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Recently purchased a 1950s cape cod style home with hardwood floors throughout. They squeak terribly everywhere in the home. As I got ready to tackle this problem with glue and screws through the subfloor from the basement I noticed that the floor is actually is made up of these layers:

  • Hardwood floor boards
  • 3/4" Battens that appear to lay inline with the joists
  • Brown Paper (presumably to cut down on dust)
  • 3/4" Plank Subfloor
  • Joists

Given that extra 3/4" space between the subfloor and the hardwoord finish floor, no glueing or screwing will help my squeaks, but I was more stunned by the construction. Is this a common method in the 50s or any other time? My understanding is that battens would typically be used to aid in installing hardwood floor over a concrete slab, where you have no joists to work with, rather than over joists and a subfloor.

(Another oddity is that there are few runs of conduit in the 3/4" space between the subfloor and the finish floor. Why the heck would you do this when you have a full basement below???)

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  • Just to be sure I understand, the interior finished floor (the hardwood floor boards) essentially float 3/4" above the subfloor, supported only by 3/4" furring strips on top of each joist? What's the spacing of the joists/furring strips? – FreeMan Jan 28 at 17:03
  • @FreeMan Yes, that's correct. Joist spacing is 16" – ecline6 Jan 28 at 17:11
  • That is... odd... I haven't a clue. Hang on until the more experienced carpenters show up with some suggestions. – FreeMan Jan 28 at 17:19
  • The 3/4" battens will be there specifically and exclusively to make room for the conduit; I have heard of that in houses before. It is an easy way to rewire areas when redoing floors without having to cut open walls, which is a big headache, especially if they are plaster and lathe. Be glad they at least ran conduit, or it would not be to code and you'd have to pull any electrical wiring up and route it elsewhere. Do you know if the conduit has anything in it currently? – TylerH Feb 1 at 16:28
  • To answer why not run them in the basement: because they don't want wires in their (expected to be, if it isn't currently) finished basement, of course... – TylerH Feb 1 at 16:29
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+50

Your situation is not typical unless those are intended as sleepers (used to correct out of level joists) or furring (used to raise the plane of a surface in order to flush with the plane of adjacent finishes). In the first case, you would still be missing a layer of sheathing above the sleepers as sub floor. In the second case, underlayment should have been full coverage. As you are discovering, what they've done leads to issues for a typical lumber flooring plank spanning across a typical joist layout.

Some quick points:

  • It would be impractical to fix this in any other way than to live with it or pull it up and relay your floor properly.
  • The brown paper is probably kraft paper for a little moisture resistance from the basement humidity. Most likely, whoever installed this was cutting costs and willing to live with the consequences. Without sub floor to support the paper, it's a miracle they could lay it at all.
  • There is no reason to run electrical between flooring and subfloor.

Since your Plan A didn't work, maybe this could be your plan B:

You might try finding any nails that are sitting on the side of a joist, which squeak from rubbing under normal circumstances as you walk across the floor, and any nails that are sticking out from the side of the joist, which squeak under normal circumstances from the inadequate withdrawal resistance. You can try pulling them through with a pair of end cutters.

Other than that, try adding a picture to your post and maybe it will allow for a solution as the description you've given is currently explained.

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