Acclimating Hardwoods: A Little R&R Can Keep Your Hardwood A-OK

From on June 27, 2008 in Flooring

hardwood-floor.jpgThe idea of acclimating hardwoods is a solution to a longstanding problem with finished wood products, especially flooring. In fact, it is not so much a solution to any problem so much as a move to work with the innate characteristics of wood instead of ignoring them. Inherently, wood is susceptible to changes in moisture content: when it dries it will shrink or contract, when the wood soaks up moisture it naturally expands. Acclimation is simply the process of allowing wood to adjust to what will be its everyday climate before installing the product.

Every home has felt the effects of wood’s moody lifestyle. If nowhere else than having to slam that front door in the humid, summer months. Even more critical to the look and feel of your home is your hardwood flooring. Problem #1 with hardwood flooring has always been its want to expand and contract, resulting in squeaks, cracks, and buckling from water getting into loose seams and wreaking havoc on the subfloor and beyond. So here are the basics of acclimation—a relatively simple process that can add several years to the life of the wood.

At its simplest level, acclimation is simply the act of storing the wood in its future home until it has had time to adjust to its new environment. After the wood has acclimated, then it is installed and, as long as that climate is not altered too dramatically, the wood should last in fine condition, maintaining the fresh and appealing look of new hardwood.

But it is not always that simple. There are several factors of which your contractor should be aware. Too often builders think that just setting the wood on the job site for a few weeks will do the trick. But different hardwoods react differently. For example, the saw cut of the lumber is important; plain sawn (horizontal grain) lumber will react roughly twice as much as riff sawn (vertical grain) lumber. Also, the thickness of the wood is a factor; a 3” wide board will expand or contract half as much as a 6” board. Furthermore, the wood may already be in good condition for installation when it reaches the job site and letting it sit under humid conditions will only cause unwanted absorption.

Therefore, the installer needs to know the moisture content of the wood at the time of delivery and the expected moisture content of its environment after installation. From this they can make an educated judgement as to how long the wood needs to sit, if at all, and install the hardwood at the proper time.

This does not end with the builder and installation either. The homeowner should also be aware of the moisture content and how that will fluctuate as the seasons change where you live. For long heating seasons, a humidifier built into the heating system will help regulate moisture content in the home and ease the stress on your hardwood.

In the case of a remodel or hardwood floor replacement, the task is a bit simpler because the home is likely already functioning at a consistently regulated level. In this case you will want to find a place out of the way to store the material inside the house and close to where the wood will eventually be placed. However, be aware of fluctuations in your home’s temperature, especially if you let the season dictate the climate inside your house.