Relative Humidity & its Effects on Your Hardwood Flooring

19 January 2019 / By John Rod

Wood flooring, because it is a natural product and contains some level of water content at all times, will expectedly behave like a natural product and not have the same characteristics of plastic or laminate flooring. The moisture content in the wood in your home or business fluctuates as the moisture in the environment changes. Think of the doors in your home; in the humid summer air, they are prone to ‘sticking’ in the door frame. Then, when the air dries out on less humid days (or in the winter time), they will shrink to varying degrees. Your hardwood floors behave in a very similar fashion.

Winter weather is especially harsh on hardwood flooring. When temperatures begin to drop homeowners shut all their doors and windows and start to turn up the heat. This heat dries out your home, pulling moisture from the floors and causing them to shrink. This is especially bad in certain ‘hot spots’, areas around fireplaces, heating ducts, as well as wall and baseboard heaters. These areas a more susceptible to drying out, and are particular noticeable in areas around wood stoves. Later, when temperatures outside begin to fall below freezing, much of the remaining moisture in the air is drawn out and falls as snow, frost, or ice. Longer cold spells with heavy snowfall may cause more shrinkage in wood floors than is usual. Due to the tendency of heat to rise, upper floors may experience even greater issues if proper humidity issues are not maintained.

Low humidity levels have the potential to do serious damage to your floor. They cause the wood to dry out, which in turn weakens the wood, causing it to splinter, crack, and/or gap. The drying out process can also lead the floor to “check”, meaning it splits down the grain. It can also damage the finish of the floor, creating issues during your regular maintenance. It is very important you do NOT “fill” your wood floor during the winter months, nor do we recommend you recoat or refinish wood floors effected by low humidity cracking or gapping. If you do so, when the wood begins to expand in the summer months, the wood will either force out excess fill or boards will warp from the added pressure of the extra fill. Wood needs room to expand once the humidity returns to normal, and the force of this expansion can sometimes be significant.

It is vitally important to maintain humidity levels to prevent potential damage. Due to the excessively dry New York City climate, you may need to operate a humidifier and maintain its operation throughout the winter months. Not only will this benefit your floors greatly, it has the added benefit of being good for your health and wellbeing as well.  The humidifier should be set, and routinely checked, to maintain constant humidity levels of between 40% – 55%. While the settings on humidifiers vary, it is the overall humidity levels that are important to maintain. You can check humidity levels using a humidistat or hydrometer – both are relatively cheap and available at most hardware stores. If the humidity levels are beyond the 35% – 55% ranges, then you should make adjustments. If the levels are too high use a dehumidifier or run your air conditioning for a short while. Maintaining proper humidity levels will help keep your hardwood floors in shape and performing at their best. And please remember: failure to maintain constant and appropriate humidity levels in your home can void your warranty.

Above and beyond sales, our biggest responsibility to our customer is to educate them and put them at ease at a time when they feel like their wood flooring is failing.

Manny Salgado, Direct Flooring

Direct Flooring has been a leader in the flooring industry since 2005. They offer all types of flooring from every corner of the globe. Direct Flooring can help you select the best products while tackling the most challenging installations. Our customer service is second to none. For more information, click directflooringmetro.com or call 908.237.1009 and speak with one of our flooring specialists. Direct Flooring is located in Flemington, NJ and services all of NJ, New York City’s Metro area, and Eastern PA.