Snow cones, swimming pools, and sweat.
That's my idea of summer, especially growing up in Mississippi. After eight years in Nashville, it's safe to say things aren't much different here. But southern summers aren't just about wearing copious amounts of deodorant, although that's pretty much a requirement (or at least it should be.) The same heat and humidity that chokes us from May through August also creates problems for hardwood floors.
A cupped hardwood floor. Photo via NWFA Hardwood Floors
Hardwood Floors and Humidity
Hardwood floors and moisture don't mix. Most homeowners with hardwood floors know to clean up water and other liquids right away. Most homeowners know if their house floods their hardwood floors could get ruined in the process. But most homeowners don't know that moisture in the air, a.k.a. humidity, can damage hardwood floors just as much as a puddle of water.
Hardwood floors like the relative humidity levels in a home to stay between about 35 to 55 percent. Any lower or higher than that, an floors start to get angry. I could write a long, very boring blog post about the science behind humidity and wood but I will spare you. You can thank me later. Just remember this:
Some gaps in the winter are common and a result of wood's natural tendency to shrink as air gets colder and dryer, they should disappear in the summer months as the wood expands. If they don't disappear, then you have a problem. Cupping or warping are a bigger issue here in Middle Tennessee.
Cupping, as you can see in the photo at the top, occurs when the edges of a board rise above the center, creating a rippled effect. This happens when too much moisture affects the wood and it swells but has no room to expand. Believe it or not, water vapor in the air is enough to warp your floors!
Hire a Professional to Install Your Hardwood Floors
So what can you do to prevent your hardwood floors from cupping? Correct installation is key. This is one of the reasons we recommend hiring qualified professionals (ahem, ahem) to install or refinish your floors. There's a lot of science involved in understanding the principles of wood flooring. A qualified professional should take moisture readings before the installation, allow the material to acclimate, and allow the proper amount of room for expansion. Or at least that's what Jared says.
Good thing he's a certified wood flooring professional, right?
Control Indoor Humidity for Hardwood Floors (even in Nashville)
Just because floors look great when they're installed doesn't mean they'll stay that way. If they're installed correctly, it's still up to the homeowner to maintain humidity levels that keep warping and cupping at bay. These levels may vary somewhat depending on species and other factors, so always check the manufacturer's recommended guidelines. Use a hygrometer to check your home's humidity. You can buy one for about $10, which is pretty cheap insurance when it comes to hardwood floors!
Air conditioning helps control humidity, and most of us in Nashville can't live without it. But you may not be aware of leaks and other inefficiencies. Thus the importance of the hygrometer. If the air in your home causes consistent problems, we recommend a whole-house dehumidifier to help maintain a consistent humidity level.
How to Repair Cupped Hardwood Floors
Don't despair if your hardwood floors have already turned against you. Mild cupping often resolves on its own once moisture levels decrease, and an installer can take steps to remedy future expansion problems. Even if your floor has suffered more severe cupping, a professional can possibly refinish them once the humidity problem is solved.
If you live in the Nashville area and have questions about humidity and your hardwood floor, please contact us at 615-416-9039. We're happy to help!