Why Is Your Laminate Floor Creaky?

Here we’ll be looking at the four main causes of a noisy or creaky laminate floor and answering the question ‘why is my laminate floor creaky?’

Before we start, I’d like to answer a popular question about creaky laminate floors which is ‘Is it normal for a laminate floor to be creaky?’

Well, the straight forward answer to that is NO. If you have a laminate floor that creaks when walked on, something somewhere isn’t right or has gone wrong. If you’re reading this, it’s likely you have a laminate floor that’s creaky and are looking for ways to stop it for minimal cost. Well, I don’t wish to waste your time and will inform you now that with the exception of a very few cases, it often isn’t possible to rectify this type of problem without considerable cost or effort. In certain cases it’s possible to rectify creaking but it depends on the type of laminate you’ve bought and other factor’s. Read further, for the four main causes..

Sub-Floor Unevenness

Sub-floor unevenness has to be the number one reason for a creaky laminate floor. It’s fair to say that not every sub-floor in the land is absolutely water level. In a lot of circumstances it’s just not economically feasible to get every sub-floor water level considering the amount of work that’s involved in most cases to do so. So a little prior understanding of this fact is warranted, especially when it comes to older properties that have experienced a lot of movement/subsidence over the years with twists and turns everywhere or properties that have had additional rooms added. Don’t get me wrong, anything’s possible but a decision has to be made as to how much resources will be allocated to any sub-floor. Although, I would like to see every sub-floor super flat, the practical and realistic side of me comes out and knocks my perfectionist nature in check. Really I believe it all boils down to our individual requirements and expectations.

That being said, let’s look at what can happen to a laminate floor if the sub-floor isn’t flat. For the purposes of this article I’ll be using the majority of laminate floor manufacturers guidelines as to what they deem to be flat. Any sub-floor that has a difference in height of, or less than, 2 mm over a 2 metre span, most laminate floor manufacturers would consider this to be adequately flat.

Now if your sub-floor exceeds this guideline, you are likely to experience excessive movement in the laminate floor. This can often happen with areas where a knock through has been carried out or perhaps due to uneven floor boards.

A laminate floor is laid on top of an underlay and is not, and absolutely should not be fixed to the sub-floor as this will do more harm than good. If excessive movement is present, which can be confirmed by simply pressing the floor with ones foot to visually see the floor move, the movement may cause the edges of each laminate board to rub against each other. This can be dependant on where exactly the uneven spot is in the sub-floor, in relation to the joins of the laminate flooring. The rubbing will cause slight friction between the laminate boards, hence, the creak. This doesn’t always happen straight away. Particularly with a good quality laminate floor but over time the locking system that holds the planks together can weaken due to the movement and eventually rupture, again resulting in the planks separating and causing friction between them when walked on, and subsequently the creak.

Bad Installation

The second most common cause is incorrect installation. It could be said that incorrect sub-floor preparation should be included within this category, which would be very right, but for the reason’s mentioned can be due to a decision made by the home owner. I always advise people to choose wisely where corners are cut.

Apart from poor sub-floor preparation, basic bad installation practices can and often are the cause of creaking. All wood based floor coverings, from solid wood to laminate, will expand and contract with climate changes in they’re environment. Make no mistake, they all expand and contract! This brings me on to installing a laminate floor without adequate expansion. A laminate floor expands at an approximate ratio of 1 mm per metre span in all directions in relation to a room humidity increase of around 20% to 30% from the standard uk average of 50% relative humidity. In other words, if you have a room that is 5 metres wide and 7 metres long, you could expect to see the laminate expand (From the radius) 5 mm each side on the width and 7 mm each side on the length. Often manufacturers would give guidance to leave 10 mm all round the perimeter of a room. If adequate expansion isn’t allowed, when the laminate floor expands, it will not have anywhere to go. This often results in the planks pushing themselves together, creating a compressive force. When this happens the edges of each plank will often lip up slightly, joins may rupture and any foot pressure will make the edges again rub together creating friction, thus the creak.

Excessive Moisture

The third and forth cause are close but we’ll look at poor maintenance or accidents first. Laminate boards are made primarily from high density fibre board. High density fibre board swells on contact with moisture. Some laminate floors are specially treated to help prevent this but all have their limitations as to how much moisture they will take and for how long without swelling.

Over mopping or should I say to much water applied to the floor when cleaning is a sure fire way to see laminate floors swell. What will often happen, is the moisture will seep in where each plank joins the next. Once enough water has seeped in, it will then start to soak into the high density fibre core centre of the laminate floor and expand or swell. This localised swelling just at the joins will again result in the joins compressing together and also causing the locking mechanism to become weak. Hence, when walked on, the joins of each plank may move independently to each other and creak.

The same goes for water leaks both from below or above. Any excessive direct moisture will have the exact same effect on laminate floors. Even laminate floors that are designed for bathrooms or high humidity areas have their limits. Once laminate joins have swells, they will not return back to their original state.

Incorrect Acclimatisation 

If you plan or did pick your laminate floor up from the shop and fitted it the same day, you were asking for a creaky floor. Understand that the atmosphere in your home in rarely the same as in a warehouse or shop store room is key. With wood based products of any kind, the overwhelming advice is to acclimatise it in the rooms they will be installed in for at least a couple of days. The reason for this is that wood, as mentioned, expands and contracts in relation to the moisture content and air temperature of it’s surroundings. In other words and to give extremes, if the shop store room is freezing cold and the air is dry and your home is warm and the air is humid (cold/dry and warm/humid do not always go together! These are just examples), your new laminate floor will need time to gain an equilibrium with it’s new environment. This needs to be done on an individual plank basis, not when they have been fitted together! If the floor is laid to soon, it can expand excessively (leaving the possibility that the expansion gaps left would now not be adequate), creating joint compression, and join rupturing, resulting in creaking. Please note, this is not an exclusive rule between lack of expansion and rupturing. Joints rupturing can also happen if adequate expansion has been left.

It should be noted that if your laminate floor has started to creak, several months after the installation, it is often safe to say that an environmental issue is to blame such as air humidity change. Acclimatisation issues often happen very close to the time of the installation. This is a broad general statement and not an absolute guarantee.

Possible solutions

If you remove any expansion coverings around the perimeter of the floor like skirting boards or beading etc and notice that there is zero expansion. The first thing to do is create some. This can be done using a multi-tool or a sharp chisel and hammer. This can have a huge impact on your floor by releasing the pressure caused by expansion. If you’re lucky and you got it in time, the floor may settle and stop creaking.

The second option would be to lift the floor and rectify the uneven sub-floor should that be the reason for the creaking. If you have a decent quality laminate, lifting can often be painless and the locking mechanism will stay in tact ready for re-installation. If the laminate isn’t the greatest, as you lift it, you’ll find the locking mechanism will essentially fall to pieces. Additional new packs should be purchased if possible or using pva adhesive in the locking mechanism when refitting will substitute the locking mechanism. However, the floor will not be able to come up in one piece again, once pva has been used.

 

© Copyright 2013 Wes, All rights Reserved. Written For: Fitmywoodfloor
About

I am a Pergo trained professional installer of 20 years. I've been up close and personal with lots of floors and have the knobbly knees to show for it...Should you have any questions or comments please feel free to add them below. Thanks for taking the time to call by and I hope the information you've found has given you some insight!........................................................................................................................................................................“When you click on links to various merchants on this site and make a purchase, this can result in the site earning a commission. Affiliate programs and affiliations include, but are not limited to, the eBay Partner Network, amazon.com, amazon.co.uk, amazon.fr, amazon.de, amazon.it, amazon.ca, affiliate window network.” This statement is to comply with current internet regulations regarding transparency to consumers.

Posted in Laminate floor fitting, Laminate flooring, Problem floors and poor installations, Uncategorized Tagged with: , , , , ,
  • Hi Annoyedinla,

    In relation to your first question, I’m not entirely sure either really. Could you perhaps send me a link or name of the underlay used? I’ve seen this before with certain underlays and it’s very frustrating. I honestly can’t remember if the popping subsided.

    In relation to your second question, excessive movement due to an uneven sub-floor should be rectified. Will the low spot have a drastic effect on the longevity of the floor? Hard to say without seeing it. For experienced installers, it should take around an hour or two (depending on the size of area and reason for low spot) to remove the laminate planks in the relevant area, correct the height issue, and replace with ‘new’ planks. To clarify, the entire floor doesn’t need to be lifted, just the individual planks with the right technique.

    I don’t feel like I’ve helped much there but I do hope you can draw something from it.

    Regards,

    Wes.

  • HI Dave,

    It’s hard to say, but all I can go off is your description. “Creaks like crazy” to me doesn’t sound like tacky paint. It suggests the floor is touching the perimeter wall/s. A wood floor can expand rapidly and surprisingly expand A LOT. For me, the first course of action, would be to remove several lengths of skirting to make sure the required expansion gap is still there. If it is, then your paint theory may be correct. If there isn’t any gap, then do come back for additional guidance on what to do next as you are in the very early stages of complete and costly failure of the floor.

    Regards,

    Wes.

  • droidie

    Wes, I installed our tongue and groove 15mm american oak floor boards using PVA glue along al the joins as recommended, with a 10mm gap around all walls. Each day when we walk along our hall and into our lounge the floor makes a noise which sounds like the joins cracking. Once this has happened we are unable to make it happen again until the following day. How can we fix this.

  • Hi Droidie,

    It’s an extremely hard question to answer I’m afraid. It may settle over time, as the underlay beds in. I’m assuming the sub-floor is flat and/or the underlay is of good quality as to eventually absorb indescrepencies or indeed, if any, the indescrepencies don’t exceed what the underlay can cope with.

    As it seemingly happens once a day, it sounds like the environment changes greatly overnight (As is the case with most homes this time of year – some properties more than others depending on the house construction and/or the occupants living habits i.e. Turning the heating off completely overnight or having thermostats set to keep the chill out of the air etc).

    You may wish to monitor the humidity and temperature levels in your property. It could be that the temperature is reaching dew point, thus the cold wood surface is attracting moisture. As this happens, the boards will/may expand. As the temperature raises or in home environment reaches living conditions in the waking hours, the floor maybe changing dimensionally again. Once walked on, it can be a kin to walking on broken glass, or to put it another way, cracking bones after a long sleep. The floor is re settling to its environment.

    I’m sorry, not very constructive advice but I hope it gives you a starting point.

    Regards,

    Wes.

  • Koen

    I just installed Kaindl 10mm laminate flooring yesterday on top of a rather level floor consisting of wooden beams, with a 5.5mm fibreboard and 1.5mm foam underlay. Although it shouldn’t, the floor squeaks (minimally) and moves (visibly) when we walk on it, all over the living room, not confined to one space. We left enough expansion gap (up to 2cm even on one side to accommodate a tv cable, 1cm all other sides) and left the laminate to acclimatize to the room. Why is it moving, and might it settle over time? I’m thinking to turn the floor 90° so the laminate is perpendicular to the wooden beams below. Could that solve it perhaps?
    We’ve used 8mm laminate on fibreboard in other rooms with much worse subfloor (uneven wooden beams which we were able to flatten with the fibreboard), without any problems, no squeaks or movement at the seams.

  • Hi Koen,

    It’s hard to say, but it could be the fact you’ve used double underlay. It could settle as the fibreboard beds in, but extremely to say confidently.

    It could also be that the floorboards are more ‘cupped or crowned’ than the other rooms, resulting in excessive movement.

    If the latter, you could sand or plane the floorboards to remove any ‘cupping/crowning’, particularly if you’d like the floor to run in its current direction. I’d also stick to just the fibre board on its own.

    Regards,

    Wes.

  • HI Ryan,

    Extremely sorry for the late reply. I simply didn’t see your comment.

    If all is well i.e. no moisture from the sub-floor, ‘flat’ sub-floor etc, I can only think the raise in humidity has caused the laminate to expand excessively and now is conflicting with solid surfaces around the perimeter. Therefore, the expansion forces are now being directed inwards and causing the end/header joints to push together. Can you absolutely confirm the floor is not coming into contact with ‘any’ solid surfaces around the perimeter? Have you seen this or are you assuming?

    Regards,

    Wes.

  • Hi John,

    This is due to the air humidity outside being high. People tend to have windows/doors open more in summer, hence, the in home air humidity tends to be higher. In winter, people have their windows/doors closed more and their heating on, thus, keeping the air humidity lower.

    When air humidity is high, your floor will expand. If there isn’t any room for expansion, such forces with go inwards. This results in the floor compressing. This puts pressure on all the joists as they push together often resulting in the creeks.

    When the in home air humidity is low (winter), your floor contracts. The outward expansion pressure is now gone, with no pushing against solid surfaces.

    Likely cure : Cut an expansion gap around the entire perimeter of the floor.

    Regards,

    Wes.