I’ve written before about the state of our oak floors. They’re squeak-tastic but we love them anyways. We’ve done a lot of work over the last year to improve them, spending many days researching for and employing the use of the counter-snap screws that I wrote about here, and reinforcing the exposed joists in the basement ceiling with blocking and shims. Pete can make the subtle squeaks in the floor more pronounced that I can just based on his weight, but one area that was noticeable to all was the staircase.
I always took it as a good thing when I lived alone, an ain’t-no-intruders-going-to-kidnap-me-from-my-bed-while-I-slumber kind of peace of mind, but once we moved Julia into the house last summer and were needing to sneak upstairs to the bathroom after she was asleep early, we knew that the staircase squeaks would need a lot of attention, because there was just no avoiding them. I even tried to record the sound in the home tour video I posted here, documenting it knowing full well that we were about to try and reduce or remove the same squeaks.
The squeaks weren’t easy to access, of course; the stairs leading to the second story are stacked directly over the stairs leading into the basement in this house, and the underside of those stairs had been completely drywalled over for a more finished look.
We could see the problem areas in the runners just by watching each other march up the stairs. And again, Pete was the one who was able to make the squeaks and shifts in the stairs the most obvious, if you’re doing this at home you’ll appreciate using your heaviest family member in this part of the project. There was a definite bounce, and we spent an afternoon marking with tape each of the problem areas with hopes of repairing it from the backside correctly. In some areas, we could see that the riser wasn’t shifting the same way that the runner was under pressure, and that’s actually the situation that we found to cause the most squeaks. And because it’s an older home, we even began to notice some shifting in the runner, as if it were sliding out of place backwards by a few millimeters. Never fear.
So, we did what any other person who watches too many home improvement shows does, and gutted the ceiling of our basement staircase to fully expose the underside of our main stairwell.
Working in a small space meant that I got to take photos of Pete awkwardly wielding oversized drywall bits while I took pictures. Sometimes it’s better to just let him run with his game plan and stand back and help make sure that he’s not going to knock down the stairwell sconce.
It’s always interesting to see your home’s bones, and seeing the inner-architecture of the staircase was no different.
The most fascinating part, actually, was the rounded area that is at the base of the staircase. See up close how the board needed to be cut from within to allow a curvature? It makes me appreciate this little home so much more. I’m not the only one who finds these little details beautiful, right?
I should mention that we started this project in early December; we had all hopes of getting it done in just a few days, but once we started making the repairs, we found that we liked to “live” on the staircase for a few days and walk around, jump up and down, and put it to use to make sure that 1) the shims and braces we installed were holding in place well before we patched back up the drywall, 2) make sure that the squeaks weren’t returning, and 3) pray to the DIY gods that new squeaks weren’t forming. We found a lot of all three situations happening in the first few days, and spent a lot of time bouncing around on the stairs to put our repairs to the test, making more repairs, putting the new repairs through the rigors, making more adjustments, and so forth. It wasn’t a quick process, but it ended up being pretty effective and by taking our time we ended up catching a lot more squeaks than we might have if we had closed the ceiling back up immediately.
While all of this bouncing was happening, we were also finalizing the plans for our winter wedding, and the stairwell to the basement started to get pretty cold (the basement and the staircase leading up from the basement are not heated), so we put off finishing the drywall until this spring.
The stairs are much improved, although certain steps especially towards the top of the staircase still have audible squeaks, mostly caused by the risers having a vertical movement against the horizontal runners. We couldn’t repair it all, but we can tolerate a minimum and tread carefully on those runners when creeping around at night.
Happy days, happy household repairs! Now that the ceiling is back up, we’re almost done with taping, mudding, and repainting (5 months after we started)!
How’ve you gone about repairing staircase squeaks?