The last thing you want is a do-over on your sleek, new hardwood floor. So to avoid looming repairs on your recent remodel, be sure to acclimate before you install.
As a natural material, hardwood can be impacted by moisture in the home, which if not anticipated can lead to a remodel disaster that results in wasted time and burdensome expenses. Hardwood flooring products are bound to expand and contract with changes in weather and temperature, so “acclimating” your hardwood before it is installed is imperative.
When hardwood expands or contracts — often a result of weather and temperature changes — boards can bend, warp, and buckle. Flooring “acclimation,” an integral component of the installation process, involves matching the moisture content of the wood to the normal living conditions of the home.
If the wood’s moisture content is either too high or too low, the potential for expansion or contraction can cause serious damage to the floor. This is why acclimating wood is so pivotal, because the last thing you want is to invest in a home renovation that will need to be renovated again only a few years, or even months, down the road.
Why Hardwood Must Be Acclimated
Trees, of course, are the ultimate source of hardwood, and before a tree is cut down it is full of sap and full of life. When cut down, trees contain a moisture content level of 30 to 50 percent. To put this into perspective, most hardwoods are eventually kiln-dried down to 6 to 7 percent moisture content.
To relieve moisture from the wood, logs are left to air dry and season for a year. They are then sliced into large blocks or planks of wood and placed into a kiln to continue the drying process. While these procedures make hardwoods very dry, they still contain levels of moisture that will absorb and dehydrate throughout their lifetime.
Throughout much of the Midwest, homes maintain a relative humidity usually between 30 and 50 percent. Keeping factors such as heat and air conditioning in mind, the humidity in your home is extremely important, and understanding the typical climate of your home is vital when installing a new hardwood floor.
In the summer, humidity rises to much higher levels, making wood products such as doors, floors, and trim-work expand and shrink. Ever walked on a creaky hardwood floor? Those cracks and creaks that are so familiar with old (and sometimes not so old) hardwood floors result from a lifetime of expanding and contracting boards.
This is why acclimating hardwood is so essential. Changes in humidity can elicit that nightmarish result of cupping and warping, a direct result of changes in moisture content; therefore, getting hardwood comfortable with its new environment before it is installed is imperative.
How to Acclimate
As heat and air conditioning keep temperatures constant, new wood floors need to be brought in to the home to get accustomed to the humidity level of that environment. Moreover, if there is existing wood in the home, the moisture content of that floor must match the moisture content of the new wood being installed.
For example, if there is existing oak in the house and a moisture meter shows eight percent humidity, then the new hardwood needs to be at or at least close to eight percent when installed. If installed at a 10-percent moisture content level, over weeks and months it will begin to lose moisture and shrink, creating cracks in the boards.
Acclimating wood flooring is not just a set-it-and-forget-it job, as there are a number of steps involved in the process. You must check board and sub-floor moisture, rack the wood in the room in which it will be installed — allowing the wood to acclimate to the room’s natural humidity — and keep the wood at a temperature and moisture level at which it will be accustomed to in the future.
Last but not least — you wait. After the wood is delivered and racked in the room at which it will be installed, the flooring must be left in the house for a period of time before installation. Wait times can vary depending on the type of flooring, but prepared to wait, at the very least, a day or two.
Does that Cover Everything?
Unless you have trained experience with the acclimation process, it is best to leave installation up to a professional. But understanding proper acclimation techniques is still important, in case the installer you hire is not fully knowledgeable of this essential installation component.
Make sure to research and choose a flooring professional that full understands hardwood acclimation. For more information, contact Just Around the Corner – a St. Louis based company to speak to a hardwood flooring expert who is well-versed in acclimating your future hardwood floor.