Seasonal Humidity Fluctuation is the Culprit -- Consumers Need to Understand Hardwood Flooring's Sometimes Idiosyncratic Behavior
Every hardwood flooring installation is intended to provide today's consumer with an everlasting investment. Even Wall Street on its best day will fall short in this endeavor especially when compared to the purchase of a quality hardwood floor. The stock market has always been associated with volatility. You win some, you lose some. Thankfully, the same cannot be said of hardwood flooring which is a winner for the long term.
Personally, I have never been interested in taking on an inordinate amount of risk. And unlike stock market investors, hardwood flooring consumers are totally in charge of the longevity of their flooring investments just by exercising with their capability to control the environment of the installation.
There's no need to study the stars nor master the art of crystal ball reading to predict the behavior of hardwood flooring. Hardwood installations don't misbehave, they only respond to current conditions.
When first installed, presuming it has been properly prepared and acclimated, the hardwood flooring exhibits its best behavior. When unwarranted visual changes begin to occur, both the hardwood and the installation bear the close scrutiny of the homeowner. The primary culprit for dimensional changes in any installation has always been moisture related. We all know that excessive moisture will have an adverse effect on the installation but, what is not as widely understood, a lack of moisture can have a negative impact as well.
The fall season is upon us. Although dependent to a large degree on the climate in your region of the country, the need for continued dehumidification in the home is likely drastically reduced. Historically, the fall season has always been considered a welcome relief from the dog days of summer. Cooler temperatures combined with a lower relative humidity create a harmonious environment for any hardwood floor. Tense, disturbingly swollen boards are transformed by the seasonal change in humidity into side-by-side relaxed neighbors with no apparent signs of separation.
That said, autumn sometimes offers a sneak preview of the more dreaded conditions associated with Old Man Winter. The normal seasonal development of cracks and/or separations between the side-matched joints in hardwood flooring is inevitable without the consistent mechanical assistance of a humidifier.
Hardwood flooring behavior is actually more predictable than the local weather. Outside weather conditions are controlled by nature, but inside conditions are induced by the homeowner. With modern climate-control systems, the relative humidity commonly associated with summer can be replicated indoors even during the winter season.
Unfortunately, winter humidity is also accompanied by cold, sometimes freezing air, which is an unwelcome visitor in any home. Typically, the homeowner combats the frigid intruder with a blast of heat. But that long-term use of heat begins to create dry conditions of reduced relative humidity that are not only unfavorable for hardwood flooring but for all other contents of the house - including the occupants.
Dryness in the air depends on its relative humidity, or the amount of moisture it contains relative to the maximum percentage it's capable of retaining. Heating indoor air decreases the natural relative humidity that may be found outdoors at any given time. Maintaining adequate relative humidity is the responsibility of the homeowner, not the manufacturer or the dealer/contractor. The mechanical relief provided by a humidifier fulfills that requirement.
The HVAC thermostat fan setting should be in the "on" position at all times in order for the humidifier to operate efficiently. Today's homebuilders are very energy conscious, a noble trait indeed. Unfortunately, today's job site-assembled homes are practically large "Saran-wrapped" packages. By eliminating the potential for outside air penetration, builders can create an extremely dry interior environment.
The interior environmental conditions of the home need to be consistent for any hardwood flooring installation. The dealer/contractor needs to research, understand and, most importantly, be able to convey these requirements to the buyer/consumer.
Acclimating the hardwood flooring prior to an installation is the responsibility of the contractor. Maintaining the specifications for any particular region after the completion of the installation falls upon the homeowner. As with any new installation, whether in new-home construction or existing, the hardwood flooring needs to "cycle out."
You really won't know where you are with the installation until the flooring has experienced the full four seasons of the year. Far too many times, customers will insist upon what, in reality, is an unwarranted repair.
Regional specifications will vary. For instance, coastal locations have a tendency to retain a higher-than-average relative humidity year round. The Midwest and northern portions of the United States experience dramatic humidity swings with seasonal changes. The desert areas, such as Arizona and Nevada, have extremely low humidity year round.
The general consensus of hardwood flooring manufacturers is to maintain 50 percent relative humidity. Obviously, that is virtually impossible in all applications. But what is possible is to maintain the average relative humidity for the region. Hardwood flooring is "hygroscopic," meaning it readily absorbs moisture - particularly from the atmosphere. Trees grow and expand when they have access to the necessary nutrients and moisture. Trees will also dry out, wither and sometimes die when subject to a lack of moisture.
Today's customers are relatively educated on the harm that excessive moisture can cause to the hardwood flooring installation. Eliminating the cause and allowing sufficient time to dry, in most cases, will create the opportunity for the hardwood flooring to revert back to its original dimensions. More complaints tend to arise from the cracks and/or separations between boards that sometimes plague a new installation. To avoid problems, inform them of wood flooring's sometimes idiosyncratic behavior due to seasonal variations in humidity. Tell them what to expect before they experience it.
Wood or Wood Knot wants you to know that hardwood flooring will never really be naughty. In fact, it has the capacity to always be nice - provided it gets just a little help from a concerned contractor friend.