We think wood floors are amazing. Yet we also know that care and maintenance are part of having awesome wood flooring. It is never an “install and forget it” kind of situation.
So when winter rolls around, you want to make sure your wood floors won’t suffer damage, such as buckling and cupping (bad stuff indeed!), from temperature and humidity fluctuations.
There are 3 easy ways to prepare for cold weather, so you don’t compromise your wood flooring.
Monitor the relative humidity in your home.
When winter and its colder temperatures arrive, then the humidity in your home is going to drop.
The single best thing you can do is have a way to measure the relative humidity (RH) in your home.
The easiest way to measure RH is through HVAC systems that provide that reading for you.
Pro tip: Some systems show where you’ve set the humidity level. So just make sure when you are adjusting the setting, that you differentiate between current and desired RH settings.
From our experience, we’ve noted that most people don’t have that RH feature built into their HVAC systems, but never fear, there’s an easy alternative for ensuring you have the right RH level in your home. And it will only cost you about 15 bucks.
At your local big box store, you can grab a hygrometer, a small device that measures the relative humidity in the home.
That little investment will pay dividends because it provides crucial information in order to take care of your wood floor’s health in both cooler and warmer months.
We recommend that our wood flooring be maintained between 35 and 55% relative humidity. In the wintertime, when humidity levels in the home drop, you want to make sure to bring the RH up to at least 35 degrees. This reaps other benefits, not just the health of your wood floors, but also for every other wood object in your home. To boot, it’s also good for you and your family’s health. High moisture levels increase mold and other allergens, and low levels can cause itchy skin and sore throats. So get a hygrometer and keep those RH levels where they need to be.
Prepare for the relative humidity changes.
Many of us in the States, even in the South, can go through mild or extreme winters—or even just go through days or weeks of drastic weather changes.
Be prepared to maintain the correct RH in your home.
Where you live and its climate will determine how much you’ll need to do when it comes to maintaining proper RH levels. For instance, in the Northeast where you have harsh winters, you’ll need to be more vigilant than those in warmer climates.
When the humidity drops drastically, you can use a separate, stand-alone humidifier to add moisture if your HVAC doesn’t have a humidification system. (If you are in the market to purchase a humidification system, we highly recommend Aprilaire.) An HVAC humidifier makes it easy to maintain humidity levels. When you are implementing a portable humidifier, make sure it can provide moisture for the entire house, not just one room.
We recommend that you have a plan in place, so that before the real genuine cold snaps happen and the humidity drops, that you already have a method to add humidity back into your space.
Again, depending on where you live, you may only need to humidify during extreme conditions, while others will have to maintain RH levels in a more ongoing fashion to keep a consistent a comfortable environment in the home.
Be careful and bring up the temperature slowly with radiant heat systems.
With a radiant heat system, it is very important to bring your radiant heat up slowly.
You’ll want to do this over the course of a few days.
You want to do it this way because, for wood, you don’t want temperature and humidity changes to shock the wood. Wood needs time to slowly adjust as it’s warming. This is due to the wood fibers as they tend to be a lot more friendly when they are moving slowly as opposed to getting a shock all at once.
You also want to bring up the temperature slowly because if you have a vinyl floor or stone polymer composite (SPC), then those floors will move based on different temperatures. As the temperature rises, they will expand, and as the temperature falls, the floors will shrink.
If you flip on radiant heat with vinyl or an SPC floor, you can do damage to the planks because they will grow rapidly. You want to bring the radiant heat up to temperature slowly day by day.
With a radiant heat floor, just like with an HVAC system, you must maintain that minimum of 35% RH. It is even more crucial on radiant systems because of the speed in which wood can give off moisture when it’s heated.
If you follow these three steps, then you’ll be prepared for winter. You will eliminate the risk of humidity fluctuation and have the chance to keep your floors lasting a lifetime.