The Effects of a Changing Climate on Solid Wood Flooring

The temperature and humidity levels in your home affect your comfort, and you depend on heating and cooling systems to keep things cozy. But have you thought about how a changing climate affects your hardwood flooring? Solid wood floors react to temperature swings and changing humidity levels. Find out how you can minimize flooring issues and remain comfortable inside your home.

Natural Movement

Quality wood floors are made from genuine wood, and also display all of the natural characteristics of genuine wood. This includes shrinking, warping, cracking and expansion. Your hardwood reacts to climate change in a reliable pattern, shifting with the seasons and the relative humidity levels. When homeowners understand these changes, and installers make allowances for them, all is well.

How Cold Weather Affects Wood Floors

When temperatures outside drop below freezing—as often happens across much of North America—our heating systems kick into high gear. Unless your home is equipped with a whole-home humidifier, most of the moisture naturally present in the interior air disappears.

As air dries out it also sucks moisture from the hardwood, causing the planks to shrink and possibly even crack. Combine this condition with naturally drier air on the outside (long periods of below freezing temperatures also results in less moisture in the air), and you have an issue to deal with.

Installing a humidifier on the furnace or within the heating system often works to offset this condition. And you may only notice major shrinking or cracking around heating vents or floor registers, due to the concentration of heat in those areas.

How Hot Weather Affects Wood Floors

High levels of humidity experienced in many locations around North America also transform hardwood flooring. Swelling and expansion occur in humid weather, due to greater amounts of moisture in the air. Your air conditioner may bring that moisture level down to a more manageable level, but other conditions battle against it and increase the level of relative humidity.

Leaks, improperly designed ventilation, shorter air conditioner running times and even indoor cooking add humidity to the already heavy air during the hot months of summer. Hardwood floors absorb this moisture and expand. Gaps previously opened during colder weather close in the warmth, and planks installed tightly may cup.

Remember that both floating wood floors and nailed down applications experience shrinking and cracking during the cold weather and expansion in the heat. Floating applications may physically move more, but the installation process allows for that movement by design.

Why Trim is Important

Baseboard trim is installed around the base of your walls to create an attractive transition from wall to flooring. In the case of hardwood floors, this simple strip of wood plays a more important role. Expert installers and quality DIY instructions recommend leaving a gap around the edge of your flooring. This allows the planks to expand without causing cupping in your floors, and provides enough allowance for shrinking.

Baseboard trim covers this intentional gap and provides a smooth seam at any time of the year. Make sure your wood flooring installers use quality trim and leave plenty of space at the edges to allow for expansion and contraction.

Climate changes in your home affect solid wood flooring. Shrinking and cracking present a problem in winter, while expansion and cupping may become an issue in summer. Use a quality product and expert installers to ensure your hardwood flooring looks fantastic all year round.