You may never consider your home’s subfloor — until it begins squeaking or you have to replace the covering over it. This Fix-It Guide on subfloor repair tells how a subfloor works, what often goes wrong, how to identify a subfloor problem, and what parts and tools you will need to fix it. It then gives instructions for how to repair a squeaky floor from below and from above. See the Carpet Fix-It Guide, the Resilient Flooring Fix-It Guide, and the Wood Flooring Fix-It Guide for carpet repair, resilient flooring repair, and wood flooring repair.
How Does a Subfloor Work?
A subfloor is a floor laid on top of the floor joists, to which a finished, decorative floor is fastened. If your home’s floor is of poured concrete, that’s the subfloor. Plywood or planks also provide a solid platform to which tile, vinyl, hardwood, carpet, etc. can be fastened with nails or adhesives. To hold the finish flooring, the subfloor must be stable, relatively smooth, and waterproof.
What Can Go Wrong with a Subfloor?
The most common problem with a wood subfloor is annoying squeaks when someone walks across the floor. Squeaks occur when pieces of wood rub together. Concrete subfloors don’t have this problem, but they can become water damaged and crack.
How Can I Identify a Subfloor Problem?
- If a wood subfloor squeaks, first you must try to locate the squeak. If the floor joists can be seen from below the floor (as from a basement or crawl space), watch from below while someone walks across the floor above. You may spot movement between joists and subfloor, or loose bridging between joists. Mark the location with chalk or another marker so you can find it again when you’ve gathered the needed tools and materials.
- If you can get at the squeak from below through a basement or crawlspace, you can repair it with an angle iron, screws, a cleat, or a shim (see below).
Wish you could lubricate a squeaky floor? Maybe you can! Wood flooring can be “lubricated” with talcum powder. Spread the powder over the boards in the problem area and work it in between the boards using your hand or a small brush. Then walk around the area to work the powder in. Repeat a few times and you may remove the squeak–without having to drive a nail.
- If the squeaky subfloor is below a wood floor and there is no access to the subfloor from below, you can refasten the loose section of subfloor to the nearest joist through the finish floor (see below).
- If the squeaky subfloor is beneath tile, vinyl, or carpet and there is no access from below, you can try to reset the loose boards from above (see below).
- If the subfloor is concrete and shows damage, you will need to remove the flooring material and use a concrete patch product (available at hardware stores) to fix it, following the manufacturer’s instructions (see the Concrete Fix-It Guide).
What Do I Need for Subfloor Repair?
Replacement parts are available at building material retailers, hardware stores, and home centers. The tools you will need to fix a damaged subfloor include these:
- Angle iron
- Nails and washers
- Cleats and wood blocks
What Are the Steps to Subfloor Repair?
Repair a squeaky floor from below with an angle iron:
- Find and mark the location of the squeak from below the subfloor.
- Install an angle iron on the joist so the top of it is about 1/4 inch below the top of the joist.
- Firmly screw the angle iron into the subfloor to pull it down onto the joist.
Make sure that the screws installed in the subfloor from below are not longer than the subfloor and flooring is thick or they will come up through the flooring!
Repair a squeaky floor from below using screws:
- Drill holes through the subfloor slightly smaller than the screw threads.
- Install washers and wood screws 1/4 inch shorter than the total floor thickness.
Repair a squeaky floor from below using a cleat:
- Mount a cleat against a joist under the loose boards.
- Prop and tap so the cleat is snug against the subfloor.
- Nail to the joist.
Repair a squeaky floor from above (wood floors):
- Use a stud finder to locate the joist.
- Drill pairs of pilot holes angled toward each other
- Drive 3-inch ring-shank nails or screws through the flooring, the subfloor, and into joist.
- Set the nailheads or countersink the screws, and cover them with wood putty that matches the color of the boards.
Repair a squeaky floor from above (not recommended for ceramic or other hard tile that may break):
- Locate and mark the location of the squeak.
- Using a hammer and a block of scrap wood as a buffer, pound the floor firmly over the squeaky boards in the area around the squeak to force loose nails back into place.