Hardwood 101

Hardwood 101

Calgary Hardwood Flooring

Expansion & Contraction

Unlike many floor coverings, our Calgary wood floors can last the lifetime of the building in which they are installed. Home owners who want them to last that long, however, should note the number one enemy of a hardwood floor: moisture. Wood floors naturally expand when moisture is present and shrink when it is not. Whether the reactions are a problem or not depends on the severity of the situation. Following are some of the common results when water and wood floors combine:

Cracks Between Boards: Almost every wood floor endures some expansion and contraction as seasons and humidity levels change. When homes are heated, humidity levels plummet, boards shrink and spaces appear between boards in dry months, cracks can easily develop to the thickness of a dime on a typical solid 2 1/4″ floor, with light-coloured woods making the cracks appear larger. Plank floors also will show cracks more. These spaces are to be expected and usually close up as the season changes and moisture returns to the air. To reduce the degree of change, home owners can add moisture to the air during the dry months, ideally by installing a humidifier in the furnace.

Cupping: As with cracks between boards both cupping and crowning are natural reactions to moisture and should not be a concern if they occur only to a minor extent. More severe cases however, may indicate a serious moisture problem.

Cupping describes a condition in which the edges of a board are high and its center is lower. Humidity is usually the culprit, although cupping also can happen after water has spilled onto the floor and absorbed into the wood. The moisture causes the wood to swell, crushing the boards together and deforming them at the edges. Before repairing the floor, the cause of the moisture must be identified.

Indoor humidity always needs to be controlled. Another cause of cupping could include a situation such as a plumbing moisture migrating through the subfloor and into the wood flooring.

Once the cause of the moisture has been eliminated, cupping can reverse. Oftentimes the floor may dry out and improve over time. Fans may be necessary to speed the drying process. After the floor has dried, it may be necessary to recoat the floor with finish, or to sand and refinish the floor.

Crowning: “Crowning” is the opposite of cupping: the middle of the board is higher than the edges of the board. This can occur when the surface of the floor encounters moisture. More often, it results when a floor has been sanded too soon after it has cupped. When this happens, the top edges of the board are sanded off, and thus are lower than the rest of the board when it returns to a normal moisture content.

Buckling: Buckling is one of the most extreme reactions to moisture that can occur with a hardwood floor. It happens when the floor literally pulls away from the subfloor, up to heights as high as several inches. Fortunately, buckling is an uncommon occurrence, usually happening only after a floor has been flooded. Even in such cases, it is possible that a floor can be repaired instead of being totally replaced.ik

Preventing Moisture Problems

Controlling humidity is the most important factor in preventing problems with moisture and your wood floor. The correct maintenance will go a long way in avoiding problems. Among the key points:

  • Clean your wood floor with a cloth lightly dampened by a recommended cleaning product, using the manufacturer’s directions for use. It is best to buy a “floor care kit” recommended by your wood floor installer or retailer.
  • Do not clean your floors with water or water based products on a regular schedule – clean only when necessary and clean only the soiled areas.
  • Vacuum and clean only the soiled areas. Never damp mop a wood floor. The water deteriorates the wood and the finish. Always wipe up spills immediately.

Customer Expectations

Solid hardwood flooring is 100% natural. It is not fabricated and contains no artificial ingredients. What this means is that flooring is subject to all the variations present in nature, consistent with the “grade” and “specie” of wood selected.

What can you expect?

  • Expert installation and finishing.
  • A product that is milled, graded and sold within specifications and standards generally accepted by the industry as to;
  • Size
  • Grade
  • Specie
  • A product that will remain fucntional and beautiful over it’s lifetime if properly maintained with regard to the type of top finish applied.
  • Colour and pattern, limited only by your imagination and budget.

What can’t you expect?

  • A table top finish. Each piece of flooring sands differently depending on its grain type (plain or quartered), making it virtually impossible to obtain a completely flat surface.
  • Inspection of your new hardwood floor should be done from a standing position.
  • For a site finished floor – a dust free finish. Since your floor is being finished in your home it is not practical to achieve a clean room environment. Some dust will fall onto the freshly applied finish. This will wear off as you use the floor. Smith Brothers uses a dust free sanding system to minimize dust in your home.
  • A monotone floor. Wood, as a natural product, varies from piece to piece. Remember it is not fabricated, not is it artificial – it is milled from a tree and will have grain and colour variations consistent with the grade and species of the flooring selected.
  • A floor that will not indent. In spite of the term “hardwood”, flooring will indent under high pressure such as refrigerator wheels or high heel traffic (especially heels in disrepair).
  • A floor without cracks between the boards. Although your new floor will be laid with the boards tight together, as a natural product, it will continue to absorb and expel moisture. This natural process will cause the flooring to expand and contract from season to season – resulting in cracks between some of the boards in your floor. Some stain colours, such as white, will show this process more than others. While Smith Bros. Floors Ltd. can minimize this movement by adhering to the National Wood Flooring Association installation guidelines, we cannot completely eliminate this occurrence. Maintaining proper and consistent humidity will help stabilize your floor.
  • A squeak free floor. Although rare, squeaks may come and go as a result of moisture or subfloor changes.

What about subfloors and adjacent floor surfaces?

  • The level of the finished hardwood floor will follow the contour of the subfloor.
  • When hardwood flooring is laid so as to butt up to “previously installed” artificial surfaces such as quarry tile, marble, V.A. tile or sheet vinyl it is essential to recognize that your hardwood flooring contractor is working with wood flooring of a constant thickness and with an “existing subfloor”. Accordingly, it is not always possible to correspond exactly to the level of the surrounding and/or adjacent floor surfaces. To expect otherwise is unrealistic.

Seasonal Movement

Every winter we have a number of people calling with questions related to seasonal movement or cracking of wood floors (between the boards). Here is a little information on the subject:

Movement and cracking in a wood floor is not unusual, especially in the winter months of the year. The flooring reacts directly to the humidity changes; the introduction of more humidity or moisture will expand the floor as a whole; loss of humidity or moisture will cause each board to contract. This loss of humidity can result in cracking between the boards.

The outside air plays a role in our indoor environment, and typically humidity readings in our summer months are around 50-55%. Conversely, in winter months, we can see humidity as low as 5-10%. This marked variation in seasonal humidity is what causes any wood floor to expand and contract.

The use of a good quality humidifier in the home can help to reduce the seasonal humidity changes within the home, thereby reducing movement in the floor. These conditions within the home determine the extent of the cracking. It is recommended that the humidity be maintained as close to 30% as possible year round.

It is expected that floors with any shrinkage or cracking would close up to a large extent during the Spring and Summer months. Any further concerns over cracking can be evaluated during the summer months to determine if there is an abnormal problem with the floor. Floors that are allowed to become exceptionally dry may not fully close up on their own.

Please feel free to call our office with any questions or concerns of any nature regarding your wood floor.

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