Do you remember hearing stories of your parents’ efforts to sneak back in after curfew only to have their efforts discovered by that infamous squeak in the hall floor or stairway? Perhaps you are that parent. Maybe you currently have an irritating squeak in your home that drives you crazy. The question is what can be done about it? The circumstances can be so wide and varied; I hope I can address it under the word limitations of this article. I may need to break it up into a couple of articles.
There is always more than one way to solve a problem or in this case to stop a squeak, but it helps to understand the way the home was built in order to know how best to resolve the issue.
Homes built prior to the ’70s often had 1 foot by 6 foot planks serving as the sub-floor, secured to the floor joists with common nails. Many times these nails will back out slightly, allowing the sub-floor to move up and down the shank of the fastener as weight passes over the area in question. Over the next decade or more, sub-floors evolved from the 1 foot by 6 foot plank to a half-inch plywood sub-floor over the joists and a 5/8-inch layer of underlayment over that, all being secured with common nails, doubling the potential for squeaky floors. About the mid to late ’80s sub-floors began to evolve further into one layer of three-quarters of an inch of plywood nailed over the joist with adhesive added to the surface of the joists. This method, properly applied, would eliminate most squeaks caused by sub-floors in general, as long as the installer applied enough adhesive and hit the joist with the nail.
The older the home, the more layers there may be over the original sub-floor, depending on how many times additional flooring has been added through the years.
If the squeak is in a bathroom or kitchen floor currently covered with vinyl flooring, it is usually installed over one layer of one-quarter inch plywood underlayment. If the one-quarter inch plywood is installed over one of the two earlier described sub-floors, the problem can be looked at in a couple of ways. First, if the squeak is limited to one or two areas in particular, you may be able to have one person stand over the spot while another secures a few screws in from below the floor. You must know the type of sub-floor construction to know how long of a screw to use so that it doesn’t pop up through the vinyl. If your HVAC register is in the floor, lifting it out may allow you to see the layers in question. Sometimes the squeak is coming from the sub-floor itself. If this is the case drilling a series of angled holes through the joists, slightly larger than the diameter of the screw, will allow you to secure the sub-floor tightly to the joists. If this is too daunting of a task for you, then you can try using small 90-degree angle brackets set against the bottom of the sub-floor and top edge of the joists, securing screws into each surface, all the while someone is standing over the spot in question.
If the current vinyl flooring is old enough and you would like to replace it anyway, you can secure the screws from above making sure you are penetrating the joists. Rather than securing screws over individual trouble spots, it would be wise to snap lines over the entire surface of the floor, directly over the joists and space screws approximately 8 inches apart. This way you will catch any current squeaky spots as well as any that may occur in the future. Then cover the surface with the new flooring of choice and its required underlayment. Remember when adding new flooring options and their required underlayment to consider the height of your dishwasher space. Old flooring and underlayment might need to be removed if the overall flooring height is becoming a problem with appliances. Next week we will address hardwood flooring squeaks and staircases.
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JD Norris is the owner/operator of DreamMaker Bath&Kitchen and a certified S.C. Master Builder, certified “Aging in Place” Specialist and certified Green Professional.