It can be concerning when your home is making strange noises because you never can see what’s going on within the frame of your house. Creaking can have various causes, some of which are more serious than others.
Hardwood floors creak more in the winter because wood expands with heat and shrinks with cold. This expansion and shrinkage can cause the floor to become detached from the subfloor joists – the nails will come out, and glue will come apart. Solutions may range from simple to rather work-intensive.
This article will take a look at the various reasons why a hardwood floor may creak, as well as some solutions to the problem.
Do Wood Floors Creak More in Winter?
Wood floors have a tendency to squeak more in the winter because the wood shrinks when the temperature drops. Shrinking floorboards, unfortunately, tend to make them detach from subfloor joists and creak. Dry lubricant application can help relieve the groaning, but it’s well worth checking out if the problem runs deeper into the subfloor.
If large sections of your floor regularly become detached from the subfloor during winters, whoever did your floor installation is most likely to blame. Regular expansion and shrinkage of floorboards are expected and shouldn’t happen every winter, so it’s more likely that your subfloor was improperly spaced. If this is the case, the entire floor will have to be reinstalled to fix the problem once and for all.
Why Do Floors Creak More in Winter?
Wood floors creak more in the winter because of the humidity and temperature change. But wood floors can creak for a wide variety of reasons, some of which are concerning and others relatively innocuous. Floorboards can rub together in certain spots and create a creak only in that spot, or they can rub against the subfloor, causing a more general creaking throughout the flooring.
Humidity is a giant contributor to why wood floors creak. Wood expands in the summer when humidity rises and shrinks during the winter. This can be the direct cause of why floors become detached from subfloors and start creaking. Expansion and shrinkage will make boards pull away from joists, nails will come loose, and glue will come apart.
Typically, a hardwood floor can tolerate a range of 35%-55% humidity. When this rises or falls, especially combined with rapid temperature changes, a wood floor can seem to howl with how much it’s shrinking or expanding. If this floor was improperly installed to begin with, glue and nails might become detached, which may cause groaning and squeaking.
Natural hardwood floors are more prone to weather-related problems, whereas engineered hardwood floors are specifically designed with temperature and humidity in mind and are therefore less likely to suffer creaking problems.
Adding a dry lubricant such as talcum powder or dry graphite powder can alleviate symptoms and lessen floor squeaking. Though keep in mind, it can take time and several applications before you see results. If the problem goes down to the subfloor, however, more intensive work may be required.
All wood floors will make noises in their lifetime, and that’s simply a fact you have to get used to. Whether those noises are normal or not is another matter entirely. Slight and infrequent noises are to be expected of any wooden floor, but when a particular spot squeaks when stepped on or entire areas become noisy, that’s a deeper problem to be diagnosed.
Wood is an organic product that interacts with its environment and will inevitably develop a squeak, crack, or groaning noise. Though, with proper installation and care, wooden floors can last many decades.
Detachment From Subfloor Joist
This is the most common cause of wood floors creaking. When wood becomes detached from the (commonly plywood) subfloor, it allows for movement, which causes a creaking sound. Large-scale subfloor detachment isn’t a dangerous problem, but it can be extremely annoying when your home “complains” when you are crossing a room.
To check how detached your floor is, you’ll need to pull up the wood surface of your floor and look underneath at the subfloor. Normally, joists with nails hold the surface layer onto the subfloor, but humidity and other factors cause the nails to pop out as the wood moves.
The solution for this varies depending on the severity of your problem. A small area may only require adding wedges, or a larger area would necessitate adding more joists to secure the floor to the subfloor.
Loose individual floorboards can be a pain, even if you already know where they are. This can be caused by subfloor detachment, but ‘deflection’ is more common. Deflection is a term referring to when floorboards rub against one another. When you step on such floorboards, you’ll hear a noise and possibly even see the boards rub against each other.
When a problem is localized, a simple application of WD-40 or talcum powder may suffice. If the problem is more extensive, it may call for replacing the loose board altogether, adding shims, or replacing subfloor joists. Before going that far, though, lubricant and shims could very well be the solution to your problem – try that and see how it works!
In some southern U.S states, it is popular to simply glue the surface floor to a slab of concrete, which comes with its own unique issues. Most prominently, floor squeaking. This happens when concrete isn’t properly leveled prior to floor installation, an insufficient amount of glue is used, or when the glue is unevenly applied.
If this is the case for your floor, a DriTac Repair Kit from your local home improvement store can help. This is perfectly doable for a DIYer, who only has to remove the surface floor and apply the included adhesive. Assuming your problem is because of a lack of adhesive, this will help fix your problem.
Poor Workmanship & Improper Installation
Whether we like it or not, the truth is sometimes the problems in our home are due to its poor construction. When it comes to flooring installation, there are some very common problems that lead to floors squeaking.
Poor Use of Nails and Glue
Floors are secured to subfloors with the use of nails and glue. When the glue is applied to a floor joist and the sheathing material (usually plywood) isn’t put down in time, the glue has already set, and the floor won’t be as secure as it should be. Workers may think that the glue is still wet when in reality, it had set before the sheathing was placed and therefore improperly installed.
After this, carpenters use nail guns to secure sheathing to the joists. Sometimes, the carpenter is in a hurry and will simply go down a line shooting nails at sheathing without regard for whether they actually go into the floor joists. Ideally, the carpenter should take his time and ensure that each and every nail goes through the sheathing and into the top of the joist.
As a direct result of these workers not doing their jobs properly, half or more of the nails used may not even be attaching the subfloor to the joists, and the glue may not even be holding the sheathing in place. In that case, the floor will be creaking and squeaking in no time.
Improper installation is just one of many problems that may plague joists. If the tops of the floor joists aren’t flat, level, and even, your sheathing or subfloor will not be properly supported. When that gets nailed down, it gets secured down unevenly.
This isn’t an immediate issue, but it becomes one over time when the floor area tries to go back to its original form and pulls out the nails. When you step on that area without nails, it tries to flex itself and creates a squeaking or groaning noise.
Another issue arises when joists are damaged or blocked improperly. Ideally, joists are blocked periodically to keep them in place. However, in areas like attics, basements, and crawl spaces, joists may not be blocked. Or if the joist is damaged, this can cause glue or nails to separate.
Solutions to Creaky Floors
Many cases of squeaky floors can be temporarily alleviated by sprinkling dry lubricant like talcum powder in the affected area, but serious problems will require a more drastic solution.
This drastic solution is screwing down the floors. This is actually easier than you might think, as simply screwing down the floor in affected areas can be just the fix you need. Unfortunately, though, if you have problems with damaged or unblocked joists, that will require much more work.
Hardwood floors are a classy and timeless look for a home, but they aren’t without problems. Factors from humidity, improper installation, and subfloor detachment can all cause your floors to creak. To fix the problem may be as simple as adding dry lubricant or as complex as completely reinstalling the flooring.
- Buyers Ask: Creaking Floors – The Main 4 Reasons
- Cameron the Sandman: Why Do My Hardwood Floors Squeak?
- The Master’s Craft: How To Silence The 4 Types Of Squeaky Floors
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