Q: My home is 45 years old. Recently I removed the carpeting to have the floors refinished and now am hearing squeaks that were unnoticed with the carpets. It is the original flooring that is squeaking. It has nails sunk and filled into the subfloor, which is not plywood. Would screws from underneath into the hardwood floor do the trick?
A: We bet your “new” floors look fabulous. And we’re happy to tell you that those squeaks can be fixed quickly and inexpensively. But screws from underneath is not the way to go about it.
Judging by the age of your home and the description of the floor — “nails sunk and filled” — we’ll bet you have a stick-oak floor. These are usually made of 2-inch strips of 5/16-inch oak. This type of floor is top nailed with four-penny finish nails, set and filled. Because the boards are thin they will not easily take a screw.
This type of flooring used to be common in the San Francisco Bay Area and spanned a number of architectural styles from the Craftsman cottages of the ’20s through the tract homes of the ’50s. We suspect it was so prolific because cleaning was easy (a broom and a damp mop) and, compared to the cost of carpeting and maintenance of those eras, it was a bargain.
Most of the homes we’ve owned or lived in during our lifetime have had hardwood flooring. Our first home, a duplex in the Oakland, Calif., hills built by our dad and grandpa, had hardwood floors in the bedrooms. Kevin remembers sliding around the floor in his socks at age 5.
Our next home was a 1,200-square-foot tract house in a then-new subdivision — Floresta Gardens in nearby San Leandro. Purchase price in 1955 was $8,700. It had hardwood floors throughout, except in the kitchen.
Times do change. Seven years later we moved to a home our dad built in the San Leandro hills. No hardwood here. Floors were linoleum, the old kind you had to wax, along with some wall-to-wall carpet. The linoleum served a house with three growing boys.
When we started buying older homes for ourselves, all but the Victorians came with hardwood. These floors were usually covered with worn-out carpet. By taking the carpet out and refinishing the wood we felt we’d discovered buried treasure.
Bill had a particularly handsome “matchstick” floor in his triplex in Alameda, Calif. It was 1-inch quarter-sawn oak, and it refinished spectacularly. When we built Kevin’s home in Idaho, the choice for the public areas was mixed hardwood, which has served well for 12 years, standing up to the neighborhood kids and three dogs.
We relate all this to say that we’ve had our share of squeaky floors, too. We think your squeaks are caused either by the new finish cracking as the floor settles in or possibly from loose nails in some of the boards. It could be a combination of the two.
If it’s just the floor acclimatizing, our recommendation is to do nothing and over a little time the squeaks should go away. If it’s loose nails, and with a 45-year-old floor we suspect this is the case, some re-nailing will be required. The job is simple and will cost less than $10. All you’ll need is a few four-penny finishing nails, a hammer, a nail set and a putty stick matched to the color of the floor.
Walk around the room and where you discover a squeak, put a nail in the offending board. Recess the nail head below the surface of the wood with a nail set and fill the hole with the putty stick.
Be sure to keep the nails an inch or so away from the ends of the boards and 1/2 inch away from the sides to avoid splitting the boards. To make doubly sure you don’t split the boards, pre-drill a pilot hole before nailing.
That’s all there is to it. No crawling under the house with screw gun in hand.