Q: We had hardwood floors installed in our home in March after purchasing it a month earlier. Now the floors constantly crack and pop when you walk on them, to the point that it is very annoying and distracting.
The contractor just pointed to the natural settling process of the property and changes in the weather. To make matters worse, he has departed the business and purchased a restaurant, and is claiming no responsibility.
A: Our first instinct is to agree with the contractor. Normal settling and changes in weather certainly could cause the noise. But after asking our reader a number of questions and reading his responses, we’re not so sure. This is what he wrote:
“The previous floors, also hardwood, were top-nailed rather than the tongue-and-groove, and made no such noises — and had been in place many years. If original, they date from the late ’50s. The subfloor is plank, not plywood.
“There has been some settling of the house since it was built. It sits atop a hillside overlooking a canyon with the backyard sloping away slightly. From visual observation, there is slight land movement downhill but no evidence it has moved any since we purchased it. Still, those changes would be very subtle and hard to validate. There are no cracks at the doors and windows although some of the upstairs closet jambs aren’t exactly square. Not bad, but not square.
“I should add that the same contractor installed hardwood in our previous home about seven years ago and did a fine job — which is why we called him back.
“On the previous home he ordered No. 2 red oak flooring from a mill and waited for it to come in on a truck. I imagined he did the same thing here. He did note that the quality of No. 2 red oak (which we liked because it was not uniform in grain and tended to have a lot more “character”) had declined significantly in the seven years since our last install and that he had quit using it as much.
“Nonetheless, we believe we didn’t get the product we paid for and wonder whether there is any action to be taken. I have hesitated to do so based on our relationship, but he’s been unresponsive and the floor just seems to be getting worse.”
As we read this question we thought time would fix the problem — until the last sentence. Our reader’s observation that “the floor just seems to be getting worse” is troubling.
His thorough answers to our questions provide a number of clues as to what might be happening. Of course, without firsthand observation, we can provide only an educated guess.
We don’t think the natural settling process of the property is the source of his creaky floors. No cracks around door frames and window openings indicate that settling is minor, even though the house sits on a hillside overlooking a canyon.
The quality of the wood and change in the weather may well be the source of the creaks. The floor was installed in March during what we recall was a pretty wet winter.
If the wood was not properly dried, blame the mill, not the contractor. It could easily take a season to adjust to its new home. Couple this with the admitted reduction in quality of the wood compared with seven years ago and it’s quite possible weather and wood grain are causing the snap, crackle and pop. Let’s hope so.
Another possible cause is that the floor joists are a bit undersize and allow too much flexion in the floor as you walk. Your old stick floors were not as susceptible to squeaks because they were face-nailed and butt-jointed, which allowed for some movement.
The tongue-and-groove joints in the new floor are tighter and create more of a monolith, which increases the chance of squeaking. If this seems to be the problem (and you can get at the joists), adding a few posts and support beams is a relatively easy fix.
But what we fear might be the cause is that the nails used to blind nail the tongue-and-groove flooring have split some of the planks in the subfloor.
You say the house was built in the 1950s, so the wood has had more than a half-century to dry out. Nails used in the stick floor were face-nailed, thin-gauged and only about an inch long. They were driven perpendicular through the flooring into the subfloor.
The nails used on the tongue and groove are much thicker gauge, about 2 inches long and are nailed diagonally through the tongue into the subfloor. It’s quite possible these nails split some of the old boards, resulting in loose nails, loose flooring — and the noises you hear.
A visual inspection from underneath the floor is the only way we can think of to determine if this is the problem. If it is, it will be a tough fix.
As far as recourse, keep trying with the contractor/restaurateur. Let’s hope he was licensed, bonded and insured. We also suggest that you get a second opinion from another licensed hardwood-floor installation company.
If the problem doesn’t resolve itself, and we hope that it does, a complaint to the California State Contractors License Board is in order. If you wish to go further, consult an attorney.