Hardwood floors, if properly installed and maintained, can last a lifetime. The most critical step, experts say, is making sure the product is properly acclimatized before installing.
“Like any wood, hardwoods are sensitive to the moisture around them,” explains Jason Wright, technical advisor at Wagner Meters. “That’s because wood is hygroscopic, meaning it will absorb or release moisture depending on the ambient temperature and relative humidity (RH). Extreme moisture-related problems can occur, such as warping, cupping, crowns, kinks, mold and mildew, or even noticeable gaps between planks. Often problems like these involve expensive repairs.”
Failure by installers or contractors to acclimate the hardwood floor, or to install the product when the moisture content of the wood is too high, can compromise the integrity of the floor, notes Wright. “You could run into big problems that you don’t know about until later,” he said.
One such problem is warping, which is determined by any deviation from being flat. Warping can take various forms and can give the floor an undesirable twisted, bent or crooked appearance. “If the planks don’t return to their original shape, they can loosen or crack,” Wright explains.
Then there’s the danger of cupping, a type of warping that occurs when the edges on the sides of each plank stick higher than the centers. Any moisture balance, including a change in the environment, can cause the boards to expand beyond the space they were given during installation, Wright notes. The resulting pressure forces the board edges up, creating a “washboard” effect.
Even worse, poorly acclimatized wood floors can cause the floor to buckle. According to Wright, this usually happens in response to prolonged exposure to excessive moisture, such as after a floor has been submerged for a while.
In many cases, the solution to these problems is simple. “Since they are all due to moisture, your best line of defense is to pay attention to the moisture content of the hardwood before installation,” notes Wright. “Don’t just assume that the hardwood will acclimate well within a few days.”