Fixing squeaky stairs from above

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IamAllThumbs

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When I bought my house the basement was unfinished, and the stairs to the basement are a "minimal job".
I finished the basement in 2000 and had carpet professionally installed and they covered the stairs. Over the years the stairs got squeakier, but the basement was mostly a music room and playroom for the kids, so we didn't worry much about the squeaky stairs.
fast forward to the recent past, my wife is starting a longarm quilting business (she has a giant motorized sewing machine on a 12-foot long frame) and we closed off half the basement to create a quilting studio.
Since most of her business is quilting for customers, she regularly has clients coming to our house and her basement studio. So this is where the ugly and squeaky stairs started bothering us.

I've done a bit of research on fixing stairs from above (can't access the underneath without taking the drywall off the roof of the closet space underneath the stairs). I think I can easily screw the treads into the risers at the front of the tread (pilot hole, countersink, wood putting to cover the screw head). I could even add screws on the stringer side of the treads, not sure how to tell if it's necessary.

The back of the tread is where I'm not sure what to do. you can see how the riser and the tread have separated over the years and there is a 1/4" gap or so on most steps (picture). Peeking into the gap I can see the riser was secured to the tread with "staples" (picture). If I had access to the underneath I would probably screw the riser into the tread from the back to force the gap closed. But what do I do from the top?

PXL_20220912_163627739.jpg PXL_20220912_171707917.jpg
My first thought was to glue wedges into the gap, then fill the gap with either construction adhesive, to simply calk them. But am I making the problem worse by forcing the gap open? I can't think of a good way to pull the riser back to the tread from the top.

Those are "crappy basement stairs", I'm not even sure what the material is, from the rounded nose of the treads it looks like some kind of manufactured wood. We're not ready to invest in a full stairs replacement, so looking for a "quick fix". We looked at covering the stairs with wood laminate like the rest of the basement, but covering stairs is very expensive compared to floors, and my wife doesn't want to incur the expense when she is trying to recoup the startup costs and turning a profit. We think that simply painting the stairs with a heavy duty paint and using individual tread "carpet" covers (not sure what they're really called) will work fine for now, but we want the squeaks gone.

I may post another tread about how best to go about painting the stairs once I figure out the squeaking, but mostly mentioning that wer're not talking about a showpiece grand staircase in oak or anything like that.
 

Sparky617

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Squeaks are often the nails rubbing against the wood. Given the lack of access to the underside your options are going to be limited.

Here is a thought you could try on a step or two:

1. Squeeze some construction adhesive (e.g. Liquid Nails) into the gap in the second picture.
2. Screw a 1x1x12 block into the face of the riser even with the top of the step. Put a screw into the center of the riser near the step leaving the head about 1/4" proud of the riser.
3. Pull the riser into the construction adhesive using a pry bar.
4. While holding the prybar to keep the riser as tight against the back of the step as possible, drive a screw into the step. Let this sit for several hours or overnight to allow the construction adhesive to cure.
5. Remove the block from the riser and step. If successful repeat on the other steps.

For the tops you could screw the step into the riser but don't use drywall screws. The heads have terrible shear strength.

I'm open to other ideas from fellow posters.
 

IamAllThumbs

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I can't tell what the risers are made of but the treads are particle board as far as I can tell from the texture of the bullnose (I think that's what the rounded end of the tread is called) so I think I should use particle board screws (I think also called chipboard screws)?

Maybe it's time to start a thread on how would I paint this monstrosity to make it look half decent...
 

Sparky617

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We had our stairs replaced with oak treads a few years ago. They were able to do the risers and the treads without removing the skirt boards. The guy had a nice jig he used to get the width of the tread and any off angles set that he passed to the guy cutting the treads. They were able to secure the treads and the risers as they went without access from below.
 

mabloodhound

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The squeak comes from where the back of the read meets the riser. You could try pocket hole screws (you drill on angle from the tread top into the riser). Kreg makes the jig for this but the particle board may not hold. That's why the nails aren't holding in the particle board. Replacing those treads with solid wood (fir or pine would be OK) isn't a difficult job and then you could screw in from the back as you replaced them. The particle board was probably the construction grade treads which were meant to be replaced later on.
 

IamAllThumbs

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Thanks for the advice all, I ended up drilling from the top of the treads into the risers (played screws, countersunk and hidden with wood putty after the fact).
I used liquid nails in the gap and as suggested used a crowbar to pull it tight and struggled by managed to get a couple of screws right while it set.
Finally I also countersunk long decking screws from the side of the risers into the stringer and also filled in with putty.

I think that last step made the most difference, but my stairs are now much quieter, so I'm going to call that a success.

Some more prep and cleanup, and calking and I'll be ready to paint them. Hopefully next weekend.

Thanks again for the help!
 

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