Winter is right around the corner, and with winter comes snow and cold weather that will have you turning up the heat and enjoying nice evenings by the fire. Did you ever think about how these living conditions and changing humidity levels inside your home can affect your beautiful new hardwood floor?
Your hardwood floor is made of… wood! And wood is a natural material that reacts to changes in its environment even after it has been transformed into flooring. Yes, manufacturers have developed different types of hardwood floor constructions to “improve and control” the wood natural reaction to changes in humidity. But keeping humidity at the recommended level is still essential for keeping your hardwood floor looking great, as well as for a healthy home environment.
PROPER HUMIDITY LEVELS
Proper humidity level for your health
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lists indoor air quality among its top environmental health threats. There are three key components to healthy air: it must be fresh, clean, and have the proper humidity level.
The ideal relative humidity for your health and comfort is about 40-50%.
– During winter: It may need to be between 30-40% to prevent condensation on your windows and other surfaces. Relative humidity settings that are too low may cause respiratory infections, allergic rhinitis and asthma.
– During summer: It can move up to 50-55%. Relative humidity that is too high may have health effects due to mold growth, dust mite infestations, as well as certain bacteria and viruses.
To discover how Lauzon is going the extra mile for your health, by purifying indoor air with our Pure Genius hardwood floors, click here.
Proper humidity level for your hardwood floor
The National Wood Floor Association (NWFA) states that normal relative humidity levels should range between 30%-50% to ensure successful long-term performance of your wood flooring.
As we just saw, however, this range can often be difficult to achieve in certain areas of the country during certain seasons. This is why at Lauzon, we have developed three different types of hardwood flooring constructions allowing you to enjoy the beauty of hardwood floors no matter where you live.
– Relative humidity levels of 30-80% – Expert engineered Lauzon hardwood floors
– Relative humidity levels of 35-65% – Other Lauzon engineered hardwood floors
– Relative humidity levels of 35-55% – Lauzon solid hardwood floors.
As you can see, engineered wood flooring is more stable than solid wood flooring. One of the reasons for this is that the bottom layers are made of cross-sided layers that move on opposite sides. If you are looking for maximum performance during humidity changes, take a look at our Expert ¾ construction, which was developed to meet contractors’ needs.
Your hardwood floor during the dry season
During the winter, when homes are heated and the air is dry, wood flooring loses some of its moisture and contracts or shrinks as a result.
Hardwood flooring dryness problems:
When wood plank shrinks, thin gaps—also called cracks—can appear between planks. In dry months, gaps can easily develop to the thickness of a dime on a typical solid 2¼-inch oak floor. This is normal, and a homeowner should be prepared for it to occur. Once indoor heating is turned off in the spring and humidity levels rise again, most gaps will close up again.
– Splits & Checks
When the wood is stressed beyond its limitations, the wood weakens, making your hardwood floor more brittle and increasing the likelihood of damage or splintering. The boards themselves may split, check or crack in the centre or at the ends, or both, along the grain, damaging the finish. This damage is permanent, because your finish is cracked—your wood is no longer protected.
Preventing dryness problems
– Maintain a proper humidity level in your home by using a humidifier during the winter months.
– Be aware that wood stoves and electric heat tend to create very dry conditions, so make sure to use your humidifier when these are on.
– If you are a “snowbird” and leave your home unoccupied for weeks at a time, do not turn the heat down too low.
Your hardwood floor during the Humid Season
During warm and humid summers, your hardwood floor will absorb moisture from the air, swelling and expanding as a result. This expansion can create pressure between the boards, which can cause the boards to warp, cup or crack. Both cupping and crowning are natural reactions to moisture and should not be of concern if they occur only to a minor extent. More severe cases, however, indicate a serious moisture problem.
Hardwood floor moisture problems:
When a wood plank cups, its edges are higher than its centre. Once cupping has occurred, it takes a while for the wood to restore its internal moisture and flatten out.
Humidity is usually the culprit, although cupping also can happen after water has been spilled onto the floor and absorbed into the wood. The moisture causes the wood to swell, crushing the boards together and deforming them at the edges. The cause of the moisture must be identified in order to repair the floor. Most often, indoor humidity needs to be controlled. Causes might include a plumbing leak in the basement, which can allow moisture to migrate up into the subfloor and flooring.
Once the cause of the moisture is controlled, cupping can usually be reversed. Oftentimes, the cupping naturally dries out and improves over time. Fans may be needed to speed up the drying process. After the floor has dried, it may be necessary to recoat the floor with finish or to sand and refinish the floor.
Crowning is the opposite of cupping. The middle of the board is higher than the board’s edges. This can occur when the surface of the floor encounters moisture. It most often occurs when a floor has been sanded too soon after cupping. When this happens, the top edges of the board are sanded off and are therefore lower than the rest of the board when returning to a normal moisture content.
Buckling is one of the most extreme reactions to moisture that can occur with hardwood flooring. It happens when the floor expands beyond expansion gaps and literally pulls away from the subfloor, as high as several inches. It’s like walking on a trampoline. Once the humidity drops, the floor may shrink back, but the edges of each board are now crushed and permanently damaged. Once the floor shrinks, you may see gaps between the boards. Fortunately, buckling is uncommon, usually happening only when a floor has been flooded.
When extensive moisture or humidity causes the wood to expand significantly, adjoining boards start pressing against each other. In extreme cases, this increased pressure can cause the affected boards to lose their structural integrity and crack.
Preventing moisture problems:
– Make sure you leave free expansion space around the perimeter of your floor when installed. The gap along each wall is usually equal to the thickness of your plank. For aesthetic purposes, they are usually covered with baseboards.─ Maintain proper humidity levels with an air conditioner, dehumidifier or by turning on your heating system periodically during the summer months.
– If you go away on a long summer vacation, leave the A/C on.
– Avoid excessive exposure to water from tracking during periods of inclement weather.
– Clean your hardwood floor with a cloth lightly dampened with a recommended hardwood floor cleaning product.
– Choose a good quality engineered hardwood floor that will fit with your needs.
It is important to be aware that none of the damage caused by humidity variations is covered by any hardwood floor warranty. It is your responsibility to make sure you have a stable environment in your home, even when the home is unoccupied.
That is why all homeowners should own a hygrometer to measure the temperature and relative humidity (RH), and be sure to respect the guidelines above.
Always keep in mind that keeping the humidity and temperature level at the recommended level is not only essential for keeping your hardwood floor looking great, but also to provide you with a healthy home environment!
Photo 2: Beachwood, White Oak, Hamptons Series