Hardwood Floors And Humidity Problems
Wood and water really don’t mix well. In fact, the floor installation crew must have given you lots of warnings about it. From standing water that is allowed to remain on the surface for too long, to cases of flooding and broken pipes that can wreak havoc on the installation – they are a cause for concern for property owners with wood floors. While many of the incidences are accidents and cannot be planned for – such as plumbing issues that mess up your floor, there is also something that’s quite more subtle and poses a great threat to your flooring if not properly controlled: the indoor air humidity.
Humidity Issues Affecting The Floor
The hardwood floor gaps usually develop between the planks along the longer side, and they come in different sizes based on the humidity changes witnessed. To understand what happens, let’s take a quick look at the wood’s relationship with moisture:
Wood is hygroscopic. In a nutshell, it absorbs and releases moisture based on the moisture gradient with the surrounding. When the air around it is dry, then the moisture in the wood gets released into the environment. This causes the wood to contract, with the planks decreasing in size. When the air is more humid compared to the moisture concentration in the wood, then the planks soak up the moisture right out of the air. Here the wood expands, so the planks increase in size.
The severity of these changes depends on the immediate environment — and your own actions can also exacerbate it. For instance, during those cold nights, one may crank up the furnace to warm the household. However, this can dry up the indoor environment as the moisture levels in the house decrease, which will draw the natural moisture from the wood floor. This, in turn, will lead to the planks shrinking and pulling away from each other, which will create gaps.
There are other factors that come into play when determining the severity of the gaps. These include the particular type of wood species that has been installed, the plank width and the hardness. For instance, softwoods are more prone to capping compared to hardwoods, and wide wood planks tend to have larger gaps compared to planks which are smaller. Protective floor treatments that have been applied also factor in – and these need to be properly maintained. If the treatment has worn out, simply get the floor sanding and restoration carried out in order to bring things back to normal.
When there are extreme changes in the moisture levels within the wood, then there will also be gaps developing. Take issues with installation for instance. For instance, the hardwood floor may have been installed sooner than ideal – like when concrete, plaster, paint and other building material containing high moisture have been installed without giving them sufficient time to dry out. The wood will absorb the excess moisture from the material and swell, and later on shrink, which will lead to the abnormal gaps forming. It’s important to run your dehumidifier before you install the floor, to allow the moisture levels of the interior space to get to normal conditions after the concrete and similar materials have just been laid, or the paint applied. Alternately, simply wait for the materials to first dry before you install the wood floor.
In other scenarios, one may be tossing more wood into the fireplace such as during those cold nights, without using the HVAC unit to control the humidity in the home. The resultant conditions case more moisture to be drawn out from the floor, causing more gapping. Another cause for the abnormal gap is the foundation of the home settling after it has been built, which leads to the wood floor being stretched out.
You will be able to easily notice any gaps on your wood floor, even when simply giving it a quick look-over. The seasonal gapping is quite normal, and not a cause for concern, as the floorboards revert to their original structure. However, note that the wood should have been allowed to acclimate to the indoor environment before installation for this to be the case. When the gaps become permanent, they can also be filled. Here, filler products are used. This is basically a formulation that is mixed with the actual wood residue from the floor sanding, then added to the gaps.
Picture the curvature of a cup or bowl. Cupping occurs when the plank’s edges curve higher relative to the centre of the plank of wood. This leads to a slight U shape being created. What happens? The increasing humidity levels lead to the hardwood swelling up, smashing the planks together, which then forces the edges to curve upwards.
To prevent cupping, the moisture levels in the building need to be controlled. In case the flooring has already cupped, cranking up your fan to dry out the space will help in enabling the wood to lose its moisture and revert to its original state. You can also recoat the floor surface, to add to the protection of the wood from the adverse changes in moisture. Note that if the existing finish has been worn out, then the floor sanding should first be carried out, followed by the treatment with the new preferred finish coat.
Here, there will be small and fine cracks appearing in the surface grain of the wood floor. This is usually caused by excess drying of the wood, such as during the late winter months when humidity gets especially low. This is also preventable through the control of the indoor humidity.
Over the years, as the appeal of the floor gradually decreases, it will need to be sanded and refinished to bring back that lost charm. You can also take advantage of this to install different wood stains in case you want to change the look and feel of the space. For the floor sanding and refinishing, it is highly recommended that you hire the services of a professional. Firstly, the task is laborious, and there are lots of risks involved. On the other hand, with professional services, it gets accomplished at a fraction of the time that it would take with a DIY job, and you get quality results at the end.