Dew drops on a leaf - how humidity affects wide plank floors

Hardwood floors, particularly wide plank varieties, have a tendency to react to seasonal changes just as much as we do. This is because the level of humidity impacts wide plank floors. Wood is a hygroscopic material, meaning that it absorbs and releases moisture from its environment. No matter how well-installed and well-fitted the floors are, wood will gain and lose moisture throughout the year.

It’s the combination of humidity and temperature that causes the wood to expand and contract, and this can often trigger a chain-reaction of worried phone calls to the contractors who installed the floors, as well as the flooring manufacturers.

Wide plank floors are especially susceptible to changes from humidity fluctuations because larger widths contribute to less stability in the planks.

Fortunately, there are ways to manage the fluctuations of your wide plank wood floors so they don’t suffer any damage.

Here are a handful of useful tips that will help you maintain the appearance of your wood floors, and keep you on top of any moisture-related obstacle you might encounter with your wide plank floors as we head into season changes.

Use a Dehumidifier

Summer brings blue skies and springy floors. Even someone without a fitted floor will have experienced swelling of floorboards in the summer.

Hot air holds more humidity than cold air, which causes wood planks to swell as they absorb the extra moisture. During the summer months you might want to run a dehumidifier to regulate moisture levels within your home.

All wooden floors come with temperature and humidity range recommendations from the manufacturer. Check what the range is for you chosen materials then set your dehumidifier and thermostat accordingly, but be careful to not extract too much moisture from the air––as we’ll see, this can cause other problems with your wide plank floors.

Use a Humidifier

Picture of a furnace - Having the heat on in the winter can suck moisture from wide plank wood floors

Yes, you’ll need both. In the winter months, the cold air will suck moisture from your floor, causing it to contract and shrink. Having the heat on in the house further contributes to a general lack of moisture within the house, which can impact your wide plank floors.

Although it is difficult to completely control the humidity throughout a household, especially if the house is particularly large, you can try introducing a humidifier to the environment. A humidifier adds several pints per hour to the house, therefore keeping the humidity at an acceptable level. You can choose to use either standalone humidifier or one that’s attached to a forced-air furnace.

If you choose a humidifier attached to a forced-air furnace, you must be careful about monitoring the humidity of their house while the humidifier is on. Adding too much moisture to the house can cause problems with excessive condensation and mold.

Choose the Right Materials

If you’re still in the stage of shopping around and considering different types of floors, you can prevent moisture problems down the road by choosing the species and type of wood effectively, especially if you live in an area which experiences significant humidity fluctuations throughout the year.

Choosing quarter-sawn planks can reduce width fluctuation by 50%, but this option is generally more expensive than plain-sawn planks.

You can also choose engineered wide plank floors, which provide more stability than solid wood. At certain widths and in certain settings––such as below-grade environments like basements––you have no choice but to go with an engineered wide plank floor because a solid floor simply will not withstand the fluctuations in humidity.

With some species of wood shrinkage at twice the rate of others, you might choose to sacrifice aesthetics for a more stable choice of planks.

In conclusion…

Buying the best wood and employing the best installer to fit it will always help, but the truth is that wide plank hardwood floors require occasional maintenance.

While you might get away with ignoring your floor’s needs in the short term, the long term effects will soon make themselves known.

Bottom line: Make sure you invest in proper moisture control technology. A pairing of humidifier and dehumidifier, carefully calibrated with your interior temperature control will work to maintain a stable environment and keep your wood swelling and contractions to a minimum.

Wide Plank Floor Supply offers a variety of wide plank wood floors to choose from in a number of different species so you can find suitable materials for your next project. Call us at 877-697-5265 or email info@wideplankfloorsupply.com for more information.

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