Wood vs Moisture

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If wood were to describe its relationship with moisture on Facebook, it would inevitably choose the status “It’s complicated.” Too much moisture and wood will warp; too little moisture and it’ll dry out and fracture. This article will help you understand more about the complex relationship between these two elements.

How Moisture Affects Wood

How moisture affects wood

Image via Flickr by jinkazamah

Hardwood floors can shrink or contract when they lose moisture, creating gaps between the boards. This commonly occurs in cold weather, when the air is drier. These gaps will usually close when the weather warms and the air becomes more humid. If the environment becomes too humid, wood will absorb the moisture in the air and expand. After only a few days of exposure to high humidity, floorboards may cup, crown, or even buckle. Once these problems happen, floorboards may never return to normal.

How Hardwood Flooring is Kiln Dried

Wood floorboards are dried in a kiln, a type of large oven. Kilns maintain a constant temperature, humidity, and air flow. This allows wood to dry uniformly from all sides while preserving the required amount of water. In contrast, air-dried wood is subject to the normal fluctuations in temperature and humidity the weather brings. This can cause problems such as raised grains, which kiln drying avoids.

The wooden floorboards inside a kiln at any time should be of equal size. Otherwise, much like different sized pieces of food cooked inside an oven, small pieces may burn while large pieces could be underdone.

The kiln should be heated before the boards are placed inside, with an inch of space between them. Small boards called stickers lay on top and at the ends of the boards to ensure they stay flat and receive adequate air flow. Once the stickers are on top of the first layer of boards, another layer can be placed on top of them. This stacking process can continue until the kiln is full. Once they’re thoroughly dry, wooden boards should be removed from the kiln and stored in a dry place.

The Acclimation Process for Hardwood Flooring

Distressed Handscraped hardwood

The acclimation process is essential for helping the moisture content of wood flooring adjust to a new environment. It helps wood’s moisture content reach equilibrium with the environment. When this occurs, the wood does not gain or lose moisture.

Wooden floorboards should be stored in dry, controlled conditions that replicate the environment the flooring will experience. Storing them in the room the floorboards are meant for with air conditioning set at a constant, comfortable temperature is ideal. Garages and outdoor patio areas are not suitable because they can experience significant changes in temperature, humidity, and air flow. Cross-stacking wooden floorboards, with spacers between each layer, allows air to circulate around each board. Wherever possible, the flooring should be stored this way for at least three days before installation, as well as during and after installation.

A moisture meter can determine whether the wood’s moisture content is in equilibrium with the environment. If this is not achieved through the acclimation process, the wood might shrink, swell, warp, or suffer structural damage.

The Right Environment for Hardwood Flooring

The right environment for wood flooring

Image via Flickr by jinkazamah

Wood flooring typically performs best when it’s laid indoors. Rooms with wood flooring should ideally be kept between 60 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit and at a relative humidity between 30 and 50 percent. This is roughly the same level that we find comfortable, so it’s fairly easy to keep your home at the right temperature and humidity levels for wood flooring. These conditions help wooden floorboards maintain a moisture content of between 6 and 9 percent, which is recommended by manufacturers.

Maintaining the Balance for Wood Flooring

People living in either very arid or humid climates may find it difficult to create the ideal conditions for hardwood flooring. However, that doesn’t mean they need to find other flooring ideas.

Dehumidifiers and humidifiers can modify a room’s humidity to make it more suited to wooden floors. Dehumidifiers remove humidity from the air, while humidifiers increase humidity levels. If you’re not sure how humid a room is, use a moisture meter. This gauge calculates a room’s humidity so you know whether it should be adjusted for your wooden floorboards.

Engineered Hardwood Floors and Moisture

Engineered hardwood flooring

Engineered hardwood floors can be a good alternative to hardwood floors because they are more resistant to moisture damage. These floors have a stylish hardwood layer, commonly known as the wear layer, and a core made of plywood or fiberboard underneath. These two layers react differently to moisture.

An engineered floor’s core is typically more stable than solid hardwood because it’s made up of multiple layers of plywood or fiberwood. Its cross-ply construction significantly reduces shrinkage or expansion caused by spills or humid environments. Dramatic changes in humidity or excessive moisture will still affect an engineered floor’s core, but it can take a lot more moisture before changing shape. Engineered floorboards vary, though, so check the manufacturer’s instructions to determine the ideal humidity range for yours. As a rule, the better quality the engineered floorboards, the more moisture it can handle.

Treat Your Hardwood Floors Right

Keeping your wood floors in the perfect humidity is an important step towards preserving them, but it’s not the only thing you should do to keep your wood floors looking their best. Remember these home maintenance tips to preserve your wood floors:

Clean up any spilled water or other liquids immediately. Never use a damp mop on your wooden floor, as water will deteriorate the wood and damage its finish. In fact, you shouldn’t regularly clean your wooden floor with water or any water-based products. Instead use a cloth lightly dampened with a recommended wood cleaning product. Look for wooden floor care kits approved by your floor installer or retailers specializing in wooden floors. You can also safely sweep or vacuum your wooden floor.

Wood requires just the right amount of moisture to retain its integrity. Understanding how these elements work together will help you enjoy the wood in your life, from the floorboards you walk on to the tables you eat from, for years to come.

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Michelle Thompson