Installing a hardwood floor isn’t a small task. Many homeowners spend thousands of dollars on a new hardwood floor. Installation requires going through the process of design, moving furniture out of the way, staying off the newly installed floor for a few days, and then putting the furniture back after installation. The installation process takes a lot of time and effort. After the investment of time and money, keeping the hardwood floor in great condition is important. That leaves many wondering how to best protect their new investment.
Wood is a natural material that’s very reactive to changes in environmental conditions, such as moisture levels in the home. Many homeowners worry about having too much moisture for their new hardwood floors and will install a dehumidifier, thinking this is the best way to protect their floors from excess moisture for years to come. Controlling the moisture levels in the home will help preserve the life of your hardwood floors, but it’s a common misconception that a dehumidifier is the best solution to managing moisture levels in the home.
A Dehumidifier Is Actually a Bad Idea for Hardwood Floors
Have you ever experienced walking on a wood floor where every step you take makes the floor squeak? Or perhaps you avoid particular spots of your floor in the morning while the family sleeps to avoid that loud squeak with your step. Perhaps you find a new spot that squeaks, and as you look closer, you notice there are spaces showing between the floor panels. Or you notice some of the floorboards have started to bend and the edges may curve up or down. Cracks may have appeared in the floorboards.
Maybe you thought you’d avoided these issues by installing a dehumidifier to protect your hardwood floor from moisture, but you were actually mistaken. To keep your floors in shape—pun intended—you need to maintain a certain amount of humidity in your home, not eliminate it. It’s not a dehumidifier you need for your hardwood floors, but a whole-home humidifier. Here’s why humidity matters.
Relative Humidity Levels in the Home
Relative humidity is a way of describing how much moisture is in the air. If the relative humidity is 0 percent, the air is completely dry. If the relative humidity is 100 percent, there’s enough moisture in the air to produce dew or mist. The National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA) advises that relative humidity levels should range from 30 to 50 percent for the best performance and life span of hardwood floors. The NWFA estimates that approximately 90 percent of hardwood flooring failures are caused by relative humidity issues in the home.
Many wood flooring manufacturers will require homeowners to maintain a correct relative humidity in the home to keep their warranty active. Since wood is so reactive to temperature and humidity levels, it’s imperative to keep the humidity at the proper percentage.
What Happens When the Air Is Too Dry?
When air is dry, wood floorboards will shrink, which causes gaps to appear between the planks. This is normal behavior, and when the moisture levels rise, the floorboards will expand, filling the gaps. During more extreme changes, however, the wood panels become stressed. This weakens the wood, causing the panels to become more brittle. This brittle wood is more likely to crack and split, causing the finish to splinter, thus exposing the wood. This means the wood floor is no longer protected. These splits in the wood aren’t fixable, so to eliminate the damage, your floor will need to be replaced.
What Happens When the Air Is Too Humid?
When the air is too humid, the wood panels absorb excess moisture from the air, causing the panels to expand. When the humidity levels are too high in the home, cupping can occur to your floorboards. Cupping refers to the shape of the wood panel, as it resembles the shape of a cup. The floorboards bend, leaving the panel edges raised higher than the center of the panel.
Buckling is a more extreme reaction to excess moisture in the home. Buckling is when the floorboards expand past the gaps left for expansion, causing the floorboard to pull away from the subflooring. Cracks can appear with extreme moisture levels due to the pressure buildup from the wood panels expanding beyond the allowed gaps for expansion. The wood panels lose their structural integrity and cracks form.
Preventing Moisture Issues in the Home
You can help prevent structural issues with a hardwood floor in several ways. Making sure to leave expansion space around the perimeter of the floor during installation. Typically, baseboards cover the expansion space for aesthetic purposes. Maintaining proper humidity levels is also important in preventing the need for excessive expansion. By using a whole-home humidifier, you can more easily control the relative humidity in your home.
Using a hygrometer in the home allows you to be able to read the humidity levels. This will help you to know when an adjustment may need to be made to stay in the preferred relative humidity range. During the rainy season, avoid tracking water onto your floors by removing wet gear while on a protective layer such as a doormat. For cleaning, use a soft cloth that has been only lightly dampened with recommended floor cleaners.
Hardwood floors are an investment in your home. Their natural beauty adds to the aesthetics of your home. They’re durable but not invincible, and they do require regular care and maintenance. Natural wear and tear can cause the need for professional hardwood floor repairs.
Whether you’re looking for cosmetic repairs, such as fixing water stains or scratches, or more intricate repairs due to damage from lack of humidity control, such as cupping, buckling, gapping, squeaking, or even mold and water damage, Wall 2 Wall Hardwood Floors is here to help with your repair needs. The sooner you contact us for repair, the faster we can resolve the problem, which results in less damage and less costly repairs. For all of your hardwood floor repair needs in Portland, OR, contact Wall 2 Wall Hardwood Floors today.