As the name suggests, hardwood flooring is made entirely of wood. This material is vulnerable to damage from extreme humidity levels. When storing furniture or wood planks, consider the temperature and humidity levels of the storage area. Ignoring this measure can cause irreparable damage to the flooring.
The most ideal humidity levels for wood flooring are between 40-60 percent. To be on the safe side, the humidity levels should be about 50 percent. When humidity levels fall below 30 percent, the hardwood flooring will dry up and start developing cracks.
As wood dries out, it also contracts causing splits to develop in the wood. When humidity levels go above 70 percent, hardwood flooring becomes waterlogged leading to expansion and, eventually, warping.
Humidity levels can fluctuate, a factor that homeowners have little control over. When humidity levels outside a home increase due to weather conditions or an incoming rainstorm, the humidity levels inside the house will also increase. Such changes in humidity levels affect hardwood planks even if protected by packaging. Those storing wood during the summer must take certain precautions to prevent damage to the wood because of sudden changes in the weather or humidity levels.
Managing Humidity Levels
Homeowners can protect hardwood flooring and planks by installing various temperature controls and dehumidifying units to their homes or storage areas. Air conditioners can be effective because they have a cooling effect, which lowers humidity levels. Dehumidifiers are necessary for homes set in regions with high moisture levels; they help extract moisture from the air.
Set the dehumidifier to 50 percent to maintain steady humidity levels for wood floors. However, dehumidifiers may not help prevent low humidity. If the air in a home or storage area is dry and non-humid, use vaporizers to add moisture in the air, which will raise the humidity levels.
Managing Humidity Swings
Huge swings in humidity levels cause the greatest damage to hardwood flooring. Such changes cause wood to expand and contract several times. Air conditioners that do not take in lots of outdoor air help to maintain steady humidity levels. This helps prevent sudden changes in humidity levels that cause damage to wood flooring. The same measures should be taken with heat and cold. Rooms with wood flooring should have consistent temperatures to reduce the chances of damage.
Understanding the Relationship between Wood, Temperature and Humidity
Humidity and Temperature
Air and wood absorb moisture or humidity to certain saturation levels. The saturation level is determined by the temperature in a room. The warmer the temperature, the more moisture wood absorbs. Temperature changes contribute to changes in humidity levels.
Humidity and Deterioration
Changes in humidity levels cause wood flooring to expand and contract. Continued expansion and contraction makes wood flooring develop cracks, which makes joints come apart. This is why wood flooring is not recommended for small, windowless kitchens and bathrooms.
Wet mopping wood floors leads to the introduction of excess moisture in the wood. Clean wood flooring by dusting and using damp mopping; this does not damage wood flooring.
Why Wood Floors Crack
Wood is organic. This means it expands and contracts in response to temperature changes and other factors. Processed wood has the same properties making it susceptible to cracking and warping. Homeowners should ensure proper installation and maintenance of wood flooring as well as control of environmental factors to reduce the chances of cracks developing on the wood flooring.
Cracks on wood flooring may occur due to a lack of acclimation before installation, improper installation, and exposure to excess moisture or very dry air. Cracks at the edges and joints of wood flooring are signs of wood expansion.
Homes with dry air will have hairline cracks that are most evident during winter when the air is dry and disappear when the temperature in the home increases. Such cracks are seen as normal reactions expected with environmental changes.
Before purchase, wood flooring is dried and cut into planks. It is then treated with chemicals to protect it from rot, packaged, and shipped to outlet stores. During these processes, the wood is exposed to various temperature and humidity levels.
Remove the wood planks from the packaging and allow them to sit out for at least two weeks before installing. This allows the flooring to become accustomed to temperatures in the environment to which they will be installed, which reduces the amount of cracking as a result of expansion and contraction.
Flooring not subjected to acclimation is likely to expand and contract beyond the environment’s limits, which results in cracks and buckling within a year after the installation.
When installing wood flooring, level the subfloors. Pressure points can be created by gaps between the subfloor and flooring planks. This pressure may lead to the development of cracks along joints and seams in the flooring.
When gluing wood flooring to a cement subfloor, use an adhesive designed for joining wood to cement. In addition, consider moisture barriers when installing in homes located in damp climates. Moisture barriers are thin sheets of polyethylene laid between subfloors and wood flooring. This barrier prevents moisture from infiltrating the wood.
Make sure there is a quarter-inch to half-inch gap between the flooring and walls around a room. This leaves room for the flooring to expand as a result of natural changes in humidity levels. Such gaps prevent excessive pressure on the wood, a situation that may lead to the development of cracks.
Properly installed wood flooring is less likely to develop cracks as a result of environmental changes. However, poorly maintained wood flooring may still develop cracks. When cleaning wood flooring, use products designed for cleaning the flooring. Do not allow wood floors to dry out excessively. Apply urethane annually to the flooring to allow it to maintain the right amount of moisture. This reduces the chances of splitting and cracking.
The wood will develop cracks if exposed to excess water. Taking the right steps during and after installation as well as practicing correct maintenance procedures can preserve and prevent cracks from developing.