Acclimating Hardwood Floors

The word acclimation has been rising in our conversations with customers and it is for good reason.  Wood although very beautiful with the variations of grain and different colors you can make, it has one big flaw and that is its’ susceptibility to expand and contract with moisture and temperature.  The wood materials used to build most houses (cabinets, framing, sheathing, floors) will actually suck the moisture out of the air in your house.  Now cabinets are made up of a composite wood composite designed to be stable with a thin veneer on top, framing and sheathing are encased by finished surfaces that protect and hide them from the effects of moisture.  Hardwood floors have very few defenses against the moisture in the air, leaving them have the big question, “what to do?”

Horror Stories

The internet is filled with stories of people having hardwood floors installed into their house and a few weeks to a couple of months later, the finished floor starts to move. There many large gaps in between boards, boards swelled so much that they’re a trip hazard,  and white lines that appear on the seams of the boards.  These are all obvious evidence of the floors expanding and contracting due to moisture entering or leaving the wood.  In some of the cases this could been stopped by acclimating wood before installation.

What is Acclimation?

Acclimation by definition is the process or result of becoming accustomed to a new climate or to new conditions. Acclimating is where building materials are brought into the environment they will be installed in and left to just sit for a designated amount of time to let moisture either leave or enter the materials so it doesn’t change after installation.  It is important that when acclimating materials that the environment has the ability to be controlled and that the interior climate is set to the buildings normal range.  If a building does not have a controlled environment and materials are acclimating, this can do more harm than good, since the building could have higher humidity than it will normally have once it is finished.

Why Acclimate Hardwood?

All building materials should be acclimated but most materials do not change as drastically as wood does.  Most wood materials in a home are also encased by finished surfaces  (framing and sheathing) or are layers of composite material that mitigate the effects of moisture and temperature, this is the make up of most cabinets and trim. Hardwood floors on the other hand are a different story because they are a finished surface, and usually they are solid wood which is going to react way more drastically to moisture and temperature.

How To Acclimate

Acclimating hardwood is dependent on a bunch of variables, the current state of the wood, current climate of the environment a floor is going into, and what the end climate is going to be.  A flooring contractor should be able to answer if these variables are or are not met to then determine whether or not acclimating needs to be done.  If acclimating is required then wood flooring needs to be stored in the area it is being installed into or at least near the area, where the wood is sitting in the same climate ( not a garage, or a screened in porch/patio).  The amount of time the wood needs to sit is also dependent on a few variables and the big factors are how much the moisture in the wood needs to change and how exposed each bundle of wood is.  If all the wood needs to change a lot and the wood is just stacked in one big pile, then the pile is going to act like a vault and the bundles in the middle of the pile will not acclimate nearly as fast and effectively requiring multiple weeks to even months to acclimate properly, if they are vastly spread out and the wood needs to change a lot then expect a wait period of one to two weeks.  On the other hand in most new construction cases where there is a tight schedule and acclimation is not permitted due to it it holding up the project, it is imperative that contractors buy wood that were stored in buildings with controlled climates. The wood is in the acceptable range for moisture content and needs to be installed immediately before it acclimates to the usual poor conditions of new construction houses. Once the HVAC in the new building gets turned on, the installed floor can then start acclimating back to its’ original state.

What We Do

Here at heritage Hardwood Floors we take multiple steps and use a wide range of tools to monitor the moisture in our floors and the environment in which they sit.  Our biggest asset to combating moisture is that we keep our materials in a controlled environment and try to limit our floors exposure to the element as much as we possibly can.  Our own personal warehouse is constantly controlled and have indicators that warn us if there is too much moisture entering or leaving our warehouse.  The supplier we buy the wood from has a controlled environment and checks and records the moisture content in the wood.  We carry hygrometers to the job sites so we know what state the climate is in, we also carry a wide range of meters to measure the moisture in the floor.

Here is one of the moisture meters we use and a passing test we got from the floor

Here is a picture of a hygrometer we use to test and monitor the climate in a house, in this case this reading let us know to hold off on letting the acclimate and to just wait until we were schedule to install the floor

The Big Take Away

The big take away is that acclimating can be a blessing and a curse, it has to be done properly and for the right reasons.  If the climate is not right and floor acclimates to the wrong climate, then floor is going to have issues.  The key is getting the floor to a state of equilibrium where it is or has adjusted to it’s owners’ preferences in temperature and interior humidity.  A floor can be acclimated properly but the home owner does not follow the guidelines advised by the National Wood Flooring Association and allows too much moisture to go into the floor.  The moisture content and state of equilibrium of a hardwood floor is a team effort between the flooring installer and the owner of the floor.  One party can follow the proper steps while the other party doesn’t and the floor can fail. Either party can fail to follow the guidelines. The only way to avoid an issue like this is to be as informed as possible and take the proper steps to hold up your party’s responsibility to the floor.

Click here to see the National Wood Flooring Association’s guidelines on proper installation and acclimation

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