Q: About a year ago I purchased a condominium that is about 20 years old. I live on the ground floor of the three-story building. When the tenant above me walks around, the floors creak loudly, especially in the bedroom.
The homeowners’ association came over to assess the situation and agreed that they hear the creaking. They told me that there is about a foot of dead space between floors and that it is insulated. The association told me there is really nothing they can do. I’m wondering if you know of any way I can deal with this situation, and whose responsibility or shared responsibility it would be?
A: We believe the source of the creaky floors above your head is loose nails. It’s likely the subfloor installed in the condo above you 20 years ago was plywood. Sheets of plywood are nailed to the floor-framing members, called joists.
To guard against squeaky floors, the best builders use construction adhesive along with nails. This special glue is applied to the joist before the subfloor is nailed. Unfortunately, because you have creaks, it’s unlikely adhesive was used in your building.
In 20 years, thousands of steps have caused the plywood to flex and, little by little, to loosen the nails holding the subfloor in place. The result of this normal use is that today the subfloor is not firmly fastened to the floor joists. The subfloor squeaks with each step when the loose plywood travels a short distance up and down the dislodged nails.
We doubt that there is a foot of dead space between your ceiling and the floor above. Rather we think that the floor joists are 2-by-10s or 2-by-12s with the cavity created by each floor joist approximately a foot deep between your ceiling and the floor above. In other words, your ceiling and the subfloor of the condo above are nailed to the same pieces of framing.
There is a relatively easy and inexpensive way to kill the squeak. Re- nail your neighbor’s floor with 8d finishing nails.
Finishing nails have very small heads, allowing them to be countersunk and filled. In this case, you won’t be filling any nail holes, but the small head will allow the nail to be driven home through the carpeting, carpet pad and plywood flush with the face of the plywood subfloor.
You might be tempted to use a pneumatic nailing gun for the job. We’d advise against it. The nail heads are usually too small to hold the plywood for long and the nails themselves are too thin a gauge to do the job.
To do this re-nailing job, you must make sure the nails are driven home into the floor joists. To locate the floor joists and the direction they run, peel back a bit of the carpet and pad at one wall and look for nail heads. If you don’t see any, do the same on a perpendicular wall.
Once you have found the nailing pattern on the subfloor, determine the distance between floor joists, which will usually be 16 or 24 inches. Then affix a piece of 1-inch masking tape to the carpet to mark the location of each joist.
Finally, nail through the tape with a finishing nail every 6 inches, making sure to completely set the nails. This should eliminate the creaks in the floor.
As far as where the responsibility to repair the squeaks falls, we don’t know. Generally, condominium unit owners are responsible for upkeep and repair within their four walls. The homeowner’s association is responsible for the maintenance of the common areas.
Our advice would be to contact your neighbor, state the problem and see if the two of you can come to a solution. In any event, the fix we’ve described will require permission from your neighbor.
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