Flooring 101: Installation Environment & Conditions

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Have you heard any of these comments during your search for a high-quality wood floor?
  • “You should only use engineered wood.”
  • “Don’t go over 5″-wide.”
  • “You can’t install wooden floors near water.”

Conditions for Success 

If you have heard statements like these, you are like many of the customers we speak to every day. Don’t let these comments discourage you! The truth is that you can successfully install most wood floors in a variety of conditions if:

  • You have the right combination of quality and craftsmanship
  • You understand what those environmental conditions mean to your floors
  • You understand the proper acclimation process for your floor
  • You set the proper expectations for your floors

Quality & Craftsmanship

Not all wood is created equal; that is a simple fact. In addition to the environmental concerns we’ll discuss below, you can expect better performance from your new wood floor by taking careful steps to understand the following prior to making the final selection:

  • Where does the wood come from?
  • Where is the wood cut from within the tree?
  • How is the wood dried?
  • How and where is the floor made?

Environments

Depending on where you live, there are a number of different environmental conditions to which your wood floor may be exposed. When looking at North America, you can see three distinct weather regions as they relate to floors — humid areas, dry areas and those areas with seasonal changes. It’s important to keep in mind that it’s the ambient moisture, often felt as humidity, rather than simply heat that determines how your floor is going to perform once it’s been installed.

Let’s take a moment to understand how these environmental conditions might effect your floor. Then we’ll look at some installation techniques to best prepare your flooring in order to minimize future weather-related issues.

Antique Heart Pine Floors, Winkler Home, Carlisle Wide Plank Floors1) Humid Environments

When wood floors are exposed to high humidity, the fibers of the planks themselves naturally take on moisture, causing them to expand and become wider. This in turn reduces the spaces between the boards and, in a worst case scenario, may cause “cupping” — where the edges of the boards are slightly higher then the center. It is possible to minimize or prevent this altogether with proper acclimation and humidity controls in the home.

2) Dry Environments

On the other hand, drier environments will have less moisture in the air, causing the flooring planks to shrink and become narrower. This may cause spaces or gaps to appear between the boards. Drier climates may also lead to splits or cracks in the faces of the boards. Proper precautions like extended acclimation and installing humidification systems can help significantly to minimize this.

Beautiful log cabin in winter3) Environments with Seasonal Changes

When wood floors are installed in environments with significant changes in the weather from season to season, the boards will expand and contract in concert with the seasons. During drier times, your floors may have small spaces or gaps between the boards. In the more humid months, those gaps are minimized or go away completely because the boards take on moisture, causing them to expand.

There are ways to minimize this seasonal movement in your floor.  First, make sure to invest in a higher quality wood floor. Next, be sure to let the wood acclimate properly prior to installation. And finally, understand what the annual heating/cooling schedule will be for your home.

When considering a wood floor for your own environment, having the floor prefinished might be an advantage, but only if the boards are sealed on all four sides. This will minimize the movement of moisture into and out of the wood. Find out more today about this unique advantage.

The Importance of Acclimation

No matter where you are in the country, before you install your floor you must plan to acclimate the wood floor to its new environment. The amount of time required for the flooring to adjust will vary depending on where the install is to occur, as some areas of the country are much drier or more humid than others. Specific job site conditions will affect the amount of time the planks need to sit on site, which is why it is critical to seek guidance from a qualified local installer.

Acclimation is necessary so that the boards can either absorb moisture (if the new environment is more humid) or shed moisture (if the new environment is drier). This process will allow the floor to reach a balanced level of moisture content so that there will be a minimal difference between that of the wood floor and the subfloor on which it will be laid. The National Wood Flooring Association recommends that a building be enclosed and maintained at normal living conditions for both temperature and humidity, with heating and/or cooling units running for a minimum of 30 days, before installers compare the moisture content of multiple floor boards to multiple areas of the subfloor prior to installation.

Expectations

Whether you are a homeowner considering hardwood flooring for your own home or a professional trying to provide guidance to a customer to help them make the right decision, it’s important to set the right expectations for a wood floor.

Some customers are more comfortable with the natural movement of wooden floors from season to season. In this case, design options are endless both for the style of flooring as well as its construction, to include both solid and engineered floors.

There are other customers who are less accepting of seasonal changes and want to control the appearance of their floors regardless of the effects the weather may have. To do so, they may choose to install high-tech systems to regulate interior temperatures and humidity levels throughout the year, thereby creating the most consistent environment possible. Engineered wood flooring, which by its nature tends to expand and contract less from season to season than solid wood floors do, might also be a good option for them to consider.

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