Over the last decade, one of our industry’s most common complaints is subflooring/floor squeaks. Squeaky systems are often the result of choosing commodity grade components in critical areas, such as subfloor panels, to cut material costs. However, cutting upfront costs in these important support areas can lead to expensive squeaky floor claims.
Some commodity-grade panels can allow deflection up to the thickness of a quarter between the framing. This kind of vertical movement can create squeaks, creaks and pops in flooring systems. It is important for installers to understand the difference between traditional OSB and high-performance subflooring panels. High-performance panels held to elevated performance levels in published evaluation reports, such as ESR-1785 issued by ICC-ES (International Code Council Evaluation Service), are required to have higher strength, stiffness and fastener-holding power. It is vitally important for the installer to have a clear understanding of different quality subfloor panels and make the correct recommendations to their builder to avoid a noisy subfloor/wood floor claim.
Solid wood flooring is seldom used as a subfloor, but when it is, a contractor should look for a few indicators to avoid a future squeak. The solid subfloor should be a dense softwood (larch, fir, etc.) that does not exceed 6” in width. A visual inspection of fasteners used can be confirmed by an interview of the builder and/or carpenter that rosin coated or ring shank nails were used. Finally, it should be installed on a 45-degree angle, with all board ends full bearing on the joists fastened with the before-mentioned approved nails.
Water damage is one of the most common places I see subfloor squeaks. If a wood floor is properly installed, it should not squeak or creak. However, if that same floor experiences water damage at some point in its life and is not properly repaired, then there is a good chance squeaks will occur. We see this in floors that have been refinished after a flood or water leak. Even if the floor is allowed to dry properly back to its equilibrium moisture content, there is a very high likelihood that squeaks will occur. This effect does not always present itself immediately. Often, it will take several months to a year or so, but as the floor moves through its seasonal changes, it will become loose and experience squeaks and creaks. Because of this, it is sometimes necessary to replace, or at least address, the damage under the floor that we cannot see.
There are many factors that can cause a floor to squeak. The trouble with old remodels is the squeak may return after the floor is installed making subfloor repairs difficult. So I always tell the homeowners/contractors that I’ll do my best to remove the squeaks, but there are no guarantees. New home construction presents challenges as well. We often assume that the subfloor is installed correctly when often times it’s not. One of the things in particular that I watch out for is floor joist spacing. Since floor joists are expensive, builders will sometimes push the limits on spacing to save on costs. This is why floor joists are sometimes too far apart for flooring we are installing.
The APA – The Engineered Wood Association offers a valuable resource called Technical Note: Floor Squeaks – Causes, Solutions and Prevention, which discusses typical floor-squeak causes and provides corrective and preventative measures. Visit APAwood.org to download.