Wood or Wood Knot: A guide to acclimation and moisture -- Wet wood won't work
As an industry, it's up to us to respect the product provided to us by nature. That means we must protect our raw resource from the time it enters the manufacturers' supply chain to the actual time of installation. And, in this increasingly sophisticated world, that means there is a lot to think about. Manufacturers are constantly updating and expanding plant facilities to keep pace with demand. And the consumer now has to sift through an avalanche of warranties that address both the longevity and "finish" of a wood floor. It can be confusing to some but it also shows that our industry understands the need to address consumer concerns and continually upgrade the product. In no area is this more apparent that in a wood floor's "finish."
Like icing on a cake, the finish greatly enhances the floor's appeal as it shines and gleams and catches the consumer's eye. The emphasis on a wood floor's finish or "topping," without question, revived our market. But with all this focus on what the eye can see, how about what is underneath? Are we as an industry beginning to lose touch with what happens inside hardwood flooring. It is essential to remember that just beneath that synthetic urethane finish is a natural product that will be affected by the environmental conditions it is subjected to.
This is why acclimation and moisture "control" are essential for wood regardless of how smooth and shiny the surface may appear. It is alarming to see a lack of interest in this area as it relates to the prefinished market. The problem has been compounded by the increased stability associated with engineered wood product. All authentic hardwood flooring, whether job site finished or prefinished requires acclimation at an occupant level environment.
The hardwood floors industry offers many training opportunities for installation as well as sanding and finishing. We also focus on the art of custom installations and give careful instruction on borders, brass inserts, and medallions. The emphasis on custom installations is impressive but these floors account for fewer than 5 percent of the installations. Are we creating our own dilemma by focusing on advanced training while neglecting the fundamental requirements that account for 95 percent of our business?
Dispatching young and impressionable contractors to an install job without first explaining the effects of moisture and the need for acclimation is like having them set sail on a turbulent sea. Some will come back okay (even the "Titanic" had survivors) but some will be washed away. And we have only ourselves to blame for the insufficient supply of lifeboats. By now it is clear: What makes our industry's boat float is contractors and installers who know how to navigate their way back to dry land.
The acclimation process begins with knowing where the flooring material originated. When flooring is shipped from the manufacturer's plant, the moisture content should be noted and attached to the shipment. Depending upon the length of the journey and the protection provided for the cargo, there may be some fluctuation in moisture content while in transit. Upon arrival at the distributor, readings should be taken and documented and marked on the inbound shipment. The flooring should then be stored in an area that is dry, relatively cool and has sufficient air movement around the pallets of hardwood.
"Regional acclimation" is then left to the local distributor and anyone else handling the product. In new construction, the builder is challenged with controlling moisture and relative humidity at the site. Then, before the commencement of any installation, the flooring should be delivered and allowed to acclimate. But that is only if the conditions at the job site are acceptable. Placing flooring in moist conditions with high relative humidity will only promote separations and cracks between the flooring strips during the winter heating season. The installation, in this case would benefit from holding the delivery until conditions are suitable. Whenever possible, and you're dealing with a cooperative builder, have the HVAC system up and operating. Air conditioning will help dehumidify the job site. Keep in mind that premature installation passes the responsibility from the builder to the installer.
The dealer/contractor should provide a moisture meter to take a reading at delivery. Then, after a sufficient period of acclimation, another reading should be taken of both the subfloor and hardwood flooring itself. When ever possible and with the installer present on the job site, pre-rack as much flooring as possible, laying it out carefully to avoid creating a hazard for others. (I have found that once you "claim" an area, most tradesmen will walk around any flooring that has not been nailed in place.) And of course, utilize No. 15 roofing paper over the subfloor to act as a "moisture deterrent." It is important that you avoid using "red" rosin paper as it will not add any protection.
Remodel installation should follow the same specifications and guidelines. Although these job sites will be occupied, adverse moisture conditions can still be present. All job sites have the potential for unacceptable moisture conditions and relative humidity.
The proceeds needed to complete a hardwood install begins with proper training on the importance of acclimation and moisture control. And once installers and contractors understand them, in turn they must pass that knowledge to the consumer and builder.