For the Customer: How to Spot and Avoid Trouble in Hardwood Floors
Wood Flooring will perform best when the interior environment is controlled to stay within a relative humidity range of 30% to 50% and a temperature range 60 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Fortunately that’s about the same comfort level that most humans enjoy. Anything outside of those ranges can affect the performance of your hardwood floors (i.e. cupping and or shrinking).
In a comfortable home with slight humidity variations through the seasons, wood flooring responds by expanding and contracting. These changes may be noticeable. During warm, humid weather, wood expands. During dry weather, wood contracts. This seasonal movement is a normal characteristic of wood flooring, and it never stops, regardless of the age of the wood. One of the best ways to ensure that wood flooring will give the performance homeowners expect is to install humidity controls and ensure that they are functioning before the flooring is installed.
Working with humidity controls
A homeowner who chooses hardwood flooring is making an investment in a floor that will last 40 years or more, and he or she should protect that investment by installing humidity controls – a tool that helps the floor maintain a beautiful, trouble-free appearance.
Cracks and separations between boards
Nearly every floor endures some separation between boards. In winter, when homes are heated and the air is dry, wood flooring gives up some of its moisture and therefore shrinks. When that happens, thin cracks appear between. This is normal, and homeowners should be forewarned of this. It is acceptable, and customers should not be calling the installers at the first sign of cracks. Once the indoor heat goes off in the spring, and the indoor environment regains moisture, most of these cracks will close up.
Cracks in winter – in the drier months – may easily develop to the thickness of a dime (1/32 inch) for solid 2 ¼ – inch wide strip oak floors. Floors with light stained woods and naturally light woods like maple tend to show cracks more than darker, wood-tone finished floors.
The cure for cracks? Homeowners should add moisture to the air during dry periods. It’s their choice – live with the cracks and wait until spring, or else add humidity by opening the dishwasher after a rinse cycle, switching off the bathroom fan or hanging laundry to dry in the basement near the furnace. Better yet, install a humidifier in the furnace, or an exterior air vent for the furnace burner.
If cracks are a concern, laminated flooring moves less and shows fewer gaps.