Moisture Control

By Brett Miller, NWFA

If there is one topic that seems to capture the attention of wood flooring professionals everywhere, it is moisture. Too much and wood floors can cup or even buckle. Too little and wood floors can gap or even split. The key to optimum long-term performance is to maintain moisture in just the right balance, which involves a variety of steps before, during and after the installation takes place.

Wood is a hygroscopic material, which means that it gains or loses moisture in response to its environment. In wet, humid conditions, wood will gain moisture and expand. In dry, non-humid conditions, wood will lose moisture and shrink. This is a natural reaction of wood and is completely normal. The problem occurs when there is too much moisture, or too little.

Before wood floors arrive at the jobsite, all wet trades should be completed. This includes foundations, drywall, paint, masonry work, and any other construction or remodeling activity that will introduce moisture to the environment. Once these tasks are completed, and the HVAC is installed and running, the wood should be delivered to the job site and allowed to acclimate to the environment. This can take several days depending on the species and type of wood being used, as well as the geographic location of the job site.

During installation, both the wood and the subfloor should be tested for moisture content. Installation should not begin until moisture readings are within the ranges acceptable for the area.

After installation, most moisture issues can be avoided by maintaining a stable living environment. This generally is accomplished by maintaining the temperature of the structure between 60 – 80 degrees Fahrenheit, and the humidity of the structure between 30 – 50%.

Proper maintenance can be an issue as well. Water and steam mops should be avoided since both can introduce more moisture to the flooring. Over time, this can dull the finish, and even damage the wood.

Sometimes, despite all these precautions, moisture still can wreak havoc on a wood floor.  Faulty dishwashers, overflowing sinks, leaky pipes, malfunctioning ice makers, careless homeowners – all these problems can introduce moisture to wood floors, causing significant damage if ignored and untreated.  Once this happens, the moisture source must be found and eliminated.

One thought

  1. Thanks for your many helpful articles. Could you please comment on solid wood floor installation in homes where temperature and humidity levels can’t/won’t have consistent regulation? I’d like to install wood flooring in a few rooms, and would prefer solid to engineered. My home in northeast Ohio does not have central air, and heat sources are a boiler and a wood burning stove. Ambient humidity during summer can be as much as 90%, and fluctuates widely through other months. Is solid wood flooring a bad option for my home?

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