Methods to Silence A Squeaky Floor

All those squeaks just floor me!

You can do something about squeaky floors, but let's put the cards on the table right away.  There are no miracle cures here. Because squeaks are mechanical, they will only yield to mechanical fixes if (and only if) you can get at the problem! You have the unenviable task of dealing with finished ceilings, ductwork, carpeting, subfloors, and even possible construction defects... all standing in the way of a serenely quiet floor.

Squeaks are caused by movement in wood seams between sheets of subflooring, friction noise in tongue and groove or shiplap flooring, and fingernails-on-blackboard rubbing against loosened nails. Stop the movement and you stop squeak.

Throughout this article, you will hear me mention the use of construction adhesive to reinforce and lengthen the life of the repair. Just as it has reduced (but not totally eliminated) so-called "nail popping" in modern drywall installation, construction adhesive also reduces squeaks in subfloors when used during construction. Unfortunately, for what I consider false economy to save a few dollars, some builders don't routinely use construction adhesive when installing subflooring.

Take heart, though. In your new house, even one squeak may be teeth-gnashingly aggravating, may annoy your spouse, wake the baby, and SCARE the cat! But as time passes, and you and your home merge, the squeaks will become more widespread in both of you. Only then will it be said that these noises remind us of our home, and become part of its peculiar character we've grown to love.

This article is a compilation of a few reader questions that cover most of the issues surrounding floor squeaks.  I hope it's useful for you!!                   NH

I have oak floors that squeak. I cannot get beneath the floor because there is a finished ceiling. What is the best way to stop the squeaking?

Squeaking in strip flooring is caused by wood rubbing on wood. This may be the finished wood flooring moving against itself, or it could be the seams in the subfloor rubbing together. In either case, the only solutions available are to lubricate the squeaks or selective nailing/screwing to make the floor more solid.

If the squeak is in the flooring itself, apply some powdered graphite into the flooring seams in the squeaky area.

If you have read my article on graphite, you know that graphite is not my favorite lubricant. However, its powdery nature, which allows it to work into the seam, is the factor that makes it a good choice for this specific lubricating task.

DO NOT USE SO-CALLED "LIQUID GRAPHITE", SOLD FOR USE IN LOCKS!!  It will make a God-awful mess of your floor, and won't travel as deeply into the cracks as the powder.

After liberally applying the graphite over the seam, put some disposable toweling or rags over the area. Activate the squeak by stepping onto the towels to work the graphite powder into the seam. With some luck, and possibly a few applications, the squeak may subside. Vacuum up any excess graphite, and then clean the surface with a cloth or towel dampened in with a cleaning product suitable for your floor.

If the floor has excessive give or movement, you will have to nail or screw the floor down.

Most modern wood floors are tongue and groove. To avoid cracking the tongues, locate your nails no closer than 1/2 inch to the edge of the strip. You will also angle the nails slightly towards the center

To tighten down the floor, drive 6d or 8d spiral flooring nails on a slight angle through the floor into the subflooring. Predrilling should be done to prevent splitting of the wood and breaking of the nails. Gauge the drill bit size by eye... use the drill bit that is the same or slightly smaller than the shank of the nail.

Predrill through the flooring but not through the subfloor, or the nail will not hold. Keep downward pressure on the squeaky area at all times while nailing. This will help to assure a solid job.

Use a nailset to put the nailhead below the surface of the floor, and fill the hole with colored wax wood filler to match the floor, or mix colors to create intermediate shades for a better match.

Obviously, the ideal is to drive nails into the floor beams, but that isn't always an option!

You may also use finishing head screws with square drive heads.

If you can't get screws with square drive heads at your hardware store, find another hardware store or lumberyard! Using the Phillips head finishing screws is useless in hardwoods because the power screwdriver tip for these small headed screws (known fondly as #1) will slip too easily.

Predrill for the screws if your floors are hardwood or they will most likely break! Unless you own a special countersinking drill bit, you must drill twice. First, drill your countersink hole. Drill a shallow hole slightly larger than the head of the screw, and deep enough so the head will be beneath the floor. The second hole is drilled through the first one, smaller than the first and slightly smaller than the diameter of the screw threads. As with the nails, don't predrill this second hole through the subfloor, only through the finished floor.

Use some soap, wax, or plain old spit to lubricate the screws before driving them in. Set the screw heads slightly below the surface of the floor and fill the hole with colored wax wood filler.

My squeaky floor is above an unfinished basement. How about a few ideas on quieting down the floor!

1) Having a helper is vital in locating squeaks.

Once you locate it from below, your repair options depend on the location of the squeak relative to the floor joists. Also, it is possible that a squeak may not appear as movement in the floor below, such as in a strip wood floor over a 3/4" plywood subfloor, so locating the squeak may be as much luck as skill.

2) Understand your floor to choose the best repair!

If you have a plywood floor, squeaks over a joist are best silenced from top nailing, while squeaks between the joists in the plywood seams are best silenced by use of blocking (more on this below under METHODS).

If you have a strip wood floor over plywood, you may either secure the floor through the top (see the answer to the previous question) or up from the bottom. A repair from underneath the floor is cosmetically ideal because you don't have to mar the surface of the floor.

If your floor is carpeted, lift a corner to determine the type of floor.


Shims... a tried and true method of repairing squeaks... NOT!

Virtually all home repair books cite the use of shims, thin, tapered strips of wood, as an effective way to repair squeaks caused by the movement of subfloor against a joist. It seems logical... if the floor moves up and down, banging a shim into the joist/subfloor gap will stop the movement. The problem with this approach is that overzealous hammering of the shim can cause over-lifting of the floor. Here you have Murphy's Law via The Domino Effect... an adjacent area is now slightly lifted, and may eventually begin squeaking. You might as well just leave the ladder in place!.

So I would not recommend the use of shims. However, if you think I am off the mark, that's OK... just humor me and apply some construction adhesive along the joist/subfloor seam and on the shim before hammering it in. And... please... don't drive the shim in too far. Bang it in just enough to fill the gap and no more.

Most lumberyards and hardware stores sell packages of premade wood shims. However, the traditional shim was a exterior wood siding shingle split to the proper width. The two advantages of the shingles are 1) that you can choose the width... the premade shims are one-width-fits-all, and 2) the taper on the shingles is finer allowing for a more gradual shimming action than manufactured ones.

There are also synthetic shims available, made from recycled plastic.  I've only used them a few times and they are as good as wood shims provided you can use the full width.  They need to be cut with a saw or "scored and snapped".

Use of screws to firm up the floor...

Install the screw on an angle through the joist and into the floor. Pump construction adhesive along the joist on both sides of the squeak while the floor is raised, to allow some adhesive to enter the crack between floor and joist. You can even get down n' dirty and use your finger press the adhesive into the seam. Watch out for splinters, though!

Now, have your helper stand over the moving area to press it solidly down while you install the screws. There is a degree of finesse here. You must position the screw so that it penetrates the joist, and goes into but not through the subfloor.

If you have a strip wood floor over a plywood subfloor, you can also do this repair, but the screws will have to penetrate completely through the subfloor and at least partially into the strip flooring.

Blocking and Bridging...

Bridging is the installation of a small square piece of wood... usually 3/4" plywood... screwed and glued under a squeaky seam between two pieces of subflooring. If you glance at the graphic, the gray square is the blocking, the red center line is the squeaky seam, and the yellow dots are the screws.

This method is most effective for squeaks between the floor joists... for example, when seams in the subfloor are moving against each other.

Blocking is the use of a piece of wood, such a short length of 2x3 or 2x4, to stabilize the flooring at a joist. It is an alternative to screwing at an angle through the joist into the floor, mentioned above. This is a somewhat stronger method and requires a little less finesse in determining the length of the screw and the angle of entry.

Get your helper to stand on the floor to press it down. Apply adhesive on two sides of the block, and position it along the side of the joist under the loose, squeaky area so that it is in contact with the joist and the floor. Screw the block to the joist first. Then screw through the block into floor. Floor is still up, but is reinforced as strongly as it if was resting on the joist.

Can I nail or screw through a carpet to tighten my squeaky floor?

Unless you are willing to roll back the carpet, it is tricky locating a joist to screw into. From below, you can predrill a small hole through the floor, say an inch from a joist, and literally push a nail through subfloor and then through the carpet. You can use the protruding nail as a guide to locate the center of the joist from the top by simple measuring.

It is useful to have your helper hold piece of scrap wood tightly down on the carpet so that nail will more easily pass through without raising the carpet. You could use screws for this, but I wouldn't advise it because some carpets will wrap onto and snag the screw threads.

Squeak repair through a carpet installed on a wood floor is potentially damaging to the floor if not done right. For example, if you are too close to the edge of a tongue and groove on the flooring, you could cause splitting that you won't notice until the carpet is lifted later. It is best to roll back the carpet and lift the padding before nailing through a hardwood floor.

I have seen gadgets advertised in magazines and TV to remove squeaks from floors. Are these any good?

Manufactured blocking devices to silence squeaks...

I have looked at a few of these gadgets, and I'm sure more will appear on the market. They require minimal carpentry skills, which make them attractive to do-it-yourselfers just starting out in home repairs. They also install quickly and can silence squeaks effectively within their locational limitations, which are for squeaks immediately over floor joists in an exposed subfloor.

They usually consist of some sort of metallic angled base used in conjunction with screws to pull the floor in tightly against the joist, somewhat similar to the blocking method I described earlier.

I would recommend the use construction adhesive in conjunction with them to add to the permanency of the repair. First, clean the metal parts with alcohol or lacquer thinner to remove manufacturing oils that may interfere with adhesion. Apply the adhesive behind the mounting plates and along the joint between the joist and the subfloor before installation of the screws.

Silencing squeaks directly through the carpet... fact or fantasy?

There is a tool that, when used in conjunction with your electric drill, is purported to silence squeaks by driving screws through your carpet into the floor below. When you seriously analyze what this device claims to be able to do, it becomes apparent that it may be more like snake oil than reality.

To repair a squeaky floor, you need to have something solid to screw into to eliminate the movement.  With floor joists separated by 16", how many screws do you think you might have to drive by trial and error to locate the joist? If you have a hardwood floor under the carpet, can you imagine the cosmetic damage you can do screwing blindly this way? If you ever have a change of heart about the carpet, and want to expose the hardwood floor, you may rue the day you used this device!

Even if you get lucky, and find a joist, simply screwing into it may not assure elimination of the squeak, since squeaks can occur between the joists and in the seams in the subfloor.  This tool is incapable of solving that problem.

You see, unlike many of the so-called home repair authors, I don't go gaga every time someone tries to reinvent the mousetrap.  Though many of these interesting devices have their uses in limited situations, as does this one, the old tried and true methods are usually superior.