Wood flooring is one of the only floor coverings that, when properly maintained, will last for the lifetime of the home. Maintainance for your wood floors during the cold winter months includes monitoring relative humidity (RH) levels. What happens when the humidity drops too low? Your wood floors respond to changes in humidity by shrinking and showing gaps between planks. Chances are, if you start to experience dry, itchy skin and static electricity shocks, the humidity in your home is making your floor just as “uncomfortable” as you are!
It doesn’t matter if your wood floors are solid wood or engineered wood all wood flooring absorbs or loses moisture as conditions change slowly or rapidly inside your home. In order for the wood flooring to perform as designed, the temperature and humidity conditions inside your home must be kept continuously within a certain range. This range varies slightly depending on the manufacturer and type of wood flooring. Generally, the required range is between 60-80 degrees with a relative humidity range of 35 percent to 55 percent. Wood floors don’t like sudden indoor changes.
So what happens when the humidity level stays below 30% for longer periods when your home’s heating system is running more frequently drying out the air? The floor loses its moisture and shrinks. This can cause your floor to occasionally snap, crackle, and pop at random times. If the dryness continues unchecked, you may begin to see gaps starting to appear along the sides or ends of the boards. This may ultimately lead to the boards themselves splitting or cracking in the centers or at the ends, or both, causing permanent damage to your floors.
To avoid these separations, try to control and monitor air humidity levels during the dry season by installing a humidifier in the furnace or bringing a movable humidifier into the room that has good air circulation. Pick up a hydrometer at your local hardware store and make sure the humidity levels don’t drop below 35%. The other option is to reduce the ventilation in your home.
When you bring cold outside winter air into a house and warm it up, the RH of that air drops significantly. The more ventilation that is occurring, the more this dry air is drying out your hardwood floors. Weatherization and a home energy audit typically measure ventilation rates. These programs can also pinpoint leakage sites and direct sealing efforts to reduce excessive ventilation rates. Old windows are often major leakage sites, as are recessed lights and other holes in ceilings and floors