Have you settled into bed, only to hear strange sounds from the stairs? You may wonder why your new stairs creak and if that means there is something serious going on. We have researched the causes and resolutions so that you can choose the best way to silence the stairs and offer you a good night's sleep.
New stairs are not supposed to creak. However, while creaking seems like a defect in the stairs, it is common. It is not usually a sign of anything breaking. Friction between the wooden staircase components rubbing against each other or a nail or a screw is the most common cause of creaking. Here are some methods to silence those noisy stairs:
- Dampen the squeak with a dry lubricant.
- Use a wooden shim to wedge in the gap.
- Screw down the treads.
- Nail into the stringers.
- Fix from underneath.
How do you complete these methods? What materials do you need? Are creaking stairs dangerous? Stay with us as we get more detailed about quieting those stairs.
Where Is The Creak?
Find the creak by walking up and down the stairs to find each offending step. When you find a step that squeaks, pause, and step back to back and side to side on the step to identify precisely where the squeak is. Make a note to specify placement to come back to and then continue to find any other offenders.
To decide how best to resolve the squeak, let's take a quick look at how the staircase is composed. Stairs have three main parts: stringers, treads, and risers.
Stringers run diagonally from the bottom floor to the landing and look like a sawtooth. They are the primary support for the risers and frame for the treads. There is a minimum of three stringers, one on each side and one in the middle. Wider steps will have additional stringers.
Risers are at the front of each step. They sit vertically between the step providing front support.
Treads are the top horizontal boards that provide the top of each step. They can be hardwood, carpet, or metal.
How To Silence Noisy Stairs
Now let's look closer at each of the methods for quieting those creaking stairs.
Dampen The Squeak With A Lubricant
Use a lubricant to easily muffle a creak that is coming from the edges of the tread. Fill the crack between the tread and the riser (the vertical board going up to the next step) with a dry lubricant like graphite or talcum powder. Wet lubricants like oils or water-based ones will be soaked up by the wood and damage the tread.
Stick a piece of paper against the back of the tread, pour the powder in a line along the entire width of the stair, then work the powder into the crack as deep as possible. While this is not a long term solution, it will keep the pieces from rubbing together. The friction is lubricated by the powder and thus quieting the noise.
Use A Wooden Shim
For a temporary fix, wedge a shim in the gap to keep the wood from rubbing. You can apply carpenter glue to both sides of the shim before inserting it. Then, insert the shim far enough to fill the existing gap without driving it in so far that it starts making the opening larger.
Follow along with this YouTube video to see how to install a wooden shim:
Screw Down The Treads
For stairs that are squeaking at the front of the step, tighten the connection between the riser and the tread with a few screws. Drill evenly spaced pilot holes across the front of the tread, where it is lined up with the riser. Drill in the screws, sinking them just below the surface of the tread. Once the screws are in place, fill in the holes with matching wood filler.
This wood filler is golden oak. Make sure to match the wood filler color to your stairs before purchasing.
Nail Into The Stringers
Suppose the step's back or side is squeaking. Nail or screw the tread into the stringer for a permanent solution. Drill two small pilot holes at 45-degree angles on the first side of the tread two inches apart. Drill two more small pilot holes on the other side where the railing is, then use the pilot holes to drive the nails in. Make sure to maintain the 45-degree angle.
The purpose of the 45-degree angle is to make it harder for the nails to work themselves free. Make sure to drive them in enough so that they don't stick out above the wood to catch someone's foot. Use a dab of wood filler to hide the repair.
Fix Them From Underneath
If the stairs' underside is accessible, you can quiet the squeak with three triangular blocks, also called glue blocks. Make the blocks using a two-inch wooden cube, then cut it diagonally in half to create two triangular pieces. Apply wood glue to each block's two shorter sides, then press the block securely into the right angle where the riser and tread meets. Put a block at each end of the stairs and one in the middle. Once they are secured, drive one screw through the block horizontally into the riser and the other screw through the block into the tread.
How Do You Fix Squeaky Stairs With Carpet?
Ideally, you would remove the carpet and follow one of the methods above to tighten the frame's treads. Before removing the piece of carpet, check that you have a carpeted part to replace it. Use a utility knife to cut the carpet. Pull up the carpet with a prybar and remove the padding, all the glue, and any nails, then fix the step. Once finished, slide in the new piece of carpet.
We have an excellent post about removing the stairway carpet. Visit How To Remove Carpet From Stairs for more detail.
If the carpet is new and you wish to avoid removing and replacing it, you can use a kit with screws that have break off tops to embed through the carpet. It sinks into the tread and supports to tighten up the area and remove the squeak.
The Squeek No More Kit® has a tripod that keeps the screw from going completely into the stair so that you can break off the top.
This video shows how to use the kit on a carpeted floor and works the same on the stairs:
Are Creaky Stairs Dangerous?
Creaky stairs are not normally a sign of structural damage. Creaky stairs are caused when the wood flooring expands and contracts with the temperatures. This leaves room for the boards to rub against each other or other components of the stairs.
To identify safety dangers, take a close look at the entire staircase. Cracks on the treads or risers are signs of lack of support and need to be repaired quickly. Check each tread and make sure that they are all secure. Loose treads need to be repaired immediately as they can loosen up enough to become a fall hazard.
Take a look at the handrail and support posts on the stairs. Make sure that there aren't any loose points. Fix loose spots easily by replacing or tightening the screws that are attaching the handrail to the support. If the support post is loose, it may not be a simple fix. It may need to be replaced.
Water damage can be a factor for staircases that lead to a basement where flooding can occur. If you've had an incident of flooding, take a look for any warping or softness in the wood. If you find any warping, that area of the staircase will need to be replaced. The wood has lost its durability and can create a hazard if it breaks.
Why Do Your Stairs Creak At Night?
Stairs can seem to creak more at night because, on top of someone walking on them, the house settles with the cooler temperature. This causes the stair boards to rub against each other, creating more noise. The methods to fix creaky steps will work for night squeaks too.
How Much Does It Cost To Fix Creaky Stairs?
There is a wide range in cost as there are many variables to think of when considering a budget to fix creaky stairs. One to two steps needing repair can be minimal cost and time spent. Multiple steps or serious damage found can increase the cost. The price range can go from $20 to $1,000.
It may help to know how much each material costs to build a staircase so that you know the maximum you can expect to pay. Wood normally costs between $36 to $51 per step, concrete runs $300 per step, metal is $196 per step, and stone is $150 per step.
It is fairly simple to silence those creaky stairs on your own. Using the temporary lubricating method and the shims is quick, easy, and gentle on the wallet. Even the permanent fixes of using screws and blocks to pull the gaps together can be accomplished easily with some basic woodworking knowledge.
For more information about stairs, read our article on How To Paint Or Stain Plywood Stairs.