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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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