Flooring Installation Tip: How Weather Affects Flooring

You may not realize it, but the inside of your home has its own “microclimate”. Whether it’s hot and muggy or cold and dry, the “weather” in your home affects how you feel. It also affects how your floors “feel”, too.

Flooring materials like ceramic tile or vinyl don’t care much about atmospheric changes inside your home. But carpet and wood-based flooring (solid wood, engineered wood, bamboo, cork, or laminate) physically change as temperatures and humidity inside your home vary. These materials will grow or shrink as the “weather” inside your home changes.

Before installation, carpet and wood-based flooring must be acclimated to normal living conditions in your home. Flooring manufacturers require that, before installation, their materials adjust to whatever are “normal” living conditions in your home. The acclimation period varies with the type of flooring you are installing.

Most carpet today is completely synthetic. The face fibers, carpet backings, and the adhesive that binds everything together are basically different types of plastic. Carpet normally arrives at your home rolled up. Ideally, the carpet roll should sit inside your home for 24 hours so that the plastics adjust to room temperatures, relax, and soften. Then the carpet can be installed easily and stretched in tightly.

Carpet doesn’t absorb much moisture. But under high humidity the materials can relax and stretch excessively, especially if the carpet wasn’t installed tightly enough. Then you’ll see wrinkles or large bubbles show up in random areas. They usually disappear when the humidity drops again. But wrinkled carpet is not only a tripping hazard. Continual walking on loose areas can also cause the backings to separate or delaminate. Then the carpet literally falls apart and you face a replacement.

Things are more complicated for wood-based floors. They are much more sensitive than carpeting to humidity and temperature changes in your home.

While each flooring type has somewhat different requirements, they all need to “live” in a relatively stable, climate controlled environment. None can be installed in a screened-in patio without heat or air conditioning, for example.

In newly built homes, interior “wet” work (dry wall, painting, etc.) must be finished before flooring materials can be installed. Windows must be installed and the ventilation system must be operating. In all homes, there are minimum and maximum interior temperature and humidity requirements, too. Allowable humidity usually ranges from 30%- 60%. Normal temperatures are usually considered to be between 65 degrees and 85 degrees. (As you can see, these also happen to be human comfort levels, too.)

Once the interior environment is stable, wood-based flooring materials must acclimate to these conditions. The time needed for acclimation varies according to the type of materials and the specific manufacturer’s requirements. The installation instructions spell this out for you. But all flooring materials must be acclimated in the rooms where they will be installed.

Once installed, it is extremely important that you always keep the temperature and humidity levels within the required ranges. If your home is too dry the wood flooring will shrink. You’ll see gaps between the boards. You might see the boards themselves split or crack. When the humidity is too high, the wood swells.

Wood floors are installed with an “expansion gap” around the edges of the room. These gaps, normally equal to the thickness of the flooring material, allow for some swelling. But under high humidity, boards can “grow” a lot. For example, let’s say you have a 12 foot wide room laid with twenty-four 6” wide, 1/2” thick wood planks. The expansion gaps are 1/2” along each wall, allowing for total wood “growth” in both length and width of 1”. But if each 6” plank grows “only” 1/16” in the width, the whole floor will grow 1 1/2”! You’ve just run out of your expansion gap by 1/2”. Your wood floor is going to buckle and the installation will fail.

I think it is obvious that you must keep your wood-based flooring “happy” by giving it a livable environment! You should run a humidifier when the air is dry. You should run an air conditioner when it is humid. And you should run the heater when it is cold.

There is one other thing. If you’re gone on a long vacation or own a little used second home with wood-based flooring, you should keep the ventilation system running. A home that is closed up for an extended period of time is vulnerable to big climate swings. You may come back and find a very “unhappy” floor!

No flooring warranty covers “site related” failures. It is up to you to make sure your flooring is in a “happy” home.


Who is Glenn Revere?

Glenn Revere has been a carpet expert since 1973. He’s a certified flooring inspector and the author of All About Carpets, the only book written to protect and inform you about your carpet choices, from carpet buying and carpet warranties to carpet care and maintenance. You can find him on Facebook, Google+ and Twitter.

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