Creaking Floors – The 4 Main Reasons - Buyers Ask (2023)

Wood or carpeted floors often make creaking or crackling type sounds when walked on. There are four main reasons for this:

Creaking Floors – The 4 Main Reasons - Buyers Ask (1)
  1. Subfloor Issues
  2. Temperature & Humidity Issues
  3. Improper Installation or Workmanship
  4. Settling & Foundation Movement
Creaking Floors – The 4 Main Reasons - Buyers Ask (2)

1. Subfloor Causes

Carpeted floors with a wooden subfloor

When walking across a carpeted floor and you hear a creaking sound, it is usually for one of the following reasons and can often be corrected easily.

The subfloor, which may be constructed of plywood, wood planks/boards, OSB board, or particleboard is laid over floor joists that support the plywood or other sheathing.

Floor joist tops not level

If the tops of the floor joists are not flat and level, then the sheets of plywood or sub-flooring will not be supported evenly. When nailed down, the sub-flooring will be sucked down unevenly. Over time the portions of the floor that have been sucked down will try to go back to a flat and level position. When this happens a gap will develop and the nails holding the floor will be slightly pulled loose.

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when this happens and the area is stepped on, it will flex downward (because the nail has pulled loose), and then back up, this creates a creaking sound.

Floor joist damaged, cracked, or not blocked

If a floor joist is cracked or damaged, then the nails holding the sheathing may work loose, thus creating a creaking sound.

Generally, floor joists are blocked every so many feet to help hold them in place and make sure that they don’t move. If this blocking is not properly placed or missing, then it may allow the joists to move. This typically happens in homes with crawlspaces or in multilevel homes. If this is the case and the home has a crawl space, it will usually allow access to the joist area and repairs or blocking can be easily made to the floor joists. If this is happening in a multilevel home ie. the second or third story of a home, the repair would typically be done by either removing the drywall from the ceiling under the creaking floor or pulling up the flooring and re-adhering it to the joists and/or correcting the blocking.

Occasionally, if the floor joists are spaced too far apart to properly support the sheathing, then floor creaking may occur. However, this is rarely the case.

Creaking Floors – The 4 Main Reasons - Buyers Ask (3)

ADDING SCREWS

The majority of subflooring issues can be corrected by adding screws in the areas where the creaking is occurring. Screws will normally do a much better job of holding the subflooring down and will not work loose.

Buyers Tip – if you’re going to add new carpeting…

Before you sign the contract for the new carpeting, ask the salesperson or contractor if they will take a few minutes and screw down any loose subfloor sheets before putting the new carpeting down. Request that this is part of the agreement. If you wait until the installers are putting the carpet down since it wasn’t part of the contract they may not want to do it or may want several hundred dollars more to do it. Since in reality it doesn’t take very long and is only a couple of dollars in screws, it’s worth having it in the contract.

2. Temperature and Humidity Causes

When wood boards or planks dry out, they shrink. When the boards or planks shrink, a thin gap or space occurs between the boards. Then when walked on, the wood pieces rub against one another and you hear a creaking sound.

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Creaking Floors – The 4 Main Reasons - Buyers Ask (4)

Winter and summer months

Hardwood floors will usually shrink in the winter months and expand in the summer months. Also, sudden temperature or moisture/humidity changes will affect the expansion and contraction of the boards. This expansion and contraction can result in the flooring coming loose from the subfloor. Glued floors come loose or the nails pull loose. This will cause creaking on the floors.

When this occurs you may want to re-attach or secure the floor back down and apply a sealing compound to the flooring which helps prevent this type of problem.

Engineered wood floors v. Solid wood floors

Solid wood floors are more affected by temperature and weather than engineered wood floors. Engineered wood flooring takes into consideration temperature and humidity conditions and therefore the flooring is designed to resist these types of issues.

Lubricating Tip for Old Solid Oak Flooring

Sprinkling a little talcum powdered or powdered graphite in joint or nail areas where the boards are creaking may help reduce the creaking noise. Once sprinkled, then stepping on these areas several times helps work the powdered into the voids or cracks. Be sure not to track the powdered around and clean up the surface after completion. You may have to repeat this lubrication process several times before noticeable results occur.

3. Improper Installation & Poor Workmanship

Creaking Floors – The 4 Main Reasons - Buyers Ask (5)

Nail guns and glues

Subfloors are usually secured down to the floor joist with nails and often glues. One common practice is to run a bead of glue along the top of the floor joist, then lay the plywood or other floor sheathing on this bead of glue and then nail the sheathing into place. Workmen may not get the sheathing laid on top of the freshly placed glue bead quick enough and the glue begins to set. This results in a poorly secured piece of sheathing.

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When the carpenter comes along to nail the sheathing in place, they usually use an automatic nail gun. They use the nail gun to shoot nails into the sheathing to secure it to the top of the floor joist. The problem with this type of work is that the nail gun operator is usually in a hurry and just goes pop-pop-pop with the gun. This fast pace nailing results in nails missing the floor joists under the sheathing. Thus, these nails are ineffective. Believe it or not, many nails miss their mark.

Both of these practices are an example of poor workmanship.

Creaking Floors – The 4 Main Reasons - Buyers Ask (6)

Improper installation

Not following the manufactures recommended instructions on nailing, spacing and installation is another key reason for creaking floors.

If the subfloor is poorly installed, not level, has bumps, damage or imperfections, then creaking may occur.

Acclimation

Manufacturers will often recommend that the flooring acclimates to the environment that it will be placed in. Failure to do so may result in bowing or cupping and excessive expansion or shrinkage may result.

It’s important that the manufacturers’ recommendations be followed. Many DIY workers ignore or miss these recommendations and even professionals may when they are in a hurry.

4. Settling and Foundation Movement

Over time a home may experience some settling or the foundation may shift or move due to expansive soils or other soil-related movement issues.

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When the foundation moves, shifts, or settles, then there may be stress or limited movement of the flooring support or subflooring. Thus, the floor may start creaking because the wood sections or pieces of the flooring are rubbing together, damaged or the nails have pulled loose. If there has been significant differential settlement, there is more likelihood of damage to the sub-floors and potential for creaking to occur. Read more about settlement

Post-tension slabs

Newer homes with post-tension slabs that were not installed properly is another common cause of floor creaking. This is often the case if the slab’s post-tension cables were not tensioned or pulled in a timely manner and the framing contractor got onto the slab too soon with heavy equipment and stacks of heavy lumber. In new construction, framing contractors often are pushed or have to rush into the start of framing before the slab cables have been tightened, thus slab and flooring issues develop. Learn more about Post Tension slabs

Conclusion

It is not just older homes that have creaking floors, surprisingly enough this can also happen in newer homes.

Creaking sounds may come from the subfloor, from the wood flooring itself, improper or poor workmanship, temperature or humidity as well as from settling or foundation movement. Floors can also seem to amplify creaking sounds and make them sound much worse than they really are.

Generally, creaking floors are not caused by settling or soil movement, however, you may want to check your foundation for cracks or other problems.

Creaking Floors – The 4 Main Reasons - Buyers Ask (8)

David Jones - Consultant, General Contractor, Inspector

Professional consultant and writer on structural, electrical, plumbing, code and other building defects with over 40 years’ experience as a general contractor, inspector and instructor. Articles for every homeowner, buyer or agent who wants to know what’s major, what’s minor and what is just normal when it comes to your home.Dave Jones Full Bio

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FAQs

Creaking Floors – The 4 Main Reasons - Buyers Ask? ›

There are four main reasons for this:
  • Subfloor Issues.
  • Temperature & Humidity Issues.
  • Improper Installation or Workmanship.
  • Settling & Foundation Movement.

What is the cause of creaking floors? ›

The noise that you hear when you step on a floorboard (or floorboards) is usually a result of loose boards. The bounciness and movement in these loose boards causes them to rub together or onto a fixing nail or floor joist which, in turn, creates an unpleasant and annoying noise referred to as creaking or squeaking.

Are creaking floors a problem? ›

Are squeaky floors a structural problem? There's no need to panic. In real life, a creak or squeak is no big deal—that is, they don't signal structural damage, like termites, that could cause your floor or joist to collapse. And fixing creaky floors is fairly simple.

Why do floors creak when no one is on them? ›

When night comes, the temperature outside can drop 30 degrees or more as Earth turns away from the Sun. Things like wooden floors, house-building materials, and furniture become cooler, too, shrinking and slipping a little, which can sometimes cause creaking and groaning sounds.

Why do upstairs floors creak? ›

There are a number of reasons why we get creaky floors. These include, for example, friction caused between two hard surfaces rubbing together, movement in a floor, incorrect installation of a timber structure, flex in the joists, incorrect fixings or joists that are not level.

What creaking means? ›

Definition of creak

(Entry 1 of 2) intransitive verb. : to make a prolonged grating or squeaking sound often as a result of being worn-out also : to proceed slowly with or as if with creaking wheels the story creaks along to a dull conclusion. creak.

Do floors creak more in winter? ›

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.

When should I be worried about creaking floors? ›

If you are noticing squeaky wood floors during the extreme points in summer or winter, then the movement is related to the environment. In the peak of winter, floors will naturally be drier – your home can be drier than the Sahara at times. And dry air = shrinking and gaps.

Why do floors creak under carpet? ›

Floor squeaks are caused by gaps between the sub-floor and the floor joists which have separated over time and can be fixed by simply reattaching that sub-floor back to the framing. The trick, however, is to not damage your wall-to- wall carpet and to locate where the joists in your floor are located.

Will carpet installers fix squeaky floors? ›

Will Carpet Installers Fix Squeaky Floors? Yes, most professional carpet installers will fix squeaky floors. In fact, many flooring companies will fix any problem with the subfloor before they install the flooring. This might include completely reinstalling the subfloor.

Is it normal for second floor to creak? ›

Summing Up. A squeak on your second floor is quite common, especially in a new construction home.

Why does my wood floor creak at night? ›

“Squeaks happen when a house settles and wood flooring dries and then expands,” says Realtor's Lis Kaplan Gordon. “This causes the floorboards to rub against each other, or against the subfloor, or against the nail casings.” Handyman's J.B. Sassano says, “Squeaks are more about driving you crazy than anything.

How do you stop second floor creaking? ›

Squeaky floors require a dry lubricant that will last longer, rather than the likes of motor oil, which can do damage to your floors in the long run. The best fix to squeaky floors, especially when you don't have access to the bottom of the subfloor is a little powdered soapstone, talcum powder, or powdered graphite.

What to do with creaking floors? ›

Creaky floors occur when the subfloor has been separated from floor joists. You can solve this by shimming the subfloor. Wedge shims between the joist and subfloor, and use a clawhammer to tap them into place. Don't pound the shims because they could lift the floorboards and cause more squeaking.

Why does my house shake when I walk? ›

2. Causes of floor vibrations. Floor vibrations are generally related to human activity, vibrating machinery and external forces. Walking is the most common source of floor vibrations and more than anything is simply considered a nuisance.

How do you walk on creaking floors quietly? ›

Hanging by the walls is handy if you have wooden floors.

When walking downstairs, try skipping stairs and walking on the sidelines. If you have hard floors, wear socks to avoid squeaking and other noises.

What type of word is creak? ›

Creak can be a noun or a verb.

What sound is creaking? ›

To creak is to make a high, groaning sound, like a rusty gate swinging shut. The old, worn floorboards in your house might creak as you walk down the hall. Old doors and gates creak as they open, and tree branches creak as they blow around in very heavy wind.

How do you use creak in a sentence? ›

make a high-pitched, screeching noise.
  1. She heard a floorboard creak upstairs.
  2. The gate gave a loud creak as he pushed it open.
  3. The timbers groan and creak and the floorboards shift.
  4. I heard the floorboards creak as he crept closer.
  5. I heard a creak on the stairs.
  6. The door was pulled open with a creak.
Jul 24, 2020

How do you stop a floor from creaking? ›

Creaky floors occur when the subfloor has been separated from floor joists. You can solve this by shimming the subfloor. Wedge shims between the joist and subfloor, and use a clawhammer to tap them into place. Don't pound the shims because they could lift the floorboards and cause more squeaking.

Do squeaky floors mean termites? ›

Excessive squeaking can be evidence of termite damage to a floor. Termite damage weakens floors at the site of the damage (e.g. supports, subfloor and floor surfaces). Weakened floors are more sensitive to movement. When floorboards move, they may squeak or creak as boards rub against each other and against nails.

Is it normal for wood floors to creak? ›

New wood floors are prone to creaking and squeaking like any other flooring type. The sound you hear is caused by the individual boards shifting and rubbing against each other. For new floors, this is normal as they adjust and shift into the new environment.

How do I stop my house from creaking? ›

A squeaky door hinge is a pretty common household problem—and one that's totally fixable. Tap out the hinge pin with a hammer, then coat it with grease or a thick lubricant, such as petroleum jelly. Work the pin back into the hinge, and open and close the door several times to get the lubricant worked through.

Does baby powder fix squeaky floors? ›

Sprinkle baby powder, baking soda or powdered graphite over the squeaky floorboard and work it into the seams. This will lubricate the wood and should keep the floorboards from rubbing together and squeaking.

Why do floors creak under carpet? ›

Floor squeaks are caused by gaps between the sub-floor and the floor joists which have separated over time and can be fixed by simply reattaching that sub-floor back to the framing. The trick, however, is to not damage your wall-to- wall carpet and to locate where the joists in your floor are located.

Does carpet help creaky floors? ›

A thick, sound-absorbing rub or carpet will help to dampen the sound of squeaks and even reduce the pressure on the floor at any one point, reducing the chance of squeaking in areas prone to this. Carpets or rugs with high Noise Reduction Coefficients are best. Sound absorption pads are also good.

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