I walked into my den, clutching a fresh cup of tea, ready to start writing a new article. The squeaky floorboard near the door irritated me somewhat, as SWMB and I had taken every effort (as did our builder) to ensure that the wooden planks didn’t squeak as we walked around the house.
This plan worked well for the first few months, but gradually, the floor and stairs conspired against us, and began to creak as we walked around the house.
In some of the rooms, we managed to inject a resin compound to stop the slight movements, which is accomplished by drilling two small holes into the planks, and squiring the goo in under pressure.
This, again, worked for a while, until the creaks started coming back – and just when I thought that it was safe…
I personally don’t mind a few little creaks and squeaks, as it adds character to the place.
Squeaks and creaking floorboards happen as a result of the wood settling down, and as it ages, as all natural products do, it flexes more readily, and allows each plank to move slightly against adjoining planks, or shift slightly upon the joist to which it is fixed.
My mind wandered back to the old, edwardian house that I grew up in. Its’ uneven old floorboards used to grumble and groan, even when they were only supporting the weight of a poorly five-year-old.
That old house is etched into my brain indelibly.
When I was a kid, my Mum did all of the familys’ hot meals on a gas cooker, or in the gas oven. As a small boy, I well remember my Dad attempting to boil a kettle, striking match after match, and hearing him curse as the igniting gas finally engulfed his fingers, singing the hairs on his hand as he fumbled, without success to light a gas jet.
In the end the old boy arrived home one day with a small mechanical flint lighter, which was great news for Mum, as the shower of sparks lit the jet with ease.
A few years later, Dad came home with his latest high-tech acquisition – a Piezo-electric butane lighter. This neat device contained a small reservoir of liquified butane gas, and a trigger that when pulled would generate a nice fat blue spark at the tip.
The resulting mini flame thrower was a teenage schoolboys’ delight.
I remember being intrigued with the way it worked.
The piezoelectric principle was discovered in the late 1880s. It was found that if certain materials were flexed, an electric current would be produced.
Over the years, this principle was developed, and has subsequently given us SONAR, inkjet printers, cigarette lighters, loudspeakers, motors such as those found on autofocus mechanisms in cameras and medical equipment.
Goodyear Tyres even considered using Piezoelectric technology to be used inside the carcase of a tyre that would generate electrical power every time the tyre flexed.
Why am I telling you about all this, when I normally write about new technology, sustainability and alternative energy?
There is a link, believe me.
So, back to sustainability.
Wood is a wonderful material for using in the construction of houses. If sourced responsibly, it is relatively inexpensive, reusable and recyclable. It also offers good levels of thermal and sound insulation, is relatively stable and may be machined fairly easily.
It is strong and resilient, and may be used in virtually every aspect of the construction of a house, from walls to roofing, and floors to cladding.
Whilst pottering about in the depths of the internet, I stumbled across a reason for welcoming potentially squeaky boards into your homes.
It seems that a team of researchers in Switzerland have established that timber, when flexed also exhibits the piezo electric effect.
Obviously, if it were to be possible to harvest the electrical output generated by people simply walking across a floor then this would assist in the battle to make homes carbon neutral.
The problem is that the types of wood used in flooring do not have enough flexibility to generate power effectively.
The research team discovered that by introducing a mild form of fungus (a white rot) the decaying process could be accelerated a little, and this in turn made the sample wood (balsa in the case of this early research) much more flexible – to the point that harvesting an electrical output became possible.
When a piece of wooden veneer was treated with the fungus, and then fitted with a piezo-electric converter, the plank would produce a voltage whenever it was trodden on!
The voltage was only small – just 0.85 Volts, and at a very low current, but the scientific conclusion is that the output could be scaled up.
Naturally, it’s likely that such a bio-engineered concept would only work over a large square area of floor, with a high traffic load, such as an office, auditorium, ballroom or gymnasium.
Harnessing nature and working with it may offer better long-term solutions to some of our global problems.
I guess the alternative is to incorporate piezoelectric sensors in my shoes, and charge my iPhone in my pocket?
Meanwhile, I will just accept that my floor is just sighing contentedly…
 SOund NAvigation and Ranging – The use of sound waves to both navigate a submarine whilst submerged and to calculate ranges undersea for the firing of torpedos. Known as ASDIC by the Royal Navy during WW2