Problems with Floors, Floorboards and Staircases

Repair and Renovation – Floors and Staircases

Every home, whatever its age, will need some degree of regular maintenance – the amount will usually depend on how well and how often repairs were carried out in the past. It is well worth taking your time to ensure the job is done effectively, as there is nothing more irritating than having to carry out the same repair for a second time just a few months later.

Carrying out repairs will in itself breathe new life into older floors and stairs, but if you also wish to alter the look then we offer several easy renovation ideas.


problems with floors and stairs Recognizing Problems with Floors and Stairs

A house is probably the biggest investment that you will ever make so it pays to look after it. Major repairs are always more costly than catching a problem before it goes too far – as the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Cracks, damp and squeaking stairs are all things that should be investigated immediately. If caught early enough then repairs are often straightforward, but when ignored they can lead to structural failure.


Problems with Floors


Most cracks in the plaster of a room, especially in newer homes, will be due to the natural settlement of materials or, in older houses, due to plaster that has been poorly mixed and applied. Such cracks often appear at the corners of the room or around door frames and should be no larger than hairline. Some cracks, however, especially ceiling cracks, are caused by slight movement in the floorboards rather than general settlement or poor plastering. These are usually no cause for alarm and may simply be patched, as a certain amount of seasonal movement is normal in solid timber floors. If the house is new, floor movement can probably be attributed to natural shrinkage once the property starts to dry out and the moisture content of the timber is reduced.

In older properties, however, ceiling cracks accompanied by springy flooring in the room above may signal rotten joists or boards that have come loose of joists due to rusted nails. Persistent cracks under skirting may also indicate floor problems or even subsidence, and cracks in subfloors made from manufactured boards are generally indicative of more serious problems. If you cannot easily find the root cause of a crack or it continues to widen, this may indicate serious structural problems and you should seek professional advice.



Wet and damp skirting boards are a sure sign of rising moisture in the fabric of the wall, which could be caused by a bridged or missing damp-proof course. Such damp is far more noticeable on walls facing the prevailing wind, especially after heavy rain when moisture is driven through the wall. If the wall is noticeably damp on these occasions it may be the joists are absorbing water. If this is allied to blocked air bricks and poor ventilation in the floor space, rot could soon follow.

On upper floors, a damp spot in the centre of the ceiling is a good indicator of a leaking pipe. Although most damage is likely to be to the ceiling itself, moisture may also be seeping into the joist timbers. Houses built after 1920 are less prone to damp since their cavity wall structure is designed to channel any water that penetrates the outer wall down its inner face to ground level.


Problems with Floorboards

Gaps between floorboards are most often caused by timber shrinkage. Insert wider boards or lift all the boards, close up the gaps and re-lay the floor. Alternatively, insert small stealers coated with glue to seal gaps. If a board is badly split then remove and replace, but if the split is minor simply apply extra fixings to prevent further movement. If a floorboard has sprung up, then the fixing has failed or is missing and can be sorted by nailing or screwing new fixings.


Identifying Staircase Problems: Employing a Surveyor

Surveyors do not merely exist to assess properties when they are about to be bought or sold, but may also be contacted to examine suspected problems in your current home and offer advice how to treat them. The services of a suitably qualified surveyor are often quite expensive, but they will be able to take a professional look at the structure of your house, carry out specialist tests and provide you with a written report on the condition of your property — much as a doctor might give you a health check. If you do choose to employ a surveyor, make sure that they are members of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, who will be able to supply you with a list of members in your area.


Safety Advice

Floors and stairs are major structural elements in a house and are often the site of domestic accidents and injuries. If you notice sudden changes or are at all concerned seek professional advice from a surveyor or structural engineer.


Problems with Stairs


Internal stresses in the timber can cause a tread to split. If the split is bad then remove and replace the tread, otherwise patch from below or inject epoxy resin into the gap. Squeaking stairs are most often caused by loose or missing glue blocks and wedges below stairs. Investigate the cause from below and renew or replace any missing components. Alternatively, fixing a strengthening timber between the internal joint of tread and riser will often cure the problem. Broken nosing is usually just caused by general wear and tear with no structural ramifications. Simply cut off the damaged area and let in a new section of timber to match the original. Damage to staircase risers is relatively rare as these do not get wear in the same way that treads do. If a riser has split or become loose then there may be something seriously wrong with the overall structure of the stairs. If further investigation indicates no other damage, the split riser can be fixed in the same way as a split tread.



If gaps start to form between the string and the wall, the fixings holding the stairs back to the wall may have failed. To replace these fixings, drill through the string and use a suitable screw and wall plug to pull the string tight to the wall. A gap in the joint between string and tread usually indicates a failed wedge. Replace the wedge from under the stairs, making sure it is coated with glue.



Open joints between a handrail and the newel post are often caused by glue failure in the joint or a dowel through the joint may have failed.

Drill out the old dowel, squirt in some wood glue and replace with a new dowel. Newel posts on older stairs are held in place by a wedged mortise and tenon joint that goes through to the joists below the floor. It is common for the wedge in this joint to fall out. To cure the problem, remove a section of floorboard adjacent to the newel and replace the missing wedge. Loose, broken and missing spindles are usually caused by broken joints at the top and bottom. Clean off the old glue and recoat the joint with new adhesive, taping the spindle into position until the glue sets.


Identifying the Problem

You should inspect the state of floors and stairs in your home on a regular basis, perhaps every six months or so. Such inspections are best made when the floor coverings have been removed and the subfloor and stair structure is exposed. It can also be helpful if another person slowly walks up and down the stairs and across the floor while you listen for creaks.


Identifying problems with stairs


17. December 2010 by admin
Categories: Construction, Floors, Stairs | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on Problems with Floors, Floorboards and Staircases


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