We all love a house with charm. Something characteristic that really makes it stand out. Like for instance, big bay windows facing east that allow the first sunlight to gleam over the dining room floor—that’s charm.
Or having a bathroom with an accent wall of old victorian wallpaper and a bear claw tub next to the window. Now, who can deny that charm?
Waking up in the middle of the night because a family member has a food craving and decides to embark down your home’s loud squeaky stairs—that’s not charm. In fact, that’s quite the opposite.
And with the holidays coming and your home soon to be full of family and friends, getting those bothersome creaky stairs fixed is on your top priority list.
Well, prepare to cross that one thing off your list today, because we’re going to give you a step-by-step guide on repairing your squeaky stairs. Keep on reading to find out exactly how.
Squeaky Stairs Vocabulary
If we’re are going to be discussing some basic stair construction, we should go over the names of each area. Here are some names of the different areas of stair we’ll be discussing:
Tread – the flat surfaces of the step in which our feet are placed on.
Riser – the vertical section of the step in between each tread.
Stringer – these are what the tread and risers are tied to and held up by. There are usually three stringers in total.
Banister – the handrail running downstairs.
Balustrades – the posts that hold up the banister.
Shoe molding – sometimes used as molding at the base of the riser.
Why Your Stairs Squeak
Stairs can see a lot of foot traffic and experience a lot of wear over the years. Kids running up and down them, or heavy loads carried on top of them can wear on them faster than normal.
Not only that, but the constant warming and cooling of the wood in your house cause the inevitable displacement of boards and fasteners. Your stairs nails, screws, and boards over time begin to come loose. When the boards in your stairs become loose, they start rubbing on each other, and on the nails and screws that once held them tight.
The friction caused by this rubbing is the haunting squeaky sounds you hear when someone walks up and down them.
Finding That Squeak
Finding the creaks in your squeaky stairs looks similar to some strange dance. What you’ll want to do is examine each step individually by stepping on and off it, covering its entire area.
Sometimes it helps to have someone else listening too while you step on and off the stair. If your staircase is exposed underneath, having someone stand underneath them and identifying where the squeaks are coming from can move the job along.
What to Listen For
The most common areas you’ll hear the squeaks come from are where the risers and treads connect to each other, or where they connect to the stringers. Really anywhere two different components of your stairs meet or touch is an area that can be prone to squeaks.
Noise Coming From the Tread and Risers
If noise is coming from where the tread and risers meet, then there are a couple of methods we can try to fix them. The first one is to lubricate the crack in between the two.
With a piece of paper slightly slid into the crack, pour graphite or talcum powder into the crack. You can use a stiff brush or another piece of paper to push the powder far inside the crack.
Continue to add powder while testing the stair for noise at the same time.
The other method is to use screws to tighten the tread to the riser. First, pilot hole with a drill where you’ll be screwing into. You can pilot at an angle going side to side, but make sure not angle going front to back. Note, if you skip drilling a pilot hole, you risk causing an ugly split in the wood of your stair.
Once you have your pilot hole, take a screw with a small finish head and sink it into the boards. Sink the head of the screw in and below the tread’s surface at least 3/32” deep, and make sure the screw is long enough to penetrate the riser it’s sitting on at least 1/2” to 1”.
Fill in the holes with wood putty to hide the screws.
Using Braces From the Back
If you have access to the underside of your staircase, you can use wood blocks secured to the risers and the treads. Cut up a piece of 2×2 into 6” pieces or longer, then glue and screw them into the back corner of the tread and riser where they meet.
Really you can use any type of brace that works in this situation. Some people for example might use a small angled L bracket in place of the woodblock.
Make sure not to use fasteners that are too long and that will penetrate the surface of your stairs above. Stepping on one of these as you’re coming down the stairs won’t bring you much joy.
Noise Coming From the Stringers
If you’ve discovered that you have noise coming from your stringers, then we have a couple of methods you can try to remedy those bothersome squeaks. A typical staircase construction you’ll see used by home builders is one with an open stringer, a middle stringer, and a closed stringer.
Open Stringer – is the stringer visible from the railing side of the staircase.
Middle Stringer – is the stringer that runs up the middle of the staircase and is only visible from underneath (unless it’s an open mono stringer).
Closed Stringer – is the stringer that is closest to the wall often butting right up to it and sometimes recessed back into the wall for a more modern look.
If you’re making your stair repair from above, then you can drill pilot holes and fasten your tread and riser to your stringers. One technique used is to nail or screw two fasteners into the tread and riser, angled at 45° in opposite directions. This creates a clamp-like effect.
Just remember the more holes you make from the surface, the less attractive your staircase will appear. Though a good matching color wood putty can hide small holes well enough.
If your staircase has routed or box stringers, then your steps will be recessed inside the actual stringer. Wedges from underneath are used to snug the treads and risers tight up into the notches of the stringer.
Go below your staircase and make sure these wedges are nice and snug. You can use a small wooden block and a hammer to tap the wedges deeper if need.
Stair Repair With Carpeted Staircase
This isn’t as daunting of a task as it may seem, however, if you’d rather not mess with any carpet removal, you can try all the methods from bellow the staircase. Use blocks, braces, and wedges to tighten and secure your staircase from bellow.
If after working from bellow you find that you still have annoying squeaks coming from you stairs, then removing the carpet from above might be your only option. Don’t worry though, this isn’t as complicated as it may seem.
Carpet is typically laid on stairs in sections spanning one step at a time, using tack strips and staples to hold it down. To remove carpeting from a step, use needle-nose pliers to remove the staples from the carpet under the nose of the stair, and the corners of the tread and riser.
The staples at times can be challenging to locate, so gently tugging at the carpet will help find the pinpoints. Then pull the carpet from the tack strips where the riser and the tread meet exposing the staircase for easy repairs.
It’s not always just your stairs that make those bothersome noises. There are a lot of components to your staircase banister that can come loose over time. Let’s take a look at how to repair them.
If a baluster is loose, use a glue bottle with a small conehead to squeeze wood glue into the baluster sockets where they connect at the top and bottom. If you’re using fasteners, drill pilot holes to prevent the wood from splitting, and angle your fasteners so that they grab hold of the base and top of the banister.
Squeaky Stairs Fixed
Stair repair and getting rid of squeaky noises is pretty simple once you understand all components of a staircase.
If you found this article helpful, you can find more home repair articles on our blog page.