Wood flooring is susceptible to environmental changes, just like trees. The natural material will change in shape and can warp as the humidity levels in their environment adjust.
Many kinds of wood used in flooring are treated in special ways to reduce the impacts of humidity and temperature. WFC jumps deep into answering this question for you.
Wood is a material that is hygroscopic. This means that it can both absorb and release moisture from and to the environment.
This will happen until it reaches a point of equilibrium. This is why it is recommended to keep the temperature and humidity levels as constant as possible.
If the indoor environment is too dry, some of the moisture can be lost from the wood fibers. This can cause the wood to shrink slightly.
This is most commonly seen during the winter months where the heating is on a lot, causing the moisture to evaporate from the wood.
This can cause thin gaps to appear between the different planks of wood. It is completely normal for wooden floors to do this, and you should not be worried.
This will be naturally corrected when the humidity levels increase as the weather gets warmer, and the gaps will disappear.
A dry room can also cause stress cracks and checks to appear in the wooden planks. This is because the dehydrated wood is more brittle and therefore more susceptible to damage. This is permanent damage and cannot fix itself. The finish will be damaged, which leaves your wood open to stains and moisture.
During more humid months, such as the summer, your flooring will absorb moisture from the surrounding air. This can cause the fibers to swell and expand, creating a buildup of pressure between the wooden planks.
This pressure can force some of the wooden fibers upwards, warping them and causing them to crack or cup. Again, this is normal and minor incidents should not be a cause for concern.
Cupping is where the edges of the individual planks of wood rise higher than the center.
The only way to fix it is to use a fan or dehumidifier to level out the planks.
Crowning is the reverse of this, where the center of the board is higher than the edges. To rectify this, the top edges of the planks are sanded to make them level.
High humidity levels can also lead to buckling. This is where the wood expands and pulls away from the subfloor. The planks may drop back into position as the humidity drops but you may see spaces between them.
The wooden flooring can also crack as a result of high humidity. This is because as they expand, pressure builds to high levels. This can result in the floorboards cracking due to the high tensile pressure.
Do humidifiers help?
Yes, many experts will advise that you use a humidifier to help control the ambient humidity in the room with wooden flooring.
You may also want to use a dehumidifier during the colder, less humid months. Many people recommend purchasing a hygrometer to more accurately track the temperature and relative humidity levels of your home.
The Environmental Protection Agency recommends a humidity level of 30 to 40% in your home during the winter, and between 50 and 55% humidity in the summertime.
This is to keep you and your family in optimal health and protect the materials used to construct your home.
The National Wood Floor Association recommends an ambient humidity level of 30 to 50% to keep your floors in the best condition. This will vary slightly according to the type of wood used and the treatment processes that it has undergone.
During the winter it is recommended that you use a humidifier in rooms with wooden flooring. This will help to reduce the dryness of the air, leaving your wood more supple and less likely to become damaged.
It minimizes the chance of shrinkage cracks developing in the flooring.
We recommend that you use your humidifier in rooms with wood stoves or electric heaters. This is because the heat will remove the humidity from the air, making your floor drier as a result.
We advise you to leave the humidifier on for the duration of the period where the heater is being used.
If you have chosen to use a humidifier, you will need to wipe up any moisture that collects around the machine. You are also going to need to refill the water reservoir regularly to keep it working.
Many manufacturers advise using distilled water in the reservoir. This is because tap water contains a lot of mineral deposits which can collect on the mechanics of the humidifier and inhibit the efficacy.
As well as this, your skin, sinuses, and houseplants are going to react well to the inclusion of a humidifier in your home.
You should keep a close eye on your humidifier when in use to ensure that there are no leaks from the water reservoir.
This can allow larger pools of water to seep into the fibers of the wood, which can cause them to warp and become damaged. You could also opt to place your humidifier on a plastic tray to reduce the chances of water damage.
We recommend incorporating a humidistat into your HVAC system. This will allow you to closely monitor and adjust the humidity levels in your home. This helps it to remain constant throughout the year.
It is a good idea to ask your builder to leave a border of free space around the edge of your flooring. This is known as expansion space and will allow for natural adjustment in the size of the wooden planks.
These are commonly covered with baseboards for aesthetics.
If you are away for an extended period over the summer months, we recommend leaving your air conditioning system on to protect your floor.
In the winter months, ensure you wipe your feet well to prevent tracking moisture over the wood.