Your Place | A well-placed nail or two will quiet squeaky floors

Posted: August 17, 2007

Question: My daughter is having carpeting installed for the first time in her living room, on the steps, and in the upstairs hallway. Her steps and hallway floor are very squeaky.

What can she do before she gets new carpet to get rid of the squeaks?

Answer: Squeaks are usually caused when the subfloor begins to separate from the floor joists. To fix squeaks caused by large gaps beneath the floor, fasten a piece of scrap wood against the floor joist so that it fits snugly against the subfloor. The wood will support the subfloor, preventing it from moving down to the joist.

If carpeting is being installed, your daughter can probably attack the problem from above. Find each squeak, then hammer a long finish nail into the floor so that it goes into the floor joist. If the squeak is caused by the subfloor and the floor separating, she should drive two nails into the floor at opposite 45-degree angles.

Make sure that the nail head is driven below the surface of the floor so it won't pop up through the underlayment and the carpeting.

Q: My wife and I are considering putting heated flooring in our house. What can you tell us about it?

A: Radiant-floor heating has been around for 60 years, but until the invention of flexible plastic piping, installation wasn't easy. Information is available on the U.S. Department of Energy's Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Web site, Type "radiant floor heating" into the search field.

A radiant-floor or hydronic-heating system behaves like a radiator: Heated water circulates through tubes under the flooring, and the heat is transferred uniformly to the objects above it. The warm water can be generated by a water heater or existing equipment, such as a hot-water baseboard or radiator, or it can come from a new gas- or oil-fired boiler.

Unlike forced-air systems, the heat from radiant flooring doesn't rise but remains where it is needed. As a result, the temperature near the ceiling is often several degrees lower than the temperature six feet above the floor.

The basic principle is to control heat loss from the body as opposed to heat loss from the building. Skin-surface temperature, about 85 degrees, is generally warmer than surrounding surfaces.

Q: There is a crawl space in my basement, under my kitchen. I would like to get estimates for insulating that area, but do not know whom to call. Are there companies that do this kind of work, or do I have to do it myself?

A: An insulation contractor is your best bet. According to the Department of Energy, how you insulate a crawl space depends on whether it is ventilated or unventilated.

Traditionally, crawl spaces have been vented to prevent problems with moisture, and most building codes require vents. But many building professionals now recognize that building an unventilated crawl space (or closing vents after the crawl space dries out after construction) is the best option.

If the crawl space is unventilated, your best approach is to seal and insulate the foundation walls rather than the subfloor. The advantages: Piping and ductwork are within the conditioned (heated) volume of the house, so they don't require insulation for energy efficiency or protection against freezing. Plus, air sealing between the house and the crawl space is less critical.

When insulating a ventilated crawl space, seal any and all holes in the floor above to prevent air from blowing up into the house. Insulate between the floor joists with rolled fiberglass; install it tight against the subfloor. Seal all seams carefully to keep wind from blowing into the insulation. Cover the insulation with a house-wrap or face it with a vapor barrier.

Install a polyethylene vapor retarder, or equivalent material, over the dirt floor. Tape and seal all seams carefully. You may also cover the polyethylene with a thin layer of sand or concrete to protect it from damage.

Do not cover the plastic with anything that could make holes in it, such as crushed gravel.

Have questions for Alan J. Heavens? E-mail him at or write him at The Inquirer, Box 8263, Philadelphia 19101.

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