Creaky floorboards can be an annoying side effect of wooden floors. Wooden floors tend to creak more during winter due to changes in temperature and humidity. Wood expands in the humid summer months and shrinks in colder temperatures.
When wooden floorboards shrink, they become separated from the subfloor joists (these act as the skeleton of the flooring system) and start to creak. Over time, this expansion and shrinking causes the nails to come out and the glue to disintegrate.
Creaky floorboards in winter are more common with solid wood floors than engineered wooden floors. This is because solid wood floors are more heavily affected by temperature and humidity changes. Another factor is how the floor was put down. Older wooden flooring was often laid without an underlay, which exacerbates the creaking. Most modern wooden floors have a resin underlay to prevent creaking.
The good news is that applying dry lubricant should stop your wooden floor from creaking in winter. Try scattering some talcum powder in the areas where the floorboards are making noises and step on the boards to work it into the cracks.
Why Are My Floorboards Suddenly Creaking?
If your floorboards have suddenly started to creak, there are four main reasons why this is happening:
- Temperature and humidity
- Issues with subflooring
- Settling and movement of the property foundation
- Issues with the installation or quality of workmanship
Let’s look at each issue in more detail.
Temperature & Humidity
Since humidity causes wood floorboards to expand, and cold, dry temperatures cause them to dry out and shrink, this can lead to creaking.
When the boards shrink, this creates a small gap between the boards. When you walk on these boards, they rub together, creating a creaking noise. Sudden changes in temperature or humidity levels will exacerbate the issue, resulting in the floorboards coming apart from the subfloor. As the flooring comes loose, the creaking gets worse.
The subfloor is typically made from plywood or wood and is laid over the floor joists. However, if the floor joists are not level, the subflooring may not be evenly supported. You may not notice immediately, but with time the floor will begin to move and a gap will develop, causing the nails to come loose. Once the nails become loose, the boards will start to creak when walked on.
Another common issue with the subfloor is a damaged floor joist. This also causes the nails to come loose, resulting in a squeaky floor.
Floor joists need to be properly placed and spaced correctly to avoid noisy floorboards. If your creaky floor is caused by subflooring issues, adding screws to the affected areas should hold the subflooring in place and keep the creaks at bay.
Settling & Issues with Foundation Movement
Houses progressively settle and, thanks to soil-related issues, the foundation can move. This movement can cause stress to the flooring, resulting in the wood boards rubbing together or the nails coming loose. If the settling is considerable, it’s very likely that there has been damage to the subfloor.
Incorrect Installation & Shoddy Workmanship
To avoid creaks, flooring needs to be properly installed. If the person laying the floor doesn’t follow manufacturing guidelines on how to acclimate, space, nail and install the floor, this could lead to issues. Similarly, if the subfloor isn’t level or is damaged in any way, creaking can occur.
When laying the subfloor, it’s common practice to use glue directly on the top of the floor joist and then lay the floor sheathing before nailing into place. However, if the sheathing isn’t laid quickly enough and the glue has already dried, this can cause problems.
The same goes with the nailing process. If the person laying the floor misses the floor joists, this will result in a creaky floor.
Should I Worry about Squeaky Floors?
Squeaky floors can be worrying, but there’s no need to panic. Creaking floorboards are often not a sign of structural damage to the property, but rather a side effect of how the floor was laid, how climate-controlled the property is, and if the house is still settling.
It’s very common, especially with solid wood floors, for the subflooring to rub together and cause nails to come loose. This is the usual culprit for that irritating squeaking sound.
While a squeaky floor is an irritating problem to have, the real cause for concern is if the floor bows or bends. Bowing or bending of the floor could signal a more serious issue and should be addressed immediately.
Generally speaking, a few creaky floorboards isn’t a serious issue and can be fixed in a number of ways. If you’re unsure, speak to a professional flooring expert to assess your floor and address any potential safety risks.
How Do I Stop My Hardwood Floors from Creaking?
Here are seven methods for stopping hardwood floors from creaking:
- Gently slide a shim into the gap to stop any movement
- Reinforce damaged or warped floor joists by nailing a piece of wood (2x4 or 2x6) into it
- Screw wooden blocks in between floor joists to silence squeaks
- Fill long gaps with floor adhesive to prevent movement
- If the floor is separating from the subfloor, screw it together using short screws
- Apply dry floor lubricant to eliminate friction between the boards
- Use a stud sensor to locate the floor joist and hammer a nail into it, making sure it goes below the surface of the floor. Then use wood filler to fill the gap around the hole.