Look toward patio door for squeaky floor
QMy question is about noisy hardwood floors. Our home was built in 2013. Throughout the winter, we noticed the hardwood flooring by the patio door began to squeak and make crackly noises. We asked the builder to come and take a look at it, but when he did he looked at the deck, which is built outside the patio door, and blamed the noisy floor on it. By the way, he did not build the deck. The house came with a deck built by the builder, but we wanted to make changes and so we decided to get someone else to build it for us. The builder never came in the house to investigate, just simply stood on the deck and blamed the problems on it. He also mentioned that since they did not build the deck, it was not under the Tarion warranty. We have an unfinished basement, so we can look at the subflooring underneath the hardwood floor. What I noticed was a lot of the screws/nails missed the joist or caught the top of the joint at an angle and the bottom of the screws/nails were sticking out. Could this be the cause of the problem? Thank you. Patricia Demidas, London, ON Answer: There are several reasons why hardwood floors may make noise, but the location of the offensive flooring is the key to your issue. While I may not often agree with a homebuilder’s assessment of problems, this time I think he may be correct. In many situations where homeowners complain about squeaky or noisy hardwood floors, it is due to shrinkage and movement in older homes. This regularly will occur between the flooring itself and the sheathing beneath. Older wood subflooring or plywood can become dry and brittle or fasteners holding it to the joists may become loose or corroded. Also, the fasteners that hold the hardwood to this sheathing may become loose or damaged from traffic, causing squeaks or noise. While this is a regular occurrence in older homes, it should not be the same issue in a newly built home like yours. Newer homes should have plywood or OSB floor sheathing that is well secured to the floor joists beneath. This is due to the common use of subfloor adhesive and flooring screws to fasten the sheathing. The adhesive will provide a good bond while also preventing debris from entering any small gaps between this sheathing and the joists. Wood screws are superior to nails because the threads prevent loosening over time, common with older nails. If both of these items are present in your home, there should not be a problem with the sheathing installation. Looking at the area under the floor, where you have mentioned it is visible, should enable you to see some excess adhesive on the underside of the sheathing or joists. Also, the fact some screws have missed the mark is quite common and is actually verification the sheathing was screwed rather than nailed down. Smaller nails you see protruding through the sheathing are likely the ones used to install the hardwood flooring and are often odd-shaped and serrated for better holding power. If these items are visible, it is unlikely there is any major defect with the flooring installation, and the builder may be correct in his assessment. The true culprit, as it is with most home issues, is moisture. Because the hardwood is only problematic near your patio door, the actual cause of the issue is either damage to the floor joists, sheathing, or flooring from moisture related to the patio door. It is very common for these doors to be poorly sealed, especially at the sill. If cold air can infiltrate this area because of poor insulation and sealing, condensation can occur, which may lead to damage of the wooden floor components. This is normally solved by caulking or installation of foam weatherstripping between the door sill and the area beneath from the exterior, but that may be difficult in your case. If the deck is built too close to the underside of the door sill, less than 10 cm below, it may be nearly impossible to reseal any gaps under the door without removing some of the decking. But the real issue with a deck built in this fashion is moisture on the deck penetrating the building envelope under this door. Floor or wall sheathing in this area can frequently become wet, due to the location and design of the door. This may happen from wind-driven rain, or due to wicking of rainwater or melted snow sitting on the surface of the outside decking. Because the sill is overhanging this sheathing, it may prevent sun and warm air allowing it to easily dry. If the decking is too close, or covering this area, it will not only increase the frequency of wetting, it will further impede quick drying, which is necessary to prevent moisture damage and rot. If the sheathing or framing in this area becomes damaged, it will compromise the securing of the hardwood flooring, allowing movement and noise. While it may seem like an easy excuse for your builder to blame a retro-fitted deck for problems with the flooring just inside a patio door, that may be the true source of the problem. Ensuring the decking is dropped a short distance below the bottom of the door will allow regular caulking or sealing the problematic area under the door sill and prevent excessive wetting and damage to the floor sheathing and flooring in this area. Ari Marantz is the owner of Trained Eye Home Inspection Ltd. and the past president of the Canadian Association of Home & Property Inspectors — Manitoba (cahpi.mb.ca). Questions can be emailed to the address below. Ari can be reached at 204-291-5358 or check out his website at trainedeye.ca.