Humidity: its Effect on Flooring

Choosing reclaimed flooring for your home or cottage is one of the best decisions you can make. Not only does it beautifully display character and add richness to the space, it can withstand marking and wear much better than a new wood floor. This is in part due to the patina that the majority of the flooring comes with, naturally. One thing that does need to be kept in mind when a reclaimed floor is used, is the humidity factor. This should by no means be a deterrent of getting that beautiful reclaimed wood floor you’ve always dreamed about, but in order to keep that floor at its best, there is some care that needs to be taken. 

Reclaimed Hemlock Flooring with Oil-Based Finish

Why does Humidity matter?

In short, correct humidity control can help avoid excessive cracking, warping, or buckling of wood floors. Having the right level of humidity in the room or space can help avoid damage to floors. Not only does it affect floors, it affects all wood products in the home as well as impacting our personal health. Much like people, floors typically need additional humidity in the winter, and less in the summers. 

If the humidity is too low, meaning the room is too dry, the wood may start to dry out. When the humidity is too low or dry, the wood may start to shrink, crack, and create gaps in the floor. If the humidity is above this range, meaning the room is too moist, the wood may start to expand. If excessive, this may result in the boards popping up or buckling. Either scenario is very avoidable if the correct moisture range is maintained in the space. 

Reclaimed Pine Floor with Water-Based Finish

What can I do?

Ideally, the space should maintain a humidity percentage within 35-45%. Here are three key things to help ensure the proper humidity range is maintained:

  1. Have a humidity monitor in the space to help ensure that the correct range is maintained. Keeping an eye on the meter will help you determine what course of action might need to be taken.
  2. Run a humidifier in the winter. Often the air can get quite dry in the winter, leaving the floors vulnerable to the low humidity. This might not be the case for all areas or all homes and cottages, but if the humidity meter is indicating that the humidity is below the ideal range, this would be the best course of action.
  3. Run a dehumidifier in the summer. The air, especially in Southwestern Ontario, can get quite humid in the summer months. This leaves the floor vulnerable to too moist of an environment. Again, this varies per region and per house and cottage, but if the humidity meter is indicating that the humidity level is too high, run a dehumidifier to help regulate the space.

Some homes and cottages have humidifier features built right into the furnace. While in certain spaces, this might be enough to help keep the space in the target range, it is always helpful to have a humidity gauge on hand. More often than not, the space is not quite in the target range for humidity during the peak of both the summer and winter seasons. 

My Home or Cottage has open space underneath where I’d like to put the floor, what do you suggest?

This scenario happens often. A large number of cottages in Ontario are built on rock, and often don’t have true, complete, well insulated basements. We recommend monitoring the space through the seasons to get a true idea if the humidity, or dryness in the winter, is a concern in your space. In these specific situations, we recommend the sub-floor itself be well insulated from the elements below. We have also had clients opt for Engineered Flooring. This effectively provides extra stability to the flooring by utilizing a plywood base. See our blog post on Engineered Flooring, or complete Engineered Flooring page, for more details. Engineered flooring is also a great option for heated floors.

My Home or Cottage has no humidity control. We keep all the windows open in the summer for ‘natural air conditioning’. Is this not suitable for wood flooring?

This situation does not mean that you cannot have beautiful reclaimed wood flooring; but there are a few things to keep in mind. If the inside becomes humid in the summer, then the wood will expand. Conversely, in the winter, it will be dry and the wood will shrink. During the hot and humid summer months, the seams between the boards will become very tight. In the winter, they will open up and expose a gap. This is not harmful to the wood, and is quite a natural movement. This potential movement must be accepted if there is no humidity control. Thus movement is happening not only in floors, but in all wood furniture and cabinetry throughout the home or cottage as well.

The beauty of wood is that it will return to its neutral position when the humidity returns to the ideal range on a regular basis. The most important factor is having the original installation of the flooring is done with the wood in that neutral position. This will help to minimize the visual effect of this movement as the seasons change. At Nostalgic Wood, we take care to ensure our flooring is supplied at its ideal moisture content for the best installation results.

Reclaimed Elm Flooring

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