Cold, dry winter weather can really take its toll on hardwood flooring, causing most species of wood to dry out and shrink. This shrinking inevitably leads to gaps between boards, and despite the fact that it is naturally occurring, it's still pretty unattractive.
While there's no way to prevent hardwood floors from gaping entirely, there are a few precautions you can take to limit the frequency and severity of the gaps. The following are four simple steps you can take before and after installation to reduce the amount of gaping you'll see during those dry winter months:
1. Use the right wood.
Not all hardwood flooring varieties handle fluctuations in temperature and humidity the same. Solid hardwood flooring is generally much more susceptible to these seasonal changes than engineered flooring. Additionally, narrow boards tend to shrink less than wider boards, as does quartersawn flooring. Dimensional stability - the measure of a wood's tendency to expand and shrink - varies from species to species, meaning some hardwoods are going to experience gaping much less than others.
The best way to avoid massive floor gaps in the winter is to pick the right flooring for your climate. If you're really trying to avoid the problem, choose engineered flooring from a dimensionally stable species that has narrow boards. (Visit Fantastic-Floor.com to view engineered flooring products that fit this description.)
2. Reduce ventilation.
A well-ventilated house may be cool and fresh in the summer, but during the winter it means more chances of flooring gaping. When cold air from the outside is brought into a house and heat it loses quite a bit of moisture, drying out your floor and increasing the likelihood of gaping. By reducing your house's winter ventilation, you reduce the chances of gaping.
3. Increase moisture.
But what if we can't reduce our home's ventilation? Good question. The answer to that, of course, would be to increase the moisture levels in air. This can be done by using humidifiers. There are two common types of humidifiers - stand-alone units and units that are attached to central air systems. Because hardwood flooring is sensitive to overly-humid environments as well as overly-dry, you need to be careful when using a humidifier. Contact a hardwood flooring professional before attempting to regulate your home's humidity levels.
4. Plan for gaping anyway.
Sometimes the best way to avoid disappointment is to accept the inevitable. Yes, your hardwood flooring will gap in the winter. Aside from the above-mentioned steps, there isn't a lot you can do to prevent it. You can, however, plan for the gaping. If you have a room that experiences gaping more than others you can add a rug or move some furniture around to cover the gaps. You can also just learn to live with it, resting in the knowledge that come spring your floor boards will expand again and the gaps will close up.
Have you experienced winter floor gaping before? How did you deal with the problem? Leave us a comment and let us know!