Why the floorboards squeak and what can be done to get rid of the unpleasant sound

It sometimes happens that, after a period of use, the parquet starts to creak. The noise occurs when you walk on the floor and only in certain places, rarely over the whole surface. We are tempted to think that only solid wood flooring is subject to this phenomenon. Being solid wood, moves with humidity variation and this leads to various noises. However, unpleasant sounds can also occur with laminate flooring, even laminate, which is considered the most stable. Because there are many reasons for squeaking, not just moisture variation. Incorrect installation, poor quality flooring, unsuitable materials, improper or prolonged use are also responsible for its appearance.

What are the reasons for squeaking

Wrong installation is the main reason for squeaking. Installation starts with the preparation of the backing, and if the backing is not straight, the floor will start squeaking in a very short time. The Maple must be right, without holes or debris that could spoil the flatness, whether the floor is glued or floating. Before installation the shapa must be dry. A wet screed means a source of moisture for the floorboards which will expand, putting pressure on each other. Rubbing against each other or against fasteners (clamps, nails, screws) will lead to squeaking. Solid wood flooring is the most sensitive, increased humidity can lead to swelling. For installation, the flooring needs to be acclimatised. That is, it must be brought into the space where it will be installed and left for at least 48 hours to equilibrate its humidity with that of the room. The installation is done respecting the expansion space recommended by the manufacturer. In general, it is 8-10 mm. The space is not only left at the wall, but also in the area where the tiles meet, at the doors or near the pipes.

Poor quality flooring or inadequate materials used in assembly are causes of squeaking. The fastening systems of a poor quality floor will fail very quickly under heavy use, especially if the subfloor is slightly uneven. In that area the parquet elements will get a little play and squeak with every step. Also, if the flooring is glued with an unsuitable or low-quality adhesive, it may crack in the areas of heavier use. Peeling will cause the elements to rub against each other and thus cause squeaking.

Unpleasant noise also occurs if the flooring suffered a severe mechanical shock (a heavy object that has fallen on him from a height), if humidity in the room is too high or if flooding has occurred. Also, at a very old parquet, intensively used, there is a high chance of squeaking. Even if it was of very good quality and very well assembled, the whole system ages, like any object or being on earth. The elements fade, get play and that's how the creaking occurs. An advantage of old solid wood flooring is that it can be scraped several times, and can be refixed on this occasion.

How to eliminate squeaking without completely resurfacing the floor

The safest thing to do is to call a specialist, especially if the noise is heard over a large area. As you have seen, the causes can be many and it is good to identify them before repair. If the problem is related to the uneven screed, it will be hard to avoid complete re-laying by dismantling and re-assembling the flooring. But there is also the option of injecting solutions to fill in the gaps under the floor by expanding, blocking the movement of the elements. The solution, similar to polyurethane foam, is introduced under the floor through small holes in the elements. It is a repair that must be done by specialists because the risk of problems is high. For someone who is not familiar with the proportions, introducing the solution can lead to the complete detachment of the flooring.

A specialist also solves the problem of too small an expansion gap. He or she will identify the area where pressure occurs between the elements and the area that will allow them to relax. This area - under the skirting board next to the wall or under a threshold - can be enlarged by working on the elements in that area. The solid or laminated wood is worked on by removing some of the material. Intervention on laminate flooring is not recommended because there may be more serious consequences than squeaking (water penetrating the flooring followed by swelling and moulding).

In simpler cases where 2-3 elements move, small gaps appear between elements over a very small area or elements partially detach, we can intervene to repair without risking unpleasant consequences. The detached element can be removed completely and cleaned thoroughly on the part to be glued. A chisel or a tool with a wide, sharp blade can also be used to clean the screed/support to which it will be glued. Remove the debris thoroughly by vacuuming and wiping with a cloth. Then glue the item with a parquet adhesive, following the manufacturer's instructions.

If there are elements that have become loose, they can be fixed with putty or adhesives. Wooden shims or silicone string can also be forced between the elements. There are also solutions based on cork granules which elastically fixes the elements. Once fixed, the squeaking should disappear. It also disappears if talcum powder is poured into the area with very slightly spaced elements. This penetrates inside and acts as a shock absorber. It doesn't work if the elements are spread out and press against each other so that the powder finds no place to penetrate.

What's important when laying and maintaining your floor so it doesn't squeak

Installing flooring is a job for professionals and it is recommended that you call them to avoid inconvenience. It's good to be well informed so you know what to ask for or understand the differences between offers or why special materials are needed.

It is clear that the screed must be straight and dry. To avoid moisture getting into the floor, you can opt to apply a vapour barrier film that will keep water vapour away from the floor. It is also recommended to fit underfloor insulation, especially if it is laminate flooring. Noise will be greatly reduced.

If the flooring is to be installed in large rooms that communicate with each other, the recommendation is that each room should be approached separately, especially if the flooring is solid wood. At the boundary between rooms, leave a hidden expansion space under a threshold.

It's best to ask about how to use the flooring and follow the specialist's recommendations. The level of humidity inside is very important and should be kept as constant as possible. Avoid installing flooring in areas at risk of water leakage or flooding. Also avoid dragging heavy furniture across the floor. Use the right materials for floor maintenance and avoid abrasive products.

I hope you find the above information useful. As usual, additions are welcome. And if you have any questions or queries, please leave them in the space below. I'm sure I'll reply.

About the author

Mihaela Radu

Mihaela Radu is a chemical engineer but has a great passion for wood. She has been working in the field for more than 20 years, wood finishing being what defined her during this period. She gained experience working in a research institute, in her own company, as well as in a multinational. She wants to continuously share her experience with those who have the same passion - and more.

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