Loud creaking noise + uneven floor - should I be concerned?

jlc102482August 24, 2010

I have an 1857 home that is in quite good shape structurally. There's only two areas downstairs where the floor is uneven, and the plaster walls don't have many cracks at all. However, I'm starting to become concerned with one area of the house. I hear one or two very loud creaks in it every day, so loud that for a while I thought someone was outside throwing something against our house. It's actually more like a single banging noise than a creak.

The area where the creaks are coming from is one of the areas where the floor is sloping a fair amount. No one is walking anywhere in the house when the creaks occur. I have noticed these noises since this spring (we only moved in in December 2009. The house inspector cleared the house of any major problems at that time, but still...)

The basement under the creaky part of the house looks okay, not saggy that I can tell. There are a couple large cracks in the plaster walls in the uneven floor/creaking area, but nothing worse than what is found in the rest of the house.

I know old houses have uneven floors and I know old houses creak, but I'm not sure how much creaking I should be hearing or how loud it should be! Should I be concerned? If I wanted to call a professional in to take a look, what kind of professional would I call?

Thanks in advance!

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Is it a full basement, or one of those "half basement/half crawlspace" type things often found in older homes?

    Bookmark   August 24, 2010 at 3:11PM
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I'd call it more of a full basement - I'm pretty sure it goes beneath the entire footprint of the house, as you can see the original foundation around the perimeter. There's definitely enough room to walk around and store items down there. There's a second part to the basement, too, which was added in the 1940s when an addition was built onto the house. The creaking is coming from the 1857 part of the house, though, not the 1940s part.

I just realized (with a bit of panic) that the creaking noise is coming from an area of the house that is situated in a wet part of the backyard. The drainage in the next door neighbor's backyard is very poor and so a small portion of our yard gets soggy when we get a good rainstorm...it dries out in a day or two. I hope my house isn't sinking...! Ack!

    Bookmark   August 24, 2010 at 3:52PM
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In some parts of the country, houses settle more at certain times of year---in New England where I grew up, for instance, it was the spring/summer when it got hot and humid after cold, dry winters. In California where I live now, it's the winter when the air gets moist. So it might just be normal creaks.

However---you can have a foundation/drainage firm (or two, just to cross-check!) come by to take a look. We did this before starting a kitchen remodel to ensure we wouldn't put in pretty new fixtures and walls only to shake them up with any foundation work. If it's not for a buyer/seller inspection, none of the firms where we are charge for the look and estimate. If it's a drainage issue from your neighbor's yard, let them know that they need to fix it.

If it isn't a foundation issue and is just normal creaks, you can also fix many of these from below by bracing the problem spot. We have a book on rehabbing old houses with pretty detailed instructions for fixing any dips in flooring or creaky spots...haven't tried it yet, though.

Good luck!

    Bookmark   August 24, 2010 at 7:40PM
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If you have cellar access, it's easy enough to go down there and just look up as to how the floor boards lay on the beams/joists. The fact that they just bang and pop when nobody is walking on them almost speaks to expansion/contraction to me. My 1920s house does that once in awhile, and usually at night and when I'm there by myself. LOL. I figure since it's mostly a cool night phenomenon, that the boards are in there a bit too tight, and when the surrounding material starts contracting, they spring back from being compressed like a rubber band. It's one of the most solidly built houses I have ever seen, and I'm not even anticipating a problem.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2010 at 10:50PM
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My floor creaked and sometimes bounced slightly in the living room, on the side where my heavy computer desk lives. We discovered we were over spanned in the attic. After we added another beam, the noise and bouncing stopped.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2010 at 11:17PM
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How dry has it been in your area? Prolonged drought can cause movement of the foundation in certain soil types. The noise as you describe it does not sound, however, like settling. I think asking a house inspector to take a look would be worthwhile if only for your peace of mind.

    Bookmark   August 25, 2010 at 6:13AM
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Personally, I would never leave this issue to a home inspector; very few are educated in structural engineering. You need a structural engineer to look at the foundation and make recommendations for fixes, if necessary. We had a very thorough home inspection, by a person who specializes in old houses. He was not qualified to judge the foundation. We hired a structural engineer and he told us exactly what was going on, where areas of concern were and what steps we needed to do to fix them. He charged us an hourly fee, which was quite resonable. It gave us the peace of mind to go ahead with the purchase.

    Bookmark   August 25, 2010 at 6:16PM
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Okay, I think I'm going to call in a structural engineer to check it out. It may very well be settling noises, but what with the uneven floor and the occasional sogginess from the yard next door, I think I could use an expert's opinion! This is the first old house I've lived in so I'm not really sure what normal "settling" noises sound like. It's been a pretty wet summer in my area, more so than most. I will take a peek in the basement when I get home tonight to see what the floor looks like on the joists. Calliope, I had to laugh - my house usually makes its banging noise when I'm home all alone, too! It's so tempting to blame it on a ghost, LOL!

    Bookmark   August 26, 2010 at 2:44PM
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