|Solid floors are no doubt a beautiful addition to your property, they not only look and feel great, but did you know it can raise its value too? They do require more care than engineered boards or other forms of flooring, and you need to be particularly aware of the seasonal changes in temperature and humidity which can affect them. There are a number of ways to ensure that the potential problems this can cause are kept to a minimum.
The different seasons bring various challenges for solid floors. In the winter, the weather is colder and wetter. You are more likely to struggle with mud being brought into the house and problems associated with rainwater being carried in on shoes and boots. These can scratch and discolour the floor.
In the warmer months the weather tends to be drier, which means less dirt is brought into the house and boards are less likely to get scuffed and scratched. But summer raises other problems.
Wood: a natural material
Wood is hygroscopic, which means it reacts to changes in temperature and humidity – long after it has been cut, sawn, dried and installed in your home. This is simply a natural property of wood and part of what makes your hardwood flooring so special.
Summer or winter, you need to be aware of the ways in which the climate can affect your flooring. The changing seasons inevitably bring adjustments in air temperature and moisture content. In the summer, this can lead to ‘cupping’ and buckling of your floorboards, and small gaps opening up between the boards. Fortunately, you can guard against this in a number of ways. The most important stage is installation itself, and if this is carried out properly then you will significantly reduce the problems you are likely to have in the future. Even if your boards have been in place for years, though, there are things you can do to prevent them distorting over the summer months.
First of all, it’s worth saying that some degree of movement in your floorboards is inevitable. If you have solid hardwood boards, there is nothing you can do to stop them expanding and shrinking in different ways to some extent. It’s also part of the unique charm of the material. However, there are ways you can mitigate excessive expansion/contraction, cupping and other distortion when your boards are first installed.
Choose your wood. Different woods have different properties. The density of the wood and its grain structure means that some are more resistant to certain conditions than others. When you first select your flooring, discuss with the vendor the typical climate in your area. If you live in a place that has cool, dry conditions all year round, your choice may be different than if you live someone with large ranges of temperature and moisture through the year.
Board width. Wide boards look great, but they are more prone to cupping. Narrower boards are more stable. You will probably have to trade off these two factors against each other.
Grain direction. ‘Quarter sawn’ boards are more stable across their width, though plain sawn are more stable along the length. Again, discuss your situation with the vendor and the implications for price, overall look and stability.
Acclimation. The most important factor is to ensure that your boards are properly acclimatised to the conditions in your home before they are installed. In practice, this means leaving them for at least two weeks in the room where they will be used. You should also ensure that any screed flooring has thoroughly dried out and cured before the wood is introduced.
Ongoing summer care
The problems associated with summer are to do with changes in humidity, or the quantity of moisture in the air. Cool air tends to contain more moisture; you can feel it in the air in the early morning, and if the air is saturated (100 percent humidity) you will see it condensing on the ground in the form of dew droplets. As the day grows warmer, the air expands and becomes less humid, because the same amount of moisture is distributed through a larger volume of air.
It is this change in humidity that affects your hardwood floor boards. Consequently, you can reduce any cupping by controlling humidity.
Ventilation is one of the easiest ways to do this. Houses are often colder than the outside air, because they rest on a patch of cool earth and the ground beneath them isn’t heated by the sun. Additionally, many run air conditioning. When warm air is introduced to this environment, the changes that result in the levels of internal moisture have obvious implications. You will naturally need to manage airflow and temperature depending on levels of moisture and your comfort, but maintaining a separate climate in your home is asking for trouble.
Dehumidifiers are an excellent way to reduce moisture levels in a cooler house. This vastly reduces the problems that occur when warmer (drier) air is allowed into your house, resulting in water condensing out of the air and affecting your floor boards.
Cleaning and polishing
Finally, although the drier weather means less rain and mud, be sure to sweep clean your boards regularly with a soft brush to remove and dry dust and grit that could damage them. The summer is also a good time to apply wax or polish, as appropriate, when the grain is more open and it’s a more pleasant task!