What Is Wrong With My Floor?

Our winter weather has certainly been wild, wacky, and extreme.  Let’s review:  in December it rained (almost) every day, in January we experienced unseasonably low temperatures (single digits and teens) and then Snowpocalypse 2014.  Our heat is running 24/7 and some of us have had busted pipes and water damage.  Unfortunately, this extreme weather is taking a toll on our flooring.  We are getting lots of questions about hardwood floors and how to correct and repair these problems.  Here are some of the most common questions and our answers:

Why is my hardwood floor buckling?
Buckling is the result of wood floors swelling and having nowhere to go but up off the subfloor.  Like a lot of problems with wood, moisture is to blame.  Flooding is the easiest cause to detect because it is easily seen.  Sometimes you can avoid buckling in these situations if you dry the floor out quickly but allowing water to sit for any length of time will cause damage to the wood.  Another reason for buckling is high humidity.Solution:  Replacement.

Why are my hardwoods cupping/warping?
When the edges are higher than the center of the boards this is called cupping.  This is caused by moisture.  A leak, flood, or large spill will cause a wood floor to warp.Solution:  Maintain recommended humidity levels (more about how to do this later) and wait and see if the floor will correct itself.  If not, refinish or replace.

Why do I have gaps in my hardwood floors?
It is normal for a home to become drier during the winter months, causing wood planks to shrink.  Properly made and installed hardwood floors can be expected to have normal gaps during the winter season and close back up during the summer.  However, large gaps in wood floors that do not close up in the summer months could be related to a faulty install or faulty job site conditions.  When gaps like these exist the moisture content of the floor is significantly lower than when the floor was installed.  As this excess moisture is lost, shrinkage of the floor occurs. 
Solution:  Maintain recommended humidity levels in the home.  If this does not solve the problem, replace.

Why do my hardwoods squeak?
Squeaks are created by movement.  It is usually not your hardwood floor that is squeaking, it is the subfloor.  Your subfloor (plywood or particle board) is separating from the floor joists. The subfloor squeaks as it moves up and down. Solution:  Sometimes a repair (shimming) is possible.  Otherwise replacement of subfloor and flooring.

Why are my hardwood floors dull?
Improper cleaning is usually the cause of hardwood floors starting to dull.  Areas that are high traffic are more prone to dulling, especially if they are not swept regularly.  Grit can definitely dull a floor’s shine.  Harsh cleaners can also dull a floors finish.  Avoid “all purpose,” wax and vinegar based cleaners on a hardwood floor.  A build-up of cleaner (especially Oil Soaps, but any cleaner will leave a residue if you use too much of it) also dulls the finish on the wood floors.Solution:  Have the floor professionally cleaned and buffed.  If this does not improve the appearance, recoat or refinish the floor.

Why is my hardwood flooring scratching?
Wood is not immune to normal wear and tear, like scratching.  Scratches in the wood can be caused by a number of things, like pets, furniture, high-heeled shoes, etc.  Some finishes are more scratch resistant than others, and higher gloss finishes will show scratches more easily than satin/matte finishes.  Scratches in wood are almost inevitable, but steps can be taken to avoid them.  The use of walk-off mats at all exterior doors, keeping dog’s nails trimmed short, putting felt tips on furniture legs, and decorative area rugs will all help with keeping scratches to a minimum.Solution:  Recoat or refinish the floor.

More About Humidity
You probably noticed that many of these problems are related to moisture and humidity and wonder why.  Wood is the only thing that we install that was once alive.  Wood is a porous material with a natural cellular structure that expands and contracts depending upon the amount of moisture and relative humidity present in the surrounding atmosphere.  Even after a tree has been cut and milled into planks, the vessels are still present in the wood. It's this quality that makes hardwood floors so absorbent.
The more moisture there is in the air, the more moisture hardwood floors can absorb. When hardwood planks soak up moisture, they expand and swell up. When the humidity level drops below 35%, any moisture within the hardwood planks dries up, consequently causing the planks to shrink. You can safeguard your floors from this predicament by maintaining a steady indoor humidity level. 

If you have hardwood floors in your home you should also have a hygrometer.  This is a device that measures the relative humidity in the area.  Prices average around $15 for a basic model at stores like Walmart and Radio Shack.  You will need more than one if you have hardwood floors in multiple rooms or levels of your home.

Humidity levels affect your health and comfort, as well as your hardwood floors.  Fortunately, the recommended humidity levels are the same for you as for your floors.  The ideal indoor humidity level range is 35% to 55%.  Avoid fluctuations in relative humidity of more than 10 to 20%. Also maintain consistent room temperatures between 60 and 75 degrees.  The important thing is to avoid extremes.