We’ve all experienced it at some point. Squeaky creaking floorboards. By floorboards, I mean solid plank timber boards often around 150 to 200 mm wide by 20 mm thick with a tongue and groove machined on all respective sides. This article will explain in detail why damaged floorboards will always squeak or creak.
Firstly, I need to expand on the word ‘Damaged’ in the title. That word is somewhat misleading. When I say ‘damaged’, I’m essentially saying ‘dry’ and ‘cupping’. Whether the floorboards are classed as damaged when in such a state, is subjective. For the purposes of this article, we will continue with the understanding the floorboards are indeed ‘damaged’; to the extent they are causing issues for a properties occupants in the form of excessive squeaking/creaking, and from the stand point that such noise will not go away or at the least will permanently come and go throughout the seasons.
What is dry and cupping floorboards?
A floorboard that is ‘cupping’ has at some point in its life been exposed to drier air humidity on the topside (The walked on side) than the underside (The side that is in contact with joists – the unseen side). This can be a likened to a leaf that has fallen on a damp ground, on a sunny day. The underside stays wet, while the topside dries from the warm sun. The edges of the leaf will curl up – ‘cupping’.
There are multiple reasons why this happens, from a higher and drier ambient room temperature above the floorboard than below, leaks or air flow blockages beneath, high moisture contents of the floorboards prior to or during installation and so on.
The reason isn’t the point however. The point is that ‘cupped’ floorboards are extremely unlikely to return back to an un-cupped state. In fact, I’ve not seen that happen in my twenty plus years in the trade. This is a key fact to your problem!
As can be seen in this cross section illustration, when floorboards cup, they essential become a seesaw. Voids occur beneath each side of the width (Importantly – where the tongue and groove interlocks). When walked across, with no support at the edges due to the voids as well as the edges being raised, the floorboard will move vertically downwards at the edges and pop back up once the foot load has been removed (The seesaw effect). The tongue and groove now rub together and squeak/creak, a lot like my arthritic knee joints.
Even by removing the raised edges via sanding or planing, the voids will still be present and the floorboards will continue to give. Filling the voids may have some benefits, but is often extremely time consuming and offers no guarantees to such a methods longevity due to the ever changing shifting of the timber through the seasons. If the floorboards have got to the point of excessive cupping, it’s often far more economical to remove them and enjoy the next twenty plus years with blissful silence.
With a complete removal of such floorboards and replacement with the modern day superior substitute that is plyboard, that blissful silence is within reach.
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