Property Clinic: What is causing creaky floorboards in my house?
If materials move against each other, the friction produced will result in house noise
As property ages, many of the materials shrink while others expand. This can allow floorboard gaps to appear and the good fit originally achieved can be lost.
Just lately, maybe the last couple of months, I have noticed a lot more loose/creaking floorboards in my house. I have always had a couple of springy boards, but now they seem to be all over. I have always believed the house to be sound; it was built on concrete pillars. Could we have termites? Or perhaps it was water damage due to a ruptured pipe under the house.
Noel Larkin replies: Reading your query I was immediately reminded of Welshman Michael Barratt’s song “this ole house”. Of course Michael was better known as Shakin Stevens and like you he was concerned about his house “trembling in the darkness”.
As property ages – just like humans – many of the materials forming its various parts shrink, while others expand. This can allow gaps to appear and the good fit originally achieved can be lost. If materials move against each other the friction produced will result in noise.
The most common and irritating noise is creaking floorboards. In your case the problem seems to have developed to an unacceptable level. The original fitting does not appear to have been fully successful as you advise that there was an issue of springy boards from the outset. If materials are not correctly fitted initially this will allow movement. This will in time affect all materials adjacent to those that are incorrectly or poorly fitted.
You advise that your house is constructed on strong foundations. The suggestion that pillars were used could point towards poor ground and the subsequent use of piles. There can be issues with shrinking or settlement to floors where the walls are adequately supported by piles, but the floors are not. Indeed, you also mention leaking pipes, and this too is a common cause of subsidence. This can affect walls and floors.
Termites will not be an issue as we do not have this problem in Ireland. However, we do have some wood-boring insects that can have an impact on floors. The exit holes and dust created when the insect leaves the wood should be easily seen.
As you suggest, there are many factors that can contribute to discomfort in a house. The passage of time, deterioration of materials and general wear and tear all can combine to bring about a less-than-ideal environment in your home. The key to keeping such matters under control is regular maintenance.
If matters have gone beyond routine maintenance a more holistic review will be needed. A chartered building surveyor is trained in the assessment of how a structure works and how various materials work together. Are they compatible and working correctly as designed? Are there issues of settlement or subsidence at play? He or she will be able to evaluate the situation and advise with regard to the level and extent of repairs needed to arrest or correct the problem.
Noel Larkin is a chartered building surveyor and a member of the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland, scsi.ie