Secure loose nails, floorboards to solve a squeaky, moving floor


Carol Tabb, of Columbia, wrote to ask for suggestions as to the cause of the squeaky floors in her 20-year-old townhouse.

She says her floors have always creaked, but the creaking has increased. She's wondering whether this is due to a minor condition such as aging carpet and padding, or could be related to some type of internal problem.

It's likely that the cause of the noise is internal to the floor system, but is probably no more serious than loose subflooring or finish flooring.

Squeaks and creaks - I'll call them squeaks - are produced by friction, when loose nails, floorboards and subflooring move and rub together under your weight.

Some floors are loose from day one because of poor workmanship, including nails that miss the framing, too few nails, and poorly applied adhesive. Floors can also loosen over time, as floorboards shrink and floor framing settles.

The most annoying squeak I've ever heard a floor make was a sort of screech, almost as bad as fingers on a blackboard. It sounded like it might be coming from a loose nail rubbing against a metal heating duct.(You rarely get to actually see the cause, unless there's an unfinished basement or crawlspace underneath.)

Whatever the specific cause, the solution is to stop the movement in the floor. No movement, no squeak. Two remedies are often suggested:

The first requires access to the floor from underneath: Locate the loose flooring from below and glue slender shims into the gap between the underside of the subfloor and the floor joist or truss.

The other method is to refasten the floor from above. If it's carpeted, pull the edge of the carpet up to determine where the joists are - look for nail heads on a plywood subfloor.

Drive finishing nails or, even better, square-drive finishing screws through the subfloor over the joists where you're hearing the squeak. Install two fasteners at each location, angled toward opposite ends of the joist to form a sort of "V" - this prevents them from pulling loose.

Drill narrow pilot holes before you drive the nails or screws. You don't have to roll back the whole carpet to do this, as the fasteners can usually be installed right through the carpet.

If the loose boards are hardwood flooring, like tongue-and-groove oak, you can refasten the flooring to the subfloor without locating the joists. Be neat about it, and putty the holes above the fasteners.

You might also consider buying a repair system that provides screws that snap off below the floor surface, like the product Squeeeeek No More, to make the repair with the smallest possible hole in the floor finish.

You can, of course, just live with the noise. I have been fond of familiar squeaks in old houses I've lived in, and some people consider squeaks a sort of burglar alarm.

Inspector's Eye

Dean Uhler has been a home inspector for more than 12 years and is president of Baltimore-based Boswell Building Surveys, Inc. Uhler is a member of the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) and is the treasurer of the Greater Baltimore Chapter of ASHI.

Questions, with name, address and daytime telephone number, about homes and home inspections can be faxed to 410-783-2517, e-mailed to or mailed to Inspector's Eye, Second Floor, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, Md. 21278-0001.

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