Shrinking And Cracking And Creaking, Oh My!
Updated: Nov 9, 2020
Chapped lips and dry skin? Imagine how your floors feel! This winter has been an incredibly dry one for Colorado. While you invest in lip balm and lotion for your family’s comfort, there is an important preventative measure you can take for your wood floors, cabinetry, furniture, and trim. We partner with locally operated Sure Comfort Services to educate homeowners about HVAC and how it affects your home’s assets. Sure Comfort Services offers dependable, professional technicians who take pride in their work and gave me some useful information for this blog.
LOW RELATIVE HUMIDITY IN COLORADO
In Colorado, we don’t have to worry about too much humidity, but we do concern ourselves with low relative humidity. When you turn up the heat during the winter, dry air absorbs moisture from everything inside your home, including you and your wood floors. The combination of an overly arid climate (that’s us!) and the process of heating your home during the winter can cause your beautiful wood floors to shrink, crack, and creak. Wood is hygroscopic (big word for a contractor), which means your wood floors are capable of absorbing and releasing moisture into the air. Wood flooring reacts to the environment it is in. Based on the moisture content and temperature of its surroundings, wood gains or loses moisture and correspondingly gets bigger (expands) or smaller (contracts). If your home’s relative humidity is too low, your indoor air will absorb moisture from the wood, causing it to shrink. The National Wood Flooring Association recommends keeping your home’s relative humidity levels between 30-60% continually, year round, to help protect your investment.
This wide plank, reclaimed pine floor was not properly acclimated or installed and the home’s relative humidity is low. You can see the gaps between boards in this image. We have filled the gaps with epoxy and required that the homeowner keep the home at the current level of humidity to avoid additional issues and damage. Certified Professionals know how to prevent failure and work to do so on a daily basis.
Mitigating relative humidity is so important that it’s one of the first questions I ask during an estimate: do you have a whole house humidifier attached to your furnace? I don’t stop there, though. Sometimes people aren’t certain or we find out that although they have one attached to the furnace, it’s not working properly. How do I know? I am a wood floor nerd, plain and simple. I measure your home’s relative humidity with a thermo-hygrometer, an instrument used for measuring the temperature and moisture content of the environment. As an NWFA Certified Professional Wood Floor Sales Advisor, my job is to ensure that all new flooring is installed in an appropriate climate, so you stay happy with the aesthetics and your floors last as long as they should!
It’s important for you to know that if you neglect your home’s relative humidity, you may end up paying for it later. Wood flooring manufacturers and contractors do not warranty damage resulting from humidity issues. Our contract requires homeowners to maintain their home’s relative humidity between 25-45%. Why? If the boards shrink too much, you’ll notice gaps between boards. Our finish is so strong that when boards shrink, our finish will stretch, not break, leaving white lines between boards. That’s why we ask about humidity up front. We measure it during your estimate and source our flooring materials from a climate-controlled warehouse that purchases northwestern hardwoods. We then ensure your materials are properly acclimated by checking the moisture content of the flooring to be installed against the moisture content of the (plywood or OSB) subfloor to make sure they’re within an appropriate range.
Purchasing and maintaining a whole-house humidifier protects your home’s assets and ensures you and your family stay comfortable. If you don’t know whether your humidifier is working, contact me! I’m happy to pay a visit and measure your home’s relative humidity.