The Effect Of Moisture On Hardwood Flooring
Wood is affected by humidity fluctuations in its environment, expanding and contracting accordingly. Even when it has gone through the whole drying, cutting and processing and installed on your floor, it is still affected by the variations. It is hygroscopic, meaning that upon exposure to air, it dries or picks up moisture until it gets into equilibrium with the surrounding conditions. Some of the changes are noticeable. For instance, during the warm and humid summer, the wood floor will expand as it absorbs moisture, causing it to swell. Over the dry winter months, it loses moisture, thus shrinking in size. These seasonal movements are expected for hardwood flooring, and are usually controlled by using the building’s HVAC systems that regulate the humidity and temperature levels of the indoor space.
The shrinking or swelling does not occur uniformly across the wood. There will be varying changes in the lengths and widths of the boards. Take during winter for instance. As you heat the home to increase the temperature and the air dries, the wood floor loses some of its moisture, causing it to contract. Thin gaps then end up appearing in between the planks. When indoor humidity levels increase- like over the summer where they can clock as high as 90%, the swelling of the wood can cause the floor to cup or crown. Cupping occurs when the edge gets higher than the centre, and crowning will have the centre being higher than the edges.
Over time, the seasonal changes result in permanent gaps, which will require to be filled. With excessive moisture levels, the expansion of the wood will be significant, which will force the adjoining boards to begin pressing against each other. As this happens, the pressure caused increases, leading to the boards losing their structural integrity at the strained points, and cracks develop. The wood dust obtained from the floor sanding process is mixed with a filler, then applied into these cracks and gaps in the flooring.
Dealing with spills
Moisture is not just from the surrounding humidity. Spills- from that coffee or tea that winds up on the floor after the breakfast mug is knocked over, sofa and milk that is spilled by the little ones as they enjoy their snacks, beer and wine spills during parties in the house- they all cause a dramatic increase in the moisture gradient. When left to stand on the floor for long, the liquids are absorbed into the wood structure. In addition to issues like cupping, the absorbed liquid will also means that the resultant stain gets to soak deeper into the wood, making it difficult to remove. As such, it is emphasised that one should attend to spills the moment they form. Use a dry and absorbent cloth to soak up the excess liquid, then follow through with a cleaning agent that has been particularly developed for use on wood floors to remove the rest of the spot.
How To Protect Your Floor From Moisture Problems
It’s said that ‘prevention is better than cure’. Avoiding the moisture problems in the first place will save you loads of money that would have been spent in making costly repairs. Here are measures that you can put in place to protect your wood floor:
- Ensure that you have inspected the plumbing. Leaks or outright flooding from damaged pipes or one of the most common causes of water damage. If the hardwood floor is being installed in an older building, it is recommended that you have a professional plumber come in and ensure that the structures are secure and stable, to avoid future problems
- Check the moisture content (MC) of the wood, and allow it to acclimate to the conditions of the environment in which it will be installed.
- Apply protective treatments onto your floor. These are the likes of sealers. While they don’t make the floor waterproof, the layer of protection they provide buys you more time to clean up spills after they occur.
- Restore worn-out finishes. While they come with enhanced durability properties, the finishes won’t last forever. Over time, due to the normal traffic and daily usage of the floor, they will wear down. Floor sanding and refinishing will restore the protection to your installation, further avoiding water damage.
- Address spills and splashes as soon as you can. Wipe them up whenever they occur, since the longer they are allowed to remain staining on the floor, the more likely they are to seep into the structure and in between the floor boards, putting your installation at risk.
- Avoid leaving damp items on the wood floor. From towels, rain boots, umbrellas and laundry, they should not remain on the flooring. For areas rugs that are at the sink- whenever these get wet, air them out to dry.
- You’ll also need to regularly check for leaks as well. – especially in the bathrooms and kitchens, where the plumbing leak risks are highest and the water would go flooding in the surrounding rooms and damaging the wood floor. Also check the windows and doors to ensure that there isn’t rainwater seeping into the room. In case of any plumbing incidences, first fix the source of the problem, then proceed to mop away much of the water as possible. Cranking up the HVAC units to speed up the drying will also come in handy. For extensive water damage, you may need to call in the professionals to restore your flooring.
- Control the humidity levels in the room by installing units such as dehumidifiers. This is to prevent drastic fluctuations in the humidity levels, and also further slow down the cycling changes with the seasonal expansion and contraction of the wood.
- For the cleaning, damp mopping is recommended, using products that have been specifically developed for working on wood. Drenching your mop in water and proceeding to work on the floor causes a steep moisture gradient to be created, leading to the wood absorbing more moisture. This is avoided by simply wringing out the mop before using it.