Trained Eye

 
 
 

Squeaky Floor

Question:

Good Morning:

I would like to ask the inspector some information regarding my kitchen floor, which squeaks when walking. The house is about 25 years old. I would also like to know if this is something I can fix. Right now there is linoleum on the floor and I want to replace it with new flooring.

Thank you.

Answer:

Squeaking floors in older homes is a very common homeowner complaint. The noise is not often structurally significant, but can be quite annoying. In homes built before the 1960’s, it may be difficult to completely eliminate the squeaks, but in a home of your age it should be possible to stop most of the noise. This may not be possible without damaging the existing flooring, so this may be the ideal time to deal with the issue.

The kitchen floor construction of your 25 year old home is likely a subfloor of plywood sheathing over top of solid wood joists. The nails that fasten this plywood to the joists may loosen over time, or the wood may shrink as it dries out. This creates small gaps between the subfloor and the joists. A squeak occurs when the materials rub against each other, or the loose nails, when someone walks over this area.

The original plywood subfloor may have additional layers of plywood or other composite sheathing over top, to provide a smoother surface for the vinyl floor. The number and thickness of these layers may be a function of the age of the vinyl flooring in place, and the number of older layers of flooring underneath. This can often be determined by the height difference, if any, between the kitchen floor and the adjacent floor. Floor mounted heating registers in the kitchen may be removed to see the thickness of the floor sheathing, and determine the composition. This should be done before proceeding with an attempt to eliminate the squeaks in your floor.

If there is only a single layer of vinyl and a thin subfloor below, it may not be necessary to remove this thin layer above the original sheathing. The surface of the vinyl should be removed, with as much of the backing as possible, to reveal the subfloor below. If this sheathing is in satisfactory condition, the location of the floor joists should be located with a stud finder or trial and error. These joists should be chalked along their entire length to allow for ease of location during repairs.

If there are multiple layers of old flooring, it may be easier to remove one or more layers of subflooring that attempting to secure the entire thickness to the joists below. If only a single subfloor is present above the original plywood, but is damaged, pulling up this entire layer may also be simpler than repairing it. This will also eliminate the need to remove the vinyl, and may also leave less of a height differential between the new kitchen floor and the adjacent flooring. Once this layer or layers are removed, the joists can be marked, as in the previous scenario, before continuing.

Now that the old vinyl floor is gone and the original sheathing is exposed, any older nails should be checked for looseness. If they are loose or slightly raised, they should be pounded down or pulled out and discarded. Once the old nails are secured, new fasteners can be installed. Screwing down the layer or layers of subfloor, with proper hardened flooring screws of the appropriate length, should eliminate most of the squeaks. The entire floor should be refastened, to prevent new squeaks from occurring after the new floor is in place. Some older nails may become loose or protrude up as the sheathing is refastened and they can be pulled out and discarded before continuing on.

Most modern vinyl flooring should be installed over a completely smooth subfloor, to prevent damage. The specific type of subfloor material used and the fastening method will be specified by the manufacturer of the flooring. This may vary considerably, with fastening methods ranging from narrow-crown, air driven staples to ring flooring nails.

For this reason, many homeowners choose to have the contractor or installers supply and install the subfloor, as well as the vinyl flooring. This will ensure that the full warranty of the new flooring is applicable. It will also ensure that the homeowner not be blamed, should a problem occur after installation.

 

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