eye Home Inspection Ltd. and the President of the Canadian Association of Home & Property Inspectors — Manitoba (www.cahpi.mb.ca). Questions can be e-mailed to the address below. Ari can be reached at (204) 291-5358 or check out his website at www.trainedeye.ca.

trainedeye@iname.com

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