Wood flooring is beautiful and hard-wearing. As a natural product, it is susceptible to changes in the environment- including the onset of winter. You may notice that in winter, gaps appear between floorboards. But what causes this, and what can you do about it?
Wood Options: Use the Right Flooring
Wood tends to expand or contract with the change in moisture levels. The air in your home always has some moisture in, and that level of moisture is known as Relative Humidity, or RH. Air with less humidity can cause wood to dry out. This can happen when the heating goes on in winter. But can choosing the right wood flooring in the first place control this?
Narrow boards will shrink less than wide boards, as there is simply less wood in each plank so the amount of shrinkage is less. This means any gaps will be less noticeable.
Certain trees naturally react less to moisture than others. Hickory will shrink less than oak, for example.
Quartersawn flooring may shrink up to half as much as flat sawn flooring. Check with your supplier to find out which types of flooring are quartersawn.
Engineered wood flooring is an option which may reduce the shrinkage, but do check with your supplier what level of RH the wood is designed to be used at.
Is Engineered Wood Flooring Winter Friendly?
Engineered wood tends to be less prone to moisture damage. Winter weather dries out wood flooring, but it can then bring higher levels of humidity when rain and snow increases and the heating in the home is off.
Engineered wood is better at coping with both low-rh environments and higher humidity.
Wood flooring Moisture Issues
Solid wood is more prone to winter moisture issues, but even engineered wood can be affected. Here are some of the key problems.
When the humidity suddenly rises, wood can swell. When it drops, wood dries out and shrinks. Reducing the amount this happens will help protect your wood.
Although fresh air through the home is nice, it can reduce the humidity in the home- or even raise it significantly depending on the weather. Keep ventilation to a minimum in winter to keep a more constant level of RH.
If the air is too dry, a humidifier may be used to add moisture to the air. Be aware though that normal, everyday activities like showering and doing the dishes add moisture to the air, too.
Adding Too Much Moisture
If too much moisture is added, wood can swell and even rot. It’s important to keep a balanced RH level to protect all the wood in your home and avoid condensation.
Wood Flooring Solutions for Winter
The key to maintaining your wood floor is to try to reduce the annual range of moisture levels. You could invest in a dehumidifier for when the humidity is high. You can ensure the heating is used only when required, and try and keep a constant temperature in the home. Good insulation will reduce the need to have the central heating on constantly.
If gaps do occur, you can placemats and rugs strategically to cover them, and there is always the possibility of gap-filling using dust and resin pastes or strips of solid wood. The best solution is prevention, with a high-quality engineered wood floor that can stand up to the rigours of winter.