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Expansion and Contraction of Hardwood Flooring — and How to Avoid it

February 19, 2013 by | Jennifer | There have been 0 comments

It’s every homeowner’s nightmare: you’ve invested in beautiful, natural hardwood flooring, when suddenly you notice that the previously-smooth surface suddenly has cracks between the planks. What’s gone wrong?

In most cases, the answer is nothing. Expansion and contraction is to be expected in a natural product like hardwood flooring. Here’s a brief primer on what’s normal for a wood floor, as well as how to avoid any true moisture damage.

When you’ve selected hardwood flooring for your home, you’ve purchased a living product. Even after it has been cut, wood retains its hygroscopic properties. Hygroscopic means that it naturally absorbs and attracts moisture from the air. It’s a bit like a sponge: when moisture is present, your wood flooring will expand, and when it is dry, it will contract.

According to Hardwood Floors Magazine, it’s normal to see cracks as wide as a dime appear in between planks during dry months. These will disappear when humid weather returns. If you want to reduce this, you can try using a humidifier to add a slight amount of moisture to the air, or even have a humidifier installed in your furnace.

One way to make sure that your wood doesn’t warp or buckle when it expands is to select a product like clear vertical-grain Douglas fir. This type of wood is known for being extremely dimensionally-stable. Also, because of its tight growth rings and clear vertical grain, when CVG Douglas fir expands and contracts, it does so evenly, at the same rate all the way up and down the length of the wood. It’s also important to select a product that’s been kiln-dried for maximum stability.

The best way to avoid any expansion-related problems is to stop them before they stop. When you install your hardwood flooring, make sure that the flooring planks are allowed to acclimate, spread out in the room they will be installed in, for several days. Before you go to work installing the flooring, check the moisture content of the subfloor—a moisture meter is a handy tool for this. You also need to lay down a moisture barrier of some kind over the top of the subfloor; this will prevent any moisture from seeping up from the ground beneath during the lifetime of your floor.

Once your wood flooring is in place, you can keep it in top condition by avoiding any surface moisture. Don’t mop your floor with a wet mop. Clean it instead with a cloth that has been dampened with a wood-recommended cleaning product. If you must use water to clean up a big mess, clean only the part of the floor that needs, and dry it well afterward. Make sure to wipe up any spills promptly.

If you keep these tips in mind, you can expect your hardwood floors to stay smooth, even and lovely for a lifetime or more. And when you see any small cracks between planks, you can breathe easy: it’s just the normal seasonal expansion and contraction of a natural, living wood product.


This post was posted in Douglas Fir Flooring, Care & Maintenance and was tagged with Douglas fir flooring, douglas fir floors, flooring stains, maintaining wood floors, maintaining fir floors, removing pet stains, hardwood pet stains, warping floors, floor maintenance, floor care

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