Wood is an organic product and will respond to the changing weather and seasons by expanding and contracting. It is crucial for flooring contractors to understand this and to pass their knowledge onto their customers.
As a seasoned professional, I have learnt that instead of arranging an installation, fitting it, and leaving it at that, you must help your clients to understand the best way to look after the flooring, as well as what to expect as and when the seasons change. This makes it important for you to fully understand the properties of wood, and why these changes happen.
Chosen for its unique natural qualities, it is crucial to recognise that wood was once part of a living thing. Its wooden trunk was used to channel water to keep the tree alive. Even as a ‘dead’ material, wood continues to attract moisture, eager to even out the material’s moisture content so it balances with the room’s humidity. Likewise, as the home’s moisture content lowers, particularly during the heated winter months, wood excretes the moisture again to match the environment. This, therefore, explains why wood is prone to swelling and shrinkage, when a stable humidity and temperature is unable to maintained
The average indoor moisture content is around 8%, but can drop as low as 4% during the winter, and rise up to 16% in the summer. This demonstrates why such significant changes occur. And, although this may seem common sense, it can all too-easily be forgotten when engrossed by getting the perfect fit flooring.
The first rule of thumb in preparation for seasonal change is the installation. When wood is initially cut down for use, the moisture content will be extremely high. To increase its stability, it should be left to dry to an acceptable level, and stored within a controlled environment. Ahead of installation, and once the wood is at a more balanced level, I would advise allowing the wood to sit loose within the property, allowing it to acclimatise to the conditions. This will allow for a better initial fit for the wood. Room for expansion should also be accounted for- this can be leaving space around the edges, allowing for movement without causing the wood to cup, crown or lift away from the sub flooring. For ‘ideal’ conditions wood flooring should be installed when the home is at its average humidity, perhaps during the spring or autumn. I would also advise you discuss the full picture ahead of ordering any materials, as if required, you will be able to specify a more stable species or alternative cut that will provide the customer with the finish they desire.
Maintenance and products
Wood flooring will require maintenance from time to time to preserve its natural characteristics and maximise durability. Finishes are the perfect way to help maintain the cosmetic appearance of the wood, but should also be used to help protect the physical structure and integrity, essential if an installation is to remain sound.
There are some great items available on the market, such as wax and oil-based products, which help to safeguard the wood. A product that promotes breathability is ideal, as this will allow the natural changes to occur, without causing damage to the wood finish’s appearance. Do make sure to opt for a finish with water repellence too, as this will cut down on excessive moisture being absorbed, and equally, decreased the amount of moisture lost. This should help stabilise the flooring throughout the seasons. However, it should be noted that if wooden flooring is to be installed in a room which typically has a higher moisture content, such as a kitchen or bathroom, a more substantial product may be required, impregnating the wood allowing for additional protection against the effect of moisture.
Control your environment
A frequent question is whether wooden flooring is suitable for use over under-floor heating. Of course it is! The main factor that affects the wood is the humidity, not the temperature, so if a controlled environment is maintained, there is no reason why wooden flooring couldn’t be used. In fact, as a good insulator, it will also save you money on heating costs, as it radiates heat evenly, keeping your home warm and comfortable, while reducing the loss of heat. For homes where humidity levels are a problem, I’d advise using a humidifier or dehumidifier, as this will help maintain the balance, removing the problems your flooring may have faced.
For information on the extensive range of wood finishes and wood flooring available from Osmo UK, please visit www.osmouk.com.