I’m thinking of installing hardwood floors in my basement. It’s usually very dry but once in awhile, moisture creeps in. My sister told me that could do some serious damage. Is she right? What’s the danger of hardwood floors and moisture?
– Sandy H.
Your sister is right. Moisture poses a huge threat to hardwood floors. Basements are especially prone to damage from water seeping through the subfloor or high humidity levels.
Hardwood is moisture loving. If there is extra moisture on the floor or in the air, in the form of humidity, hardwood flooring will do it’s best to soak it up. This will cause the hardwood to expand and can cause your floor to buckle.
Buckling simply means that the wood expands and the expansion gaps you left will disappear and your floor will cup or crown. Cupping is when the center of the plank is higher than the sides and crowning is the opposite, the sides of the plank are higher than the center. This can make your floor hazardous to walk on in extreme cases.
There are some treatments for warped floors, but they are costly and time consuming. In some cases, your only option will be to replace your floor. It’s best to follow your floors manufacturing guidelines to see at which grade you can install your flooring.
Below or Above Grade?
Your basement is considered below grade because it is below ground level. This is the danger zone for solid hardwood flooring. It’s never recommended to install solid hardwood flooring below grade because of moisture. However, some engineered hardwood floors are suitable for below grade installation. This is because engineered hardwood is made with different types of wood, as well as the specified species, making the wood more durable! Solid hardwood is better for installations that are above grade, and in most cases, on grade.
Acclimatizing Your Floors
Even if you decide to install your floors above grade, you will still need to acclimate the wood to your home before installing. This allows the material to adjust to the moisture level in your house by expanding or contracting to the closest size for their permanent home.
To acclimatize your floors, lay the planks in their boxes in stacks in the middle of the room where they’ll be installed. Then, let them sit in the room for 72 hours before opening the boxes or installing anything. Be sure that your house is at a relatively constant temperature and humidity level during this process. For most floors, you want to make sure your house can keep a constant humidity level of 35%-50%, otherwise the previously mentioned floor warping can occur. If this will be a problem, you may want to consider engineered hardwood flooring or laminate flooring.
When your installers eventually do lay down the flooring, you can look on with confidence knowing that the wood shouldn’t expand too much after installation.
Cleaning is a big moisture risk for hardwood floors. We recommend using a dry mop whenever possible. While vinegar is great for laminate flooring, it is a huge no-no when cleaning hardwood floors. The vinegar can dry up the hardwood, breaking that delicate equilibrium of moisture, and ruin your floors. Follow all of the manufacturer’s cleaning instructions so you don’t use the wrong products causing moisture or any other kind of damage to your floors.
If you notice a spill of any kind, clean it up as quickly as possible. The goal is to keep your floors at a balance of moisture and dryness, so you can avoid the exact type of damage your sister warned you about.