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New hardwood floors creak?

mopsy's picture

Hi everyone.  Looking for a bit of help with a problem one of my clients is having.  I’ve been doing interior painting at their home on an off for the past year as they have worked themselves through a whole house renovation.  The issue involves creaking of new hard wood floors. 

The home is in Vancouver BC having a climate very similar to Seattle Washington where winters are rainy, damp and cool.  The home is aprox. 3,000 sq.ft on 2 levels with a heated 3’ crawl space.  Top floor covering about half the house is1,000 sq.ft of bedrooms and hall. 

January/11 the owners were ready to have hardwood installed in the upper area of the home. Material was prefinished 7”  hand scraped hickory with a macro bevel. The finish is a semi gloss urethane/plastic finish of some sort.  The product was delivered for the whole house and was spread throughout the house in various rooms to both acclimatize and distribute weight.  It sat for about 2 weeks before being installed on the upper level.  It had been recommended that a total glue down be done plus nailing because of the width of boards.  The installer used a square notched hand trowel.  The glue was Fortane LD that was pinkish in color that I recall.  The end result was an installation that to this day has not peeped a sound.  The homeowners while happy with the product in general were not happy with the look as it was about 80% shorts (24” and less)  The supplier had told them the average length would be greater than 40”.  Tearing it up was a no go because of the total glue down.  After months of fighting the supplier took back the balance of 2,000 ft. that was for the main floor. Credit given with a bit of bonus for the shorts upstairs. 

Flash forward to Jan. of this year.  A new supplier, installer and flooring is chosen for the main floor over the heated craw.  Product is again hickory that is 5” with a micro bevel and has an oil finish.  After flooring is installed a second thin coat of oil is applied and buffed with instructions from installer that it would require (as needed) repeated coats over the years.  The owners were assured that longer lengths mostly over 4’ would be used and the supplier more than delivered on this. It’s a good looking floor.  Again a total glue down plus nailing was recommended.  This time the new installers used a pneumatic glue gun.  (Cool I’d never seen one before).  They were generous with the glue (TiteBond).  The glue was applied in a zigzag motion one course at a time.  Boards then layed and nailed.  The main floor was finished in two stages including kitchen prior to cabinet installation.  First half was area of home with bedrooms above.  The second area installed 1 -2 weeks later has no living space above. 

And finally, sorry for taking so long, here is the problem.  The whole main floor creaks.  The area of least creaking is the first half that was installed.  It does creak but not nearly as bad as the second half installed couple of weeks later.  One cannot walk anywhere with out the creaking. It sounds like large toothpicks snapping with every step!  Oh yes, about the delivery.  The product was delivered in the same time of year as upstairs, difference being it arrived on a Thursday and first half was installed the next Tuesday.Less than a week between delivery and first install.   All 2,000 ft was stacked in the living room and not spread around that much.  The owner questioned this in terms of weight and short time to acclimatize but was assured by the supplier/installer that it was ok.  Ironically it is the first half installed that creaks the least. My understanding was that the flooring was milled and finished locally. 

The supplier has tried to blame low humidity which is running in the 40% range. (Didn’t affect the upstairs installation 1 year earlier??)  Suggests waiting until summer to see what happens.  Owner says so what am I supposed to do move south each winter so I don’t have to listen to the creaking?  Mind you winter in Arizona wouldn’t be all that bad.  Supplier tells owner that humidity should be in high 50% range. Owners research finds that it would be pushing the upper limit for moisture problems.  Also all plywood subfloors had been screwed down on both levels.   The house was silent prior to any hardwood installation.  And one other funny thing.  One day 2-3 weeks after installation was fully completed one of the trades had turned off the furnace.  The owners woke the next morning to a freezing cold home 12 degrees Celsius.  But no creaks???

Some spaces have begun to appear between boards around the home.  A quarter can be stood on end in some places.  In the kitchen crumbs have more recently started to get between the boards.  From a standing position boards seem tight but getting down on my knees and putting my glasses on (getting old) I can see the tiny spaces.  At this point not sure if boards have shrunk or they were just not installed tight enough.

Possible differences that may be cause to creaking:

Shorter boards up  vs longer boards down

Different glues and way to apply.  TiteBond tubes looked like typical supfloor construction addesive

Shorter time to acclimatize however second stage install was 4 weeks after first and creaks the most.

Up installed over living space vs main floor is over heated crawl.

 Have any of you run into similar issues and what could be the cause of the creaking.  What fixes would you recommend?  Many years back I had read in a FHB issue (Tips and Tricks) that suggested putting talcum powder in the cracks to work its way in as a lubricant could work.  How much talcum does it take to cover 2,000  :)' 

Again sorry for the long explanation but I was endeavoring to provide all details that could possible affect the installation.  Hey everyone… thank you so much.

mop (post #205892, reply #1 of 21)

Here's a couple questions to make your story longer.

Where are the duct runs located in the crawl that supply the first and second floor (if they are down there).

Are the gaps in a path that could be above the ductwork (suppies only)

I would never use tube glue to hold hardwood and is I did, it would be a product like PLPremium--a urethane glue.  But full spread is a different subject than zigzag.  There's more contact with trowel down.

Is the crawl dry?   Is there a moisture barrier put down ? 


What was the moisture meter reading of the flooring and the subfloor at time of install?

A Great Place for Information, Comraderie, and a Sucker Punch.

Remodeling Contractor just outside the Glass City.


creaky hard wood floors (post #205892, reply #4 of 21)

Calvin thanks for your thoughts. Never considered about heat supply in line with gaps in flooring.  Will have client check this out. as runs are in the crawl.  Heating is N. Gas forced air.  Crawl is dry and there is probably a vapor barrier below concrete as it was required when this home was built aprox. 24yrs ago.  I believe a humidity reading taken after flooring was installed read very similar on main floor and crawl. 

Mop (post #205892, reply #7 of 21)

Full spread vs. tube glue-no comparison-never heard it done with tube glue, but am just a dumb carpenter.  The bead down a joist flattens out with the overall weight and nailing of the plywood-almost full spread.  Under a pc. of flooring-no way-like has been mentioned, it probably holds the board up off the subfloor.  If it starts cupping, you'll know even that bond has been broken.

Also, I mentioned a moisture meter, not something that registers humidity in the air.  The moisture reading between subfloor and finished floor can only be closely different-any wider swings either way will affect the hardwood.  Tho most don't, good flooring installers will check the content of the sub and the finished floor b/4 work begins.  That's what an "acclimation" period is all about.  Bring the new stuff in concert with the existing-since you're putting it right on top of it.


A Great Place for Information, Comraderie, and a Sucker Punch.

Remodeling Contractor just outside the Glass City.


Re moisture of sub and new flooring (post #205892, reply #8 of 21)

Hi Calvin.  Sorry when I read back your post I realized I'd missed that part.  I would bet my last nickel that they did not test.  As I said in my post, hardwood remaind stacked and bundled in one spot for less than a week before installation began.  However the first area, thought it does creak. creaks less than the second area installed a few weeks later??  It should have been acclimatized by then.  But actual moister content is  unknown.   I've no doubt the subfloor was minimal. 


mop (post #205892, reply #9 of 21)

Flooring is an odd situation-some comes sealed up-they ask you to leave bundled and sealed until install.

Others  are advised and will spread all the wood out for a while-even stickered will deliver different transitions-and test to get the two floors within a couple %.    But add a crawl to the mix, where a potential moisture source is below, and you have the potential of change-how much is what you try to control.

Besides the knees and back, I don't think I'd like to be a floor layer.


A Great Place for Information, Comraderie, and a Sucker Punch.

Remodeling Contractor just outside the Glass City.


There are a bunch of (post #205892, reply #2 of 21)

There are a bunch of different varieties of TiteBond, but generally it's a "hard" glue -- stiffer than regular construction adhesive and a bit brittle.  Unless the particular stuff was different from this it would seem to be a poor choice for flooring where there must be some "give".

Anyone who claims that humidity should be above 50% is out of his freakin' mind.  (Or, more likely, a piss-poor liar.)

[Close as I can tell, what TiteBond sells for wood flooring is the 801/811/821 line.  This is a troweled adhesive.]

Of all the preposterous assumptions of humanity over humanity, nothing exceeds most of the criticisms made on the habits of the poor by the well-housed, well-warmed, and well-fed.  --Herman Melville

I wonder too if its not the (post #205892, reply #3 of 21)

I wonder too if its not the glue that is not the problem.  If it was applied from a tube, it comes out in a fairly thick ribbon.  You would have to work the board around quite a bit to get the bead to completely flatten out and allow full contact between the board and the subfloor.  My guess would be that the glue is serving as a spacer between the floor and the subfloor allowing it to flex when it is walked on.  When the temp dropped in the house, the glue could have stiffened up enough to temporarily stop the movement.

Re Creaky Floor (post #205892, reply #6 of 21)

You know you may have nailed it.  I mentally questioned at the time the zigzag application noticing it  was a thick bead and suspecting it was regular construction adesive. I thought the installer would have to do a bit of walking around on it to get it to spread.  Which they weren't doing.  However they were the "experts".   It makes sense that with the glue running pretty much down the centre of the board and giving no support under the T&G the board would rock back and forth causing the tonge and grove to creak. It would only take a slight movement. Like you said the glue is acting as a spacer.   Upstaris  was completely troweled out with at least a 3/8 square notched trowel.  If I recall that installer said the product was a bit rubbery.  Thus possibly no brittleness and certainly no rocking motion.  Thanks.

Yeah, if it's the glue down (post #205892, reply #10 of 21)

Yeah, if it's the glue down the center that's the problem it would be easy to test:  Walking along balanced on the center of a plank wouldn't creak, but walking down a seam would.

Of all the preposterous assumptions of humanity over humanity, nothing exceeds most of the criticisms made on the habits of the poor by the well-housed, well-warmed, and well-fed.  --Herman Melville

Re Creaky Floor (post #205892, reply #5 of 21)

Thanks Dan.  I have to admit there was a fleeting and questioning thought in my mind when I saw them using the large construction tubes of adhesive but I got distracted by the air powered glue gun and the thought was gone.  I didn't look that closely at the tubes other than to recognize them and think that this was the same stuff used to glue down plywood subfloors during framing.  You are correct it does get brittle.   I'm having the owner check with installer as to the specifics of the glue.

Hardwood Floors (post #205892, reply #11 of 21)

  The moisture reading should be taken on the subfloor ,the hardwood, & a fewspots on the existing woodwork, thru-out the house. The reading should not be more than 2% diferent on all readings. The hardwood should have all been unpackaged & stickered with also a fan , lightly circulating the air. The hardwood should be run perpendicular to the floor joists. Remember that T & G plywood , that is applied over even a crawl space is considered a vapor barrier & therefore should not affect the new floor above. The slight cracks between boards is a definate sign that the wood was not fully climatized. Sometimes this can take up to a month. Could there be a forced air heating nearby that is blowing over the bad section of floor ? The skweeks are coming from the shrunken boards moving up & down the nail. If there are not a lot of sqweeky spots the you might try hand nail a few hardwood nails thru & then a wax stick for the hole , or try to use a compatible oil finish that will seep  between the boards & then dry to a soft waxy finnish. We run into a lot of problems such as this up here in  Whistler BC  Wet winters & dry hot summers.

Re Hardwood Floors Creaking (post #205892, reply #12 of 21)

Silvernails thanks for your thoughts.

I am 99% sure moisture readings were never taken. Packages were not opened nor spread around.  Just a 5 day acclimation prior to install on the 1st stage and about 2 -3 weeks to second stage.  So should have been acclimatized by then.  Also no issues from upstairs installed 1 year earlier.  It is forced air but the furnace is no where near so just regular floor vents.  It is not the nails squeaking but rather a creaking like sound of snapping toothpicks but quite loud.  In one room you cannot step anywhere with out it happening.  This problem is not isolated to one area or even one room. It is throughout the whole main floor and varies as to severity from room to room.  As far as renailing.  The creaks are so numerous I don't think there would be enough nails in Vancouver to catch them all.  It was a very bad installation but as of yet don’t know why.   Again thanks for your ideas

You could always try dumping (post #205892, reply #13 of 21)

You could always try dumping a bunch of talc on the floor.  (Be sure to use real talc, not baking powder or whatnot.)

Of all the preposterous assumptions of humanity over humanity, nothing exceeds most of the criticisms made on the habits of the poor by the well-housed, well-warmed, and well-fed.  --Herman Melville

Top of the pile (post #205892, reply #14 of 21)

Just a thought, 


Maybe the first area that was done on the main floor doesn't creak because the first boards used would have been pulled from the top of the pile, and would have been better acclimatized than all of the rest buried down below.


Make any sense?


Good luck!

mc (post #205892, reply #15 of 21)

Two different deliveries, two different woods.

Two different installers.

A Great Place for Information, Comraderie, and a Sucker Punch.

Remodeling Contractor just outside the Glass City.


It's a given you live in a (post #205892, reply #16 of 21)

It's a given you live in a high moisture area - that's a given.  If you have a knowledgeable supplier who is sitting on wood he knows is at or below the moisture in your house it's not a big deal if they didn't let the boards aclamate - all that would do is have an even looser floor - at least within reason - too much drier and as it expands it could lift and buckle, which obviously isn't your situation if the floor is actually getting large gaps.  Sounds like that was an installer looking for a quick check and who had a gap in his work schedule so it was either do the work now or be unemployed for that time period.  For the life of me I don't know why an installer with a known track record of a good install wasn't used again....give the guys who do good work additional work - they are worth it and your client would have benefited.

It sounds like you have guys who don't know what they are doing and your client is the loser - I hate to say it, but it's not all the crappy installers fault - as a general a large part of what you're paid for is knowing the good fromt he bad subs.   

If I could edit my location it would say I'm now in Reno :-)

don (post #205892, reply #17 of 21)

You may have missed it-


" I’ve been doing interior painting at their home "

A Great Place for Information, Comraderie, and a Sucker Punch.

Remodeling Contractor just outside the Glass City.


This guys isn't the general? (post #205892, reply #18 of 21)

This guys isn't the general?

If I could edit my location it would say I'm now in Reno :-)

Nope (post #205892, reply #19 of 21)

He's painted for the client and is a concerned third party.

It's in the beginning of the original post.

A Great Place for Information, Comraderie, and a Sucker Punch.

Remodeling Contractor just outside the Glass City.


Oh, I see....I missed the (post #205892, reply #20 of 21)

Oh, I see....I missed the point that he's a painter and not a general that has had his painters in the house in question.

In that case, shame on the homeowners for not hiring the guy who did a good job the first time around.  How many jobs of the new flooring guys did the homeowners visit that were similar to theirs?  None.  Was this most likely based on a low bidder getting the job?  Yes.  Stupid is as stupid does.

I don't see a fix other than pulling the floor up and having a new floor installed.  Maybe they can hire someone from Labor Ready or CL who will work even cheaper this time around!?  The yo-yos that screwed the pooch on this one probably aren't worth all that much since they work for cheap so even getting a court judgment against them won't mean anything if it's impossible to collect.

If I could edit my location it would say I'm now in Reno :-)

Don (post #205892, reply #21 of 21)

Not necessarily cheap installer.

Two different floor suppliers, two different installers (seems they're provided/recommended by suppliers, two different products and two different finishes (one prefinished, the other site finished).  Two different install methods.  

No information given at all on price of product or install.


A Great Place for Information, Comraderie, and a Sucker Punch.

Remodeling Contractor just outside the Glass City.