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Handyman on call

How to fix squeaky floors, stairs

By Peter Hotton
Globe Staff / April 29, 2010

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Q. Is there any way of getting rid of the squeaks in my hardwood floors? They are driving me bananas.

MAUREEN, from Woburn

A. Sure are, several ways. The handyman has written about them many times over the last 44 years. It’s appropriate to deliver my sermon on the squeaks one more time. A temporary silencing is with talcum powder puffed into joints. Or, use a silicone dry lube, but make sure it is dry, and not oily like WD-40.

Squeaking starts when the wood dries out, usually in winter, when the heat is on, and loses its grip on the nails. Since there are two layers of wood in place (a subfloor of plywood or boards and a top floor of hardwood), these layers are loose and squeak when walked on. So the primary need is to bring these layers together, and also tight against the joists, the beams that hold up the floor.

If you can reach the floors below, say in the basement, you can drive shims (tapered wood shingles or plastic gadgets) between joist and bottom layer. Do this with no one standing on the floor. When you finish, have someone walk around the floor to see if any squeaks remain, and you can deal with them with more shims.

When you can’t get to the under part of the floor, have someone stand on the floor where the squeaks are. This will compress the two layers together and also tight against the joists. Then drive long, thin solid brass screws (they won’t rust) into the board and through the subfloor, and also into the joist. This will bring all elements together and prevent movement. Finding a joist is difficult, and may not be worth the hassle. The screw heads will show, but it cannot be helped.

Well, it can be helped. Buy a kit called Squeeeeek No More (misspelling and all) that contains steel headless screws that are driven the same way as brass screws. Then with a hammer, break off the top of the screw under the floor surface. It will leave a small hole, which you can plug with a wood filler or leave as is. You will soon forget they are there. You might find the kit at Ace or other hardware and big box stores.

The kit will also work on a carpeted floor, and you will not see the holes.

And how to tackle those squeaky stairs? The same way, except with hot-zinc dipped galvanized finish nails. I include this fancy name for nails because that kind of galvanizing is the only one that holds very well. Have someone stand on the wayward tread, and predrill small holes at a 45-degree angle through the tread and into the riser, so that the holes form an “X’’ in the wood. Then drive the finish nails into the holes, and countersink them. Each set of nails should be near the front of the tread, directly over the riser. Each set should be about 4 inches in from each end of the tread.

Q. I put down two 27-inch-wide rubber mat runners in my garage to accommodate my car. After last month’s rains, I developed a pasty lime oozing out from under both sides of each runner. It was a mess. How can I clean it and keep it away?

MISERABLE

A. Water remained under the runners long enough for lime to be leached out of the concrete. It is called efflorescence, and you can clean it off with a good hosing. Clean off the runners and reuse them, but they will continue to trap water under them with the resulting lime paste.

Q. I have to put in a new door, but it has to be 34 inches wide, which is an unusual width and not widely available. Where can I find one? I would prefer it be made of fiberglass.

BART, from Revere

A. I checked out my trusty Brosco catalog and found very few 34-inchers. You could cut down a wood door, if such a wood door can tolerate 1 inch off each side. Check out fiberglass doors on Google.

Globe Handyman on Call also appears in the Sunday Real Estate section. He is available 1-6 p.m. Tuesdays to answer questions on house repair. Call 617-929-2930. Hotton (photton@globe.com) also chats online about house matters 2-3 p.m. Thursdays. Go to www.boston.com