What Causes Hardwood Floors to Buckle?

Hardwood floors are a warm and inviting addition to any home, but they need to be maintained. As long as you take care of them, they can last for decades. One of the most common problems that can arise with hardwood floors is buckling. It is important to understand what it is and what causes it so that you can prevent it from happening.

What Does it Mean for Hardwood Floors to Buckle?

When your hardwoods rise up and have bumps and uneven sections, they are buckling. This usually happens when the floor separates from the subfloor as it takes in or releases moisture. Wood is hygroscopic, so it expands and contracts with changes in their moisture content. This can happen when they get wet or when it is too humid in the room.

When your floor buckles, it often has swelling or cupping as well. The middle parts of the boards swell, while the ends curl upward. Excessive humidity can cause the problem, as well as pipe leaks, flooding, moisture coming up from the foundation, drainage problems, and more. If you live in a humid environment, you may need a dehumidifier to keep your floors in good shape. The humidity should be between 35% and 60%.

What Causes Buckled Hardwood Floors?

What Causes Buckled Hardwood Floors

Moisture and Water

The main culprit for buckled hardwood floors is moisture. It can come from water or humidity, so you need to pay close attention to these two factors. You can use your air conditioner or a dehumidifier if you are in a humid climate, and as long as you keep the humidity between 35% and 60%, your floors will be okay.

Water damage comes from a number of different problems, and if your floors are subject to any of these issues, it is critical to address it as soon as possible. Be on the lookout for any of the following:

  • Pipe leaks
  • Roof leaks
  • Cracked foundation
  • Drain problems
  • And more

If you notice any water on the floors, it is important to investigate it and resolve it as soon as possible.

Improper Acclimation

Another issue that can lead to buckled floors is improper acclimation. Because wood is a hygroscopic material, it absorbs moisture from the air. When hardwood floors are installed, they need to acclimate in their environment for anywhere from a few days to a few weeks before they are installed. Otherwise, they don’t have a chance to adjust to the moisture content of the room. They might expand and contract too much after installation, which can lead to buckling and a number of other problems.

The best way to prevent this is to make sure that wood flooring has a chance to acclimate before it is installed. You may have serious problems with the floors down the road if you skip this step in the process.

Improper Installation

Another reason why hardwood floors buckle is from an improper installation. There are several different mistakes that can lead to problems down the road. First, the boards may not have room to expand and contract when they absorb moisture. There should be expansion gaps that are accounted for during the installation.

Other installation problems can lead to the wood floors coming into contact with too much water. The subfloor might have been wet or there may not be a barrier between a concrete subfloor and the floor materials. The boards could be installed with the wrong size fasteners or there may not be enough fasteners. These are some of the installation problems that can lead to buckling floors.

What Are Signs of a Problem with Hardwood Floors?

There are signs that you can look out for when you have hardwood floors. Most of these problems are a result of the wood expanding and contracting, which it will do as it absorbs and releases moisture. Take a look at some of the problems that you can have with your floors.

Signs of a Problem with Hardwood Floors

1. Cracks or Separation of Boards

This problem often occurs in the winter when the air is very dry. As the wood flooring loses moisture content, it will shrink, which can lead to cracks or separation of the boards. Often the boards will expand again when the humidity levels increase, and you can control this by maintaining the humidity levels in your home throughout the year.

2. Cupping

Another problem that you might notice is cupping. When this happens, the ends of the wood floors lift higher than the center. It is a result of too much moisture. The wood expands and there is no room for it, so the ends start lifting up. It often happens when the wood is wet underneath and the bottom still holds water while the top of the board is drier. If you notice cupping soon after it happens, you may be able to fix it, and it may alert you to a problem lurking under the flooring.

3. Crowning

Crowning is the opposite of cupping. In this case, the middle of the boards rises up while the edges stay down on the subfloor. This often happens after the wood is exposed to water for a period of time, whether through a spill, a leak, or too much humidity. If you notice this problem, it is important to address it right away.

4. Buckling

Buckling is the worst of these problems. When your hardwood floors buckle, the boards lift up off the subfloor. This happens most frequently after flooding or other significant exposure to water. You will need to dry out the wood before you can begin the repair or replacement process.

How to Prevent Buckling

The best way to manage your hardwood floors is to prevent problems such as buckling from happening in the first place. The key is to make sure that the floors were installed correctly. One of the most important parts of the installation process is acclimation. If you don’t let the wood acclimate, you are sure to have problems. It needs to sit in the environment for up to two weeks to get its moisture content in sync with the environment.

Another important part of installation is making sure that the wood floors are installed over a moisture barrier. If you install them directly on concrete, you can end up with moisture seeping up through the wood. A moisture barrier will prevent this from happening.

Make sure that the floors are installed with the correct fasteners that are the right size, and have the moisture checked with a moisture meter. If you live in a climate with high or low humidity, you might want to use a whole-house humidifier to keep the humidity levels ideal for wood floors. They need the humidity to be between 35% and 60%.

If you have any spills, you need to clean them up right away. If you notice buckling, check the area and the humidity in the room. Getting the moisture out of the wood will allow it to contract and you may be able to get it to go back where it belongs.

Final Words

The main cause of hardwood floors buckling is moisture from humidity, leaks, or spills. If the floors get wet and stay wet for too long, you may need to replace them. If you address problems quickly when they arise, you may be able to repair them.