Are you having problems with noisy stairs? Are you unable to creep downstairs and raid the fridge at midnight without waking the neighbours?
As wood ages it invariably dries out and shrinks, this shrinking is normally the cause of a creaky staircase, preventing your secret midnight snacking sessions.
Here’s why staircases become noisy and my tips to cure creaking and noisy stairs.
Why do staircases creak and make noises?
In the warm and dry environment of a family home, the wooden components of a staircase dry out over time, which causes the parts to shrink and the joints to pull away from each other and become loose, they then move, creak and make noises when you walk up or down the stairs.
This problem happens to all wood inside a home but is made worse on the staircase, as they are in constant use and tend to get a lot of foot traffic and this continual wear and tear will make the problem worse.
The best way to correct the creaking stairs is to work from underneath as this will give you better access to the back of the treads and the support blocks and wedges used to hold everything in place.
However, this often means cutting into a covering or soffit, which will need to be repaired once the stairs are noise-free and this can be a big project which means working from above the stairs can be a simpler option
Tools You will need:
How to identify a creaky step
To identify the offending creaky step in a staircase, you need to put some weight on each step. If you have access from underneath the staircase, ask one of your family or friends nicely to walk slowly up and down the steps, whilst you listen from below.
Starting at the bottom of the staircase, ask your assistant to place their weight on to the first step and then ask them to move from side to side, shifting their body around to flex the step in as many directions as possible, then move to the second step and repeat.
From the underside of the staircase, you will be able to see and hear the movement and can then mark any noisy steps with either a piece of chalk, a pencil, or a sharpie.
How to replace Stair wedges
Stair treads are normally held in place with glued wedges and blocks that can work loose over time. Once you have identified the offending area and wedges, they need to be removed and replaced.
Tap the loose stair wedge out by using an old wooden block and hammer, pull out the loose wedge by hand, remove any old glue and rub the surface with 120 Grit sandpaper, apply fresh wood glue to the wedge and refit, tap it home until the joint is tight
To knock out the wedge, first, place the wooden block against the wedge and hit the block with the hammer rather than applying a direct impact force on the wedge, this helps prevent damage and stops the wedge from splitting.
Alternatively using soft-headed mallet works well and means you only need to hold the wedge rather than the wedge and a block, which can make the job easier with only one pair of hands.Once the wedge is loose and can be pulled away by hand, remove the wedge and clean it up with a multi-use scraper and some 120 grit sandpaper to remove any old adhesive and to give the new glue a good key to adhere to.
If the wedge is damaged or too badly worn, cut a new one from some hardwood scraps you may have lying around or leftover from another job.
Spread some PVA woodworking on the new surfaces then re-fit the wedge and tap home until the joint is tight.
How to repair loose stair blocks
Another reason for a step in a staircase to creak is if the support blocks have become loose.
Have a look underneath the staircase and check that any of the triangular blocks fitted to help hold the tread and riser together are loose.
Often these blocks can have the adhesive fail on one side which means they will rub as you walk on the step causing the staircase to creak.
To repair the support block, remove them by tapping them with a mallet or using a hammer and a block, clean off any old adhesive with a scraper and some 120 Grit sandpaper, apply some fresh adhesive to the block and replace under the step.
If the block needs some leverage use either an old chisel or a multi-function scraper, I use these all the time for getting into tight spots and joints, as their blades are thinner and wider than a chisel or screwdriver and tend to be better for opening up gaps like these.
Then clean off any old adhesive with a scraper and rub down with some 120 Grit sandpaper to give the new wood glue a keyed surface.
Before replacing the blocks, it’s a good idea to lift the shoulder of the Tread to the riser joint slightly using the blade of the scraper or a wide-bladed wrecking bar if you have one, this allows you to squeeze some new adhesive into the joint.
Then you can apply some fresh adhesive to the blocks and rub joint the blocks to the tread and riser.
If the wood adhesive doesn’t give enough grip to hold the block in place, use some small panel pins to hold the blocks whilst the glue dries out, alternatively, you can use a few drops of CA (or Superglue) or some duct tape to hold the blocks in place.
Once you have made the repairs let other people in the house know to avoid using the stairs for a few hours while the glue dries out and cures to full strength.
For any steps where blocks are missing or badly damaged, they can be re-made using some 2inch x 2inch (50mm x 50mm) softwood.
Fixing a staircase by working from above
If access to the back of the staircase isn’t practical as it would cause more damage that would need to be repaired, then working from above is possible if not ideal.
Identifying the problem areas is easier, as you can do this working alone. Remove any floor coverings, carpet, underlay etc and walk slowly up the stairs, when you reach a creaking tread shift your weight from one foot to the other mark the step with chalk, pencil, or a sharpie.
Fixing a loose nosing joint.
The nosing of a stair tread takes the brunt of the traffic and therefore can often be the source of any creeks or noises coming from your staircase.
To fix a loose nosing joint, drill some clearance holes across the loose area inline with the riser, apply some fresh PVA glue to the holes and move the joint with your feet to spread the glue, then fix the joint with new wood screws to pull the joint tight.
Often tongue and groove joints between the riser and tread nosing work lose and can be repaired by fixing with 1 ½” (38mm screws). Use our in-depth guide to screws to help you choose the right fixings
Start by drilling clearance holes into the step, don’t drill into the riser as this will not allow the screw to bite.
Center the holes on the riser by measuring from the front of the step, and marking the riser.
Apply some PVA wood glue to the holes allowing it to seep into the joint, to help this, stand on the step and move around to flex the joint a little
Then pull the tight with new wood screws, the holes should be countersunk to allow the screw heads to sit flush when fixed.
If the screws will be left exposed or won’t be covered by your carpet (if you have a stair runner for example), then use a counterbore to drop the screw head deeper into the step, just don’t drill too deep, and then plug the hole with a wooden plug to match the step.
Fixing a loose riser joint
If you find that the creaking is caused by a loose riser joint, which is at the back of the tread, this is more difficult to repair from above, as applying good leverage on the back of the tread is hard to do.
To repair a loose riser joint, thin down some PVA glue and work it into the joint with a brush, also screw and glue a small molding strip into the corner of the step, ensuring the tread is a minimum of 8 ¾” (220mm) wide to meet regulations.
Working from above to repair this type of problem has limited options, using some PVA wood glue that has been thinned by mixing with water can help to add some strength back to the joint,
I would recommend using a 3 parts glue to 1 part water ratio, which can be brushed into the joints, also applying some weight to the step can help the glue spread into the joint.
You cannot directly use wood screws to pull the joints together however you can fix a temporary block into the corner to hold the joint whilst the glue sets.
In addition, the riser joint can be reinforced using a wooden molding, fixed into the corner against both the lower tread and the vertical riser.
Use a section of ½” by ½” (12mm x 12mm) triangular trim molding, and use wood adhesive and small screws to fix this to both the tread and riser
Make sure the trim does not reduce the size of the tread too much as that will contravene building regulations and be a potential trip hazard, it is recommended that there is a minimum of 8 ¾” (220mm) of free tread space for your foot.
One useful tip is to cut this trim shorter than the width of your staircase so that a carpet or runner will cover it.
Alternatively, you can add the trim as a feature to all the steps and then treat it with a matching finish either paint, wood stain, or varnish, so that they match.
Take a look at our guide to the basic wood joints to find out which ones work best for stairs