When walking around the house, you might notice that the floor squeaks on one or more sections. This condition is found in both new and older homes and indicates slightly loose floorboards. It is usually difficult to eliminate. One corrective procedure is to wedge the floor from below. However, the underside is usually not accessible. If a hardwood floor is nailed from above, the nail holes can ruin the finish. With regard to the structural integrity of the house, squeaking floors are not a concern, although if excessive, they can be annoying.
If the floors in a portion of the house are finished hardwood and the remaining floors (other than those in the bathrooms and kitchen) are covered with wall-to-wall carpet, do not assume that there is a hardwood floor below the carpeting. There might be, but quite often there isn’t. It is not uncommon for a builder to give a buyer the option of hardwood floors or carpeting. When the buyer selects carpeting, it is laid over a plywood floor. If you are inspecting a room and see a hardwood floor in a closet, though the floor in the main portion of the room is carpeted, do not assume that there is a hardwood floor beneath the carpeting. If you cannot see it, you really cannot be sure. If a hardwood floor is important to you, get a representation in writing from the owner that the floors beneath the carpets are hardwood.
If the wall-to-wall carpet covering the hardwood floors is brand new, ask the seller for a representation in writing that the surfaces of the hardwood floors are in good condition. Several years ago I inspected a split-level house with hardwood floors. All the floors were covered with new wall-to-wall carpet. Lifting a corner of the carpet in each room did not reveal a problem. However, after the buyer moved in, he removed the carpet from all the hardwood floors and was dismayed by what he saw. Every one of the floors was very badly stained by cat or dog urine and had to be refinished.
If you walk into a room and notice that the floor is not level, do not be alarmed. In all probability, it is a condition caused by past shrinkage, warpage, and settlement of the wood framing and is not a concern. If the floor is sagging in one section, it might indicate that that portion of the floor is or was improperly supported. Go down to the level below to check the ceiling to see if it too is sagging. If it is, have a professional evaluate the condition. Occasionally this condition occurs in a kitchen floor when the refrigerator is placed in a location other than that intended by the builder.
Depending on the moisture content in the wood used for framing, you might see a large open joint between the floor and the partition walls. The joint might be open as much as 1 inch and might run the entire length of the partition wall. When you see this condition for the first time, it is quite unnerving. The trim that normally covers the joint between the floor and the wall is about an inch above the floor, and the joint is wide open. The condition is caused by excessive shrinkage of the wood framing and is only a cosmetic problem. By covering the open joint with trim or lowering the existing trim, the room will look almost as good as new.
The floors of some homes such as ranches or those on the lower level of bilevels might be resilient tiles laid over a concrete slab. Depending on the quality of construction, the concrete floor slab occasionally settles to a point where there is also a large open joint between the floor and the walls. (See FIG. 10-3.) During construction, if the ground below the floor slab is not properly compacted, the slab might eventually settle, resulting in open joints. The foundation walls all have support footings and are independent of the floor slab. Consequently, settlement of the floor slab usually does not indicate a problem with the main structure. Nevertheless, the wall above the open joint should be shimmed; otherwise, the floor above might sag. If the settlement of the concrete floor slab is accompanied by cracked and settled sections of the foundation wall, a severe problem does exist and should be evaluated by a professional.
Sometimes the concrete floor slab has a raised wood floor that might be covered with carpeting or resilient floor tiling. When walking on this floor, test for soft or spongy sections. This condition can be caused by inadequate spacing of the wood framing. However, more often than not, it is caused by rotting wood. If water seeps into the area between the wood floor and the concrete slab, it eventually causes the framing to rot and the subflooring to delaminate. (See FIG. 10-4.) See chapter 11 for a discussion of water seepage into the basement level.