There are many reasons that you, Father Christmas or the Tooth Fairy might want to creep around your own home when everyone else has gone to bed – an after-hours comfort break, perhaps? But there’s no need to lose sleep over it.
The good news is, unless you have serious underlying problems, creaking floorboards can often be tackled without a lot of effort.
Identify the problem
Creaks should be physically examined, including those beneath carpeted areas. Tread all around the area to find the spot, then ease back the carpet to check that the floorboard beneath is securely fixed. If it isn’t, you may have a problem with the floor joists so it’s worth asking a surveyor to assess the problem before beginning expensive remedial works.
Floorboard seem to be fixed but still creaks?
If the floorboard is securely fixed, use talcum powder, chalk or a dry lubricant (such as graphite powder) to dust the cracks, which should solve the problem by reducing the friction that causes the squeak.
If the floorboard is springy, the fixings used to secure the floorboard to the joist may have released sufficiently to cause the squeak and a simple replacement of the fixings can resolve the problem, but beware of simply hammering in new nails. If the floorboard has hidden cabling or pipework beneath it, you can easily cause more serious damage, so first lift the floorboard by removing the old screws or nails, to examine what lies beneath. Don’t rely on an electronic detector, which won’t show plastic plumbing or may give confusing readings.
When you’ve made a note of which areas to avoid (in case you need to do the job again), you can use new fixings to put the floorboard back in its place.
Evidence of woodworm?
If the creaky floorboard shows evidence of woodworm (most easily identified by tiny holes or dusty areas, where the larvae of the beetle have fed on the wood) you will need to treat it immediately. Use woodworm treatment to treat the adjacent areas, including the joists beneath the floorboard.
Woodworm preservers and insecticides are available that can prevent the infestation of woodworm, as well as dry rot and wet rot.
How to remove a floorboard
Floorboards located at the edge of the room may run beneath the skirting board, in which case it may be necessary to remove the skirting before removing the floorboard. Avoid simply sawing a board in half which may cause more problems.
Use a wide bladed chisel to gently prise between the joints of square-edged floorboards. Tongue and groove floorboards are more difficult, although they are less likely to creak in the first place. A sharp chisel and mallet can be used carefully AFTER you’ve located pipes and cables, or use a floorboard saw which will allow you to cut safely through the tongues.
If your floorboard is in good condition and you want to reuse it, remove the nails with a claw hammer or pincers. Drive the nails out by hammering them from the back of the wood then claw them out. You can then reuse the existing holes to refix the floorboard.
Use the correct fixings
The floorboards of older properties will often be fixed by brad nails. The downside of using brad nails is that they can split the wood, particularly if used on the last inch of board. The vibration caused by hammering can also cause vibration that will loosen the floorboard. If you do use brads – once they are in, tap them sharply with a hammer and punch to ensure the head sits just below the surface.
A more reliable fixing would be to use countersunk wood screws but you will need to ensure they are embedded just below the surface. Drill a pilot hole with a smaller drill bit and countersink the holes for a flush finish.
Go on, fix your floorboards – your teenager will thank you for it.
Ask one of our local PropertySurveying.co.uk RICS Chartered Surveyors for professional advice if you think you have a structural problem in your home.