Handling Regional Differences in Humidity Levels

As NWFA’s VP of Education & Certification, I have the privilege of traveling around the country attending training events on behalf of the NWFA. This also gives me the opportunity to meet a wide variety of wood flooring professionals, all of whom face different challenges in their work.

One issue that comes up often is the wide disparity in humidity levels that are present in different parts of the country. As our members know, NWFA’s Wood Flooring installation Guidelines state that normal relative humidity levels should range between 30% – 50% to ensure a successful installation. As many of our members also know, this range is often hard to achieve in certain areas of the country.

There is no doubt that humidity issues are much different depending on where you live and do the majority of your installations. Recently, I talked at length with a former NWFA member who told us that no matter what our Guidelines recommend, he will never be able to achieve what NWFA defines as “normal” humidity in his area of the country because Louisiana’s normal humidity level is much higher and well outside the recommended range.

When I ran my own contracting company in Denver, I had exactly the opposite problem. Normal humidity in that environment was much lower than the recommended range.

So how can we address this issue to ensure successful installations?

First, it’s important to understand that the range suggested by the NWFA is just that: a range. But this range is not arbitrary. Wood is a hygroscopic material, which means it adds and loses moisture in direct relationship to its surrounding environment.

Knowing this, NWFA’s Guidelines also stipulate that wood flooring should be acclimated to its environment before installation can take place, and in addition, that the flooring be acclimated to the normal living conditions in which it will be used. So, if the normal living conditions are representative of a higher humidity level, as long as the materials are properly acclimated, the flooring should perform just fine. Conversely, in extremely dry climates, like those I experienced in Denver, again, as long as the materials are properly acclimated to normal living conditions, the flooring should perform well. If this were not true, there would be no wood floors in mountain areas or coastal areas. Obviously, we all know this is not the case.

Addressing issues like this is one reason NWFA’s training is offered regionally. It gives us an opportunity to adapt our curriculum to meet the training needs of contractors based on their area. Check the NWFA’s training schedule at nwfa.org/tech-ed-schedule.aspx to see when we’ll be in your area.

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