Throughout the year, the level of humidity in your home will change. This affects everything from your skin, and hair, to your hardwood flooring. That’s because even though hardwood floor manufacturers have developed ways of minimizing the effect that humidity has on the flooring, it is still made of wood. Wood, like most natural materials, reacts to changes in its environment, including the relative humidity level.
Dry weather and hardwood flooring
During the winter, it’s common for people to turn up the heat and cuddle up in front of the fireplace. This can lower the humidity in your home. When relative humidity is lower than recommended, gapping can occur. Wood planks shrink, leaving thin gaps between wood planks. These are also called cracks or spaces. These are normal, and a homeowner should be prepared for it to occur. These gaps will close again once humidity levels rise.
When faced with extreme conditions, wood becomes more brittle. The boards may even split, check, or crack along the grain, damaging the finish. Once the finish is cracked, your wood floor is no longer protected, adding to the potential for problems in the future. Gaps and splits can vary in size and are considered normal if they appear and disappear during normal seasonal changes. If the gaps in your floors are large or do not close during more-humid months, it’s time to call a professional.
Preventing dryness problems
Both issues can be minimized by maintaining the proper temperature and humidity level in your home by using a humidifier during the winter months. The National Wood Flooring Association recommends keeping your home between 60-80 degrees Fahrenheit, and between 30-50 percent humidity, year-round.
Wood stoves and electric can contribute to dry conditions, so make sure to use your humidifier when these are on. Don’t overdo it, though. Humidity levels of 30-40% will combat dryness while preventing condensation on your windows and other surfaces. If you leave your home unoccupied for more than a couple of weeks at a time, set your thermostat and humidifier to the recommended level.
Humid weather and hardwood flooring
Cracking can also occur in the warm, humid days of summertime. This is when your hardwood floor will absorb moisture from the air, resulting in swelling. With this expansion, pressure can mount between the boards, causing them to press against one another. In extreme cases, boards can lose their structural integrity and crack.
This humidity can also cause boards to warp. One type of warping is cupping. This is when the edges of the wood planks become higher than their centers. This often happens when an excessive level of relative humidity migrates from the basement or crawl space. It can also be caused by moisture. It’s important to find the cause as soon as possible and fix the situation.
Give your floor some time to get back to its intended condition. This may require the help of a dehumidifier and even fans. What you don’t want to do is to sand the boards right away. If you do this before the floorboards are completely dry, it can result in crowning. Crowning is the opposite of cupping. The middle of the board is higher than the board’s edges. When a floor has been sanded too soon after cupping, the top edges of the board are sanded off. Then when the floorboard dries out and returns to a normal, those edges become lower than the rest of the board.
The most extreme reaction that your flooring can have to moisture is buckling. This happens when the floor expands to the point that it pulls away from the subfloor (sometimes as high as several inches). The floor may shrink back to normal, once the humidity drops, but you may also see spaces between the wood boards.
Preventing moisture problems
- Moisture problems can be prevented from the time of installation. Your expert hardwood floor installers will leave expansion space around the perimeter of your floor. This space is then usually covered with baseboards but allows the floor to have room to grow in the humid summer months.
- When you clean your hardwood floor, avoid allowing water to sit on the floor. Instead, use a cloth with a cleaning product such as Dave’s Citrus Floor Cleaner.
- Utilize your air conditioner and dehumidifier in the summer in order to maintain proper humidity levels in your home during the summer months. Do this as well if you leave home for an extended time.
- Keep floors free of moisture in the winter months as well.
With proper care and maintenance, your hardwood floors should last a lifetime. If you are concerned about the condition of your hardwood floors, or would like to have new hardwood floors installed, call us today!
 “NWFA.” National Wood Flooring Association, www.woodfloors.org/problem-prevention.aspx.