If you want to fix squeaky floorboards, there are a few things you should know about your house—one being you likely live in a home built between 1900 and 1950 with suspended ground floors. In the 1950s, suspended ground floors gave way to ground-bearing concrete floors, where the hardwood flooring is laid directly on top of a slab of concrete or stone. Ground-bearing concrete floors rarely have squeaky floorboards.
Suspended ground floors have two elements relevant to your squeaky situation—the joists and the boards themselves.
Floor joists are the large wooden beams that bear the weight of your floorboards. They run perpendicular to the boarding and if you have wood floors, you can typically tell where they are by the nails in your floor. If your squeaky floors are covered by carpet or vinyl, there are other ways to locate the joists.
What causes squeaky floorboards?
When it comes to squeaky floors, the relationship between your floor joists and floorboards is almost always the culprit. Gaps form over time, which ultimately cause the annoying squeaking. To remedy this, you’re going to need to get underneath your floor, so look for access through a basement or crawlspace. You’ll need at least one other person, wood shims, and/or construction adhesive. See the below-ground fix below.
If you don’t have access to a basement or crawlspace, there are ways to address the issue above ground, but it’s slightly more invasive. You’re going to need special screws or nails and wood filler. See the above-ground fix below.
If you’re lucky, the squeaking may simply be caused by your floorboards rubbing up against one another. If this is the case, your maintenance is going to be an entirely above-ground operation. All you’ll need is talc or powdered graphite. See quick fix #1.
If you try everything suggested below and you still have a squeaky floor, you may have defective joists. If this is the case, you’ll need to call in a professional. Don’t let this discourage you from trying, though. Floor joists are meant to last for the lifespan of your home, so they’re incredibly strong. Fixing your squeaky floorboards is more than likely a completely manageable DIY project.
How to fix squeaky floorboards
Quick fix #1: baby powder / talc or powdered graphite
Before you venture underneath your floor, check to see whether your squeaky boards are simply rubbing against one another. Locate your joists by the nails in your floorboards (if the floor is covered in carpet or vinyl, you can use a hammer to find them—just tap around on the floor until you hear a dull thud).
Once you’ve located the joists, walk along the length of them. If your floorboards are creaking as you walk directly on top of the joists, your floorboards are rubbing against one another. Simply dust a bit of baby powder (or talc powder) or graphite lubricant between the boards. This should fix your problem.
If the boards aren’t rubbing against one another, your problem is more than likely the result of a gap between your subflooring and your joists. If you have a basement or a crawlspace, read on for your quick fix—if not, skip to quick fix #3.
Quick fix #2: below ground
- Ensure your basement or crawlspace is safe by checking for standing water, excessive debris, chemical odors, asbestos, and pests (rodents, snakes, insects). Bring proper lighting and wear construction-safe boots or sneakers.
- Enlist someone to help you locate the exact location of the squeaking. Have one person stand below the floor and one person on top of it. The person in the house should walk around until they are directly on top of the squeak, then alert the person below by tapping the floor. The person below should find the joists nearest to the guilty floorboard. There will more than likely be a gap visible.
- The best way to address this gap is with shims, thin wedges of wood that can be found at any hardware store or lumber yard. Take your shim and gently wedge it into the gap between the joists and the subflooring with a utility knife. Don’t force it—if you apply too much pressure this could actually cause more separation, which could lead to more squeaking.
There are some cases that are not conducive to a simple shim fix. You may find a gap that’s too small to fit a shim or your gap may be too long (in this case, you could use multiple shims, but this can be a hassle). If the gap is extremely irregular, it can be virtually impossible to address using shims alone.
Ultimately, you may be unable to locate the exact location of the gap. If you find yourself in a bind, you can use construction adhesive.
Run a bead of adhesive along the entire length of the floor joist. Don’t worry about pressing the flooring and the joists together—the adhesive will expand to form a seal. Wait until the adhesive has fully dried before testing the floor (this can take up to seven days).
Quick fix #3: above ground
- If you’re unable to get under the house, you can tackle your gaps using special screws. Be aware that this is a more invasive procedure, as you’re going to have to drive screws into your floor. Make sure you’ve localized the precise source of your squeaking before you get started to avoid littering your floors with unnecessary holes.
- You’ll need dual-pitch screws, which can be found in common kits specifically made to address squeaky floors. The dual-pitch screws serve to draw the joist and the flooring together, and they break off at the top to make your holes less conspicuous. Once you’ve located the source of the squeaking, drive the screws into the joists and then snap them at their seams (which should be below the surface of the wood). This will leave a small, barely noticeable hole, which can be masked with wood filler to complete your repair. Some kits even make screws that go through carpet without damaging it.
- You can also employ this above-ground strategy using special nails called cut floor brads or steel brads. These are built specifically for wood floors and come to a flat, rectangular point, which allows them to sink through wood fibers without splitting the board.
- Use these floor brads exactly like you would the dual-pitch screws—locate the source of the squeak and drive the nails through the flooring into the joists. Hammer the floor brads until one-eighth of an inch of the nail protrudes above the surface of the floor. Then use a nail setter to drive the nails to one-eighth of an inch below the surface of the floorboard. Simply fill in the hole with wood filler.