What Causes Hardwood Floors to Separate?

What Causes Hardwood Floors to Separate?

A hardwood floor can contribute a lot to the beauty of a home’s interior and give a nice, warm feel to any room. With different kinds of wood available or patterns to create, the possibilities are endless, and a hardwood floor can give your living space just the style you desire. But the effect can rapidly be spoiled if gaps appear between the floorboards. These little spaces easily accumulate dust and dirt and can be a source of frustration and concern. The good news is that there’s always something you can do to make your floor look beautiful again. First, let’s look at what causes hardwood floors to separate.

External and Structural Causes

A hardwood floor may start to show signs of separation due to outside causes. Wood is an organic material and sensitive to variations in temperature and humidity, which can cause it to shrink or expand slightly with changing weather. This is entirely natural, and flooring technicians will take a degree of floor movement into account when they install your hardwood floor. But when temperature and humidity fluctuations tend toward extremes or become frequent, your floor may start to exhibit cracks between sections.

Accidental damage—spilling liquids, dropping large objects, or dragging heavy, bulky furniture, for example—can also cause floorboards to dislocate. In older houses, moisture that seeps in unnoticed can also have damaging effects.

Separation can be due to structural issues with the floor itself. Perhaps the wood was inadequately acclimatized prior to installation or the gaps left around the perimeter of the room were the wrong size. Poor workmanship could be the reason your hardwood floor is separating. If the floorboards weren’t tapped into place properly or weren’t a perfect fit, they won’t be able to expand and contract freely and organically as they need to.

In a nutshell, although wood responds to its environment and to seasonal and other changes, a properly installed hardwood floor will cope well with these, within reasonable limits. In contrast, when variations in the atmosphere, particularly humidity, are too great or the quality of the floor itself (the wood or the installation) is subpar, problems are likely to arise.

What to Do About Hardwood Floor Separation

Prevention is better than a cure, so the ideal time to treat hardwood floor issues is before they arise. And this means before work even begins on the floor itself. To start, the space the floor will occupy must be prepared and the subfloor made ready to build on. Meanwhile, the wood must be properly acclimatized. This means that it needs to get used to the conditions inside the building it will be housed in.

The relative humidity of the wood flooring boards needs to be somewhere between 35 and 55 percent. So the climate inside the building—particularly in the case of newly built homes—needs to be stabilized to this humidity level before bringing the wood inside. When work starts on laying the floor, there should be no more than a few percent difference between the humidity of the subfloor and flooring.

All of this is second nature to us at Wall 2 Wall. Our hardwood floors can last for decades and will look as good as new for almost as long.

If you’re already past the prevention stage, here are a couple of steps you can take.

Correcting Gaps Between Floorboards

Sometimes it’s possible to actually close up the gaps between floorboards—after all, they shifted one way, so they can shift back the other. This is only an option if the boards aren’t fixed. If the floor has expanded outwards too much, it needs to be pushed back tightly into place. You’ll need to work from the outside inwards and use wooden pegs around the outside to prevent the floor from spreading again and cracks from reappearing.

Filling the Gaps

Sometimes, pushing boards back together again isn’t possible. But rest assured, there are ways to fill the gaps in such a way that the end result is almost imperceptible.

  • Using sawdust and clear resin filler. You can mix sawdust from the same wood as the floorboards with resin to form a paste and then fill the gaps. If you proceed unhurriedly and methodically, your floor should look nicely rejuvenated.
  • Color match acrylic filler. This kind of filler comes in many color tones, and if you can find one that perfectly matches your floor, your gaps will be nothing but distant memories in no time. Be sure to carefully follow the instructions for use.

Filler strips. For larger gaps, you can put a strip of actual wood in, almost like an extra tiny floorboard. Use the same species and color wood and gently tap the strip in until it is flush with the floor surface. You can sand it down if necessary.

Preventing New Gaps

But what happens if more gaps appear, even after repairing the previous ones? First, just wait a bit. Even when a floor has not been laid perfectly, it will often settle and then stop changing.

There are also steps you can take to keep humidity levels, one of the main culprits that cause hardwood floors to separate, within a reasonable range. You can use a humidifier in winter to stop the dry air from making the wood shrink too much. And if your summers are hot and humid, a dehumidifier can stop the wood from expanding excessively.

If your floor still remains temperamental and doesn’t stabilize despite your best efforts, don’t hesitate to call a contractor. There may yet be a simple cause and solution. At Wall 2 Wall, we can advise you on what’s causing your hardwood floors to separate and make all the repairs you need. Reach out today to discuss your hardwood floor.