Are Squeaky Floors a Structural Problem? (UK Homes)

squeaky floors structural problem

Last updated: February 24, 2022 at 18:59 pm

Most homes are prone to making various kinds of noise. The boiler, central heating and even wind whistling through gaps can all be unpleasant intrusions. Few noises are as annoying as squeaky floors, though.

This is particularly true if you’ve just got the baby off to sleep or you live with a light sleeper. So, what causes squeaky floors, and are they a sign of a more serious issue? Let’s investigate.

Are Squeaky Floors Signs of a Structural Problem?

The short answer is no, not really. The longer answer is squeaky floorboards are not a sign of a serious structural problem like subsidence or woodworm, but the structure of your floor causes squeaks. Mostly this is due to movement of some sort.

Common Squeaky Floor Causes

Humidity

In the winter the weather can get very cold. So naturally, we turn up the central heating to keep our homes warm, but a side effect is that the house becomes very dry. This dryness can cause the wood to shrink.

When the weather warms up again, the humidity rises, and the floorboards start to expand again. This expansion can loosen the floorboards’ connection to the joists. In turn, this allows the boards to move more than they should, causing the squeaking.

Floorboards Are Short

This cause is more likely if there are only squeaks here and there, not across the whole floor. When the floor was being laid, if the floorboard was cut too short, it may not reach the joist underneath.

That means the board will have no support underneath, allowing it to move and possibly rub against another floorboard, making the squeak.

Uneven Joists

All the joists must be level to give equal support to all floorboards. If one or more of the joists is lower than the others, then the floorboard cannot be nailed or screwed as securely to it as the others are. More movement equals more noise.

Floor’s Timbers Are Not Cut Square

If the timbers aren’t all cut into a uniform squared-off shape, they will not be able to fit together tightly enough when they are fitted. As a result, the timbers will have more room to move and, in time, will start to rub against each other.

Timbers Were Too Wet When They Were Installed

One thing the UK has a lot of is rain! If the weather has been very wet, it’s possible that the timber will become saturated and swell up. If they are installed in that condition, then as your home heats up, the floorboards will start to dry.

As they do, they will shrink, and the gaps between them will be too big. Then, as with unsquared timbers, they’ll begin to rub and start squeaking.

Floorboards Were Not Properly Nailed Down

If the person who laid the floor did not use the appropriate length of screws or nails when attaching the floorboards, they will move too much. They will rub against other floorboards as they move, but they can also rub against the nail or screw itself. Both things can cause squeaky floors.

Poorly Fitted Pipes

Builders run water pipes under the floor in many homes. If the installation has been done correctly, a notch will be cut out of the joists deep enough to allow the pipes space to expand and relax, depending on the weather. So naturally, the floorboards should never be pressing on the pipes when someone walks on the floor.

If the notch is not quite deep enough, the floor might apply pressure to your pipes. Out of all the issues, this one is probably the most serious as if you walk on the pipes repeatedly, they could burst and cause a lot of water damage.

Luckily, most of the time, this is not the issue. If you are worried the cause of the squeak might be your pipes, try listening for a knocking noise as this could be a sign your pipes are moving too much. When in doubt, though, consult a professional.

Settlement

When a home is built, it can take years for it to settle into its foundations fully. This settlement can cause minor cracks in the walls and ceiling, which are easily remedied with Polyfilla.

In the case of the floor, however, if there is too much movement, it can affect how well the joists and floorboards fit together. It can cause the bond between the joists and floorboards to loosen or leave too much space between some of the boards.

If you’ve bought a new build home and the floor starts to creak within the first year, you can ask the builder to correct it under warranty. Otherwise, get an experienced carpenter to look.

What Can I Do to Stop the Squeak?

Many of the causes listed in this article would not necessarily be obvious just by looking at the floor. Your best bet would be to call in a professional to try and help you pinpoint the exact cause. It means you won’t waste money fixing the wrong thing.

As you’ll have them in your home anyway, it’s a good idea to get a quote for the repair. It may be worth the extra expense to have someone take care of the problem for you.

If money is tight, you could try adding extra screws to the floorboards in areas where the squeaking is worst. There are kits available online specifically for this purpose. Reviews of these kits are mixed so do your research before you hand over your money. However, it should be a relatively inexpensive first step and shouldn’t take advanced DIY skills.

That said, as explained earlier, pipes are run under the floor so if you plan to fit more screws, invest in or borrow a pipe detector. If you drill through a pipe it could lead to a lot of inconvenience for you and an expensive repair bill.

Conclusion

Generally, squeaky floorboards are caused by excessive movement and friction. Most of the causes are not so serious that you need to get them fixed urgently, the sound is just annoying.

It is not likely to indicate any serious structural problem with your home.

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About the Author: AJ

AJ is a self-confessed soundproofing nut. He has written full-time on Quiet Living for the past 3 years, and has a wealth of knowledge about living a quieter life, soundproofing and fixing loud noises.

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