How To Look At A House
McGarry and Madsen's home inspection blog for buyers of
site-built, mobile/manufactured and modular homes
Should I buy a house with bouncy, spongy, or squeaky floors?
Friday, September 13, 2019
Although these are three different problems, they are often interrelated and two or all three may be experienced together as you walk around a house during a showing with your realtor, especially in an older home. The flexing of bouncy floor joists, for example, can cause the subflooring fasteners to work loose and squeak. When the subfloor is plywood, this will be more noticeable over the edge where two sheets abut on top of a joist or wood floor truss at the middle of the floor. Severe notching of floor joists, like in the photo below, will also weaken the floor structure in the area around it.
Even new houses can have this problem if the floor framing members are undersized, spaced too far apart, or installed without adequate fasteners. The gold standard for installation of a plywood subfloor is “glued and screwed."
The problem can be minor and easily fixable, or big and expensive. Squeaking of a few loosened nails in an otherwise sound floor can be fixed from above or below with a couple of well-placed screws. If, however, the squeaking happens at multiple locations and the floor has a noticeable bounce, the floor structure will have to be stiffened with a new support beam, bridging, or sistering additional joists to the existing ones before tackling the squeaks—and that can get expensive.
Spongey spots in the floor can be termite damage or wood rot from long-term moisture intrusion, and extensive termite damage can mimic other floor structure problems.
Which professional to call? Although you could go directly to a building contractor, it is usually best to start with an engineer that can diagnose the problem and prescribe a specific remedy for a contractor to follow. Because you don’t own the house yet, and probably won’t get permission from the seller to open up concealed areas, only an approximate estimate may be possible, and the estimate may make you decide to move on and look at other properties.
By the way, if you feel any looseness or irregularity in the floor underfoot, we suggest you ask for silence in the house as you walk around and feel for soft or bouncy spots and listen for squeaks. It is not unusual for a seller have music or a TV on during a showing to conceal the creaky sounds in an old house floor.
Also, see our blog post Should I buy a house with sloping floors?
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