Often when people have moisture in their wood floors, they do not know the cause of damage. Homeowners will even question the craftsmanship of the wood floor installer when they see warped floorboards. Humidity fluctuations are a big contributor to warped hardwood floors. It impacts all types of wood floors brand new to very old. All different types of wood floors can be affected by moisture from hardwood to engineered to laminate to prefinished.
Commonly, humidity fluctuations are not noticeable. Damage to wood floors does not even have to be caused by water. Water vapor is enough to warp floorboards. In many instances, environmental factors cause wood floors to warp rather than shoddy workmanship on the part of the floor installer. Quick changes in humidity cause floorboards to warp. Either you have moisture being added or taken away, which causes the wood to expand or shrink. This is often the root cause of a warped wood floor.
In the wintertime, people will suddenly notice their wood floors shrinking where they have gaps in between floorboards. Then, in the summer they may see the opposite where their wood floors will expand and sometimes even buckle up. And there are some very predictable reasons for these warped floors.
If the floorboards are at 9 percent humidity and the room is at 20 percent humidity, the floorboards will swell and expand. Your floor will have a washboard appearance. This swelling wood floor is also known as a “cupping” floor. If the floorboards are at 15% humidity and the room is at a 3% humidity – very dry, the wood will shrink. You will see gaps or cracks between floorboards. A parquet floor that is laid properly in a humid climate will have small spaces between the floorboards allowing them to swell. Both shrinking and swelling floorboards are reason to make homeowners very concerned. You never want to exceed 20 per cent difference between the relative indoor humidity and the humidity of your floorboards.
That said, if you live in a climate where you have different seasons, the temperature and humidity level cannot change dramatically come winter and summer. For example, in the summer, humidity levels can be as much as 80%. If you don’t take measures to lower your indoor humidity, you will see your wood floors swell and buckle up. Typically, what will happen is the boards will push against each other. The boards will move into the expansion gaps along the edges because they have grown in size.
In the dead of winter when temperatures are extremely cold and the air is drier, your house may be at a humidity level of 25% but your floors may be as low as 5%. In this case, your EMC can be as high as 14%. Commonly, if a homeowner does not take appropriate measures to maintain a consistent indoor relative humidity, the wood floors will shrink and leave gaps in between the floorboards.
There are two primary reasons for humidity problems in hardwood floors. First, the wood flooring contractor has not tested the moisture content of the floorboards or the humidity level of the atmosphere in the room. Second, the homeowner has not done her part in maintaining a constant moisture level in the house. Sometimes homeowners are okay with keeping their house cold in the winter and wearing heavy sweaters. This is fine for the people but not fine for the hardwood floors. They will shrink to the point where you may see gaps in the floorboards.
Often, homeowners do not know the importance of creating a stable interior moisture level of their home. Usually, a simple dehumidifier can be a solution. If the moisture is significant, an industrial fan should do the trick. Also, use a hygrometer also known as a moisture meter to measure moisture levels in both the floor at the atmosphere of your home. A hygrometer is also known as a wet-dry bulb thermometer. This can be purchased on the Internet or at an electronics store. Don’t get a cheap metal one, you will not get an accurate reading of your moisture levels.
Some things to note about wood floors and humidity. Both wide and narrow plank floors are affected equally by humidity. However, wide planked floors are affected by humidity in a more visible way than narrow plank floors. Some wood species are less affected by moisture fluctuations. For example, red oak is more stable than hickory. That said, a hickory wood floor will expand and shrink more than a red oak floor with humidity swings.
In the summer, you should be using a dehumidifier regularly. If the indoor relative humidity is above 60%, you should use an air conditioner to dry out the air. If your floor is so bad that it needs repairs, it is best to do them in the spring.
Warped floors are preventable, especially when caused by humidity fluctuations. If you are getting a contractor to lay your wood floor, make sure he measures the relative humidity of the atmosphere of your home as well as your floorboards before laying the floor. Also, make sure that your floor is well sealed so moisture should not really impact it too much. Further, a thick plywood subfloor is terrific for helping create a moisture barrier. Do not use staples to secure your floor. Use flooring nails instead to ensure your boards don’t pop.