Autumn is the favorite time of year for many Americans. Fall brings rich colorful bursts of gold, orange, and red, and a reprieve from the heat of summer. However, autumn also brings shifts in temperature and humidity. These surges and dips mean potential changes for your wood flooring.

As fall arrives in your neck of the woods or neighborhood, you’ll need to consider these changes, and the health of your wood floors.

With a very small investment (as little as 20 bucks), you can keep your wood floors in great shape, protect them from humidity swings and minimize or prevent gapping and cupping. These potential flooring issues can do more than spoil your mood, they can ruin your wood floors.

One tool to help care for your flooring is a hygrometer, a device that measures the amount of humidity in the air. It is important to buy a hygrometer, make a plan and monitor the humidity in your home to protect your wood floor.

Buy a hygrometer.

Some new HVAC systems have built-in hygrometers; however, for most of us, we will need to visit our local box store or order a hygrometer online. We offer one at our sister site, Real Clean Floors.

The hygrometer is a very important piece of equipment in order to keep your floors in good condition, and thankfully it is not very costly. Most importantly, this little gem is vital to maintaining your floor during the heating season.

A hygrometer allows you to ensure your environment is 35 to 55% relative humidity (RH). You want the air humidity in your home in this range so that damage does not occur. Heating our homes exacerbates low humidity. Volumes of air with certain amounts of water expand when they are heated, thus you get less water in a given space. This means that naturally, you will have lower humidity in your home when you are heating it, which necessitates a plan to keep your floor safe.

Make a plan.

How you strategize to keep your home’s RH at 35-55% will depend on the area where you live.

For instance, if you live in a climate that has very low and very dry temperatures, you will need a plan to raise the humidity in your home. In some parts of the country, it is common to have a humidifier built on to the HVAC system. This makes a lot of sense for those who have long heating seasons, and this setup provides you an easy to way to add humidity back into the environment.

In contrast, other regions have more moderate cold snaps, which can be remedied with a portable humidifier. Also, if you live in a smaller space, a portable humidifier can be a part of your plan to put moisture into the air during cold spells.

Another consideration, will you be occupying the home throughout the chilly months? If so, then your lifestyle will impact the humidity in the environment. Taking showers, doing laundry, cooking food and cleaning up dishes will add moisture and impact the humidity level.

If you aren’t going to be occupying the home for extended periods of time, then you will need to have a good strategy. You can turn your thermostat down lower to allow more moisture. As mentioned above, you can use a portable humidifier to maintain an adequate amount of moisture in the space.

So make your plan and consider the duration of your heating season and the types of humidity (or not) that will be introduced into your home during that time.

Monitor the relative humidity in your home.

If you have an HVAC system with a humidifier, make sure that when you look at the display, that you are viewing a humidity reading, not a humidity setting. You need to know the exact amount of humidity you have in the environment which can be gained from the reading.

For those without a built-in humidifier, we believe there are two ways to handle your home’s relative humidity level, depending on your personality type.

For some it is: set it and forget it. In other words, set up your hygrometer, make sure you have appropriate RH in the home (between 35-55%), then make a note to check it once a week. (Pro Tip: Smart phone reminders are perfect for this sort of thing.)

For others (like this blog’s authors), we like the information feedback and will naturally look at the hygrometer daily and take needed action.

Whichever monitoring method works for you, stick with it and pay close attention to your readings. When you are around the low end, at the 35% range, you’ll need to monitor a bit more closely and take steps to raise the RH.

If your area has recently had a dramatic decrease in temperature like a cold snap, then monitor as you heat your home more. If your heater is running more than usual, it might push the RH below the 35%, which could put tension on the floor and do damage.

With these types of temperature changes, it’s prudent to look for warning signs in your floor.

Your floor and all the woodwork in your home will give you indications of what’s happening as the wood grows with moisture and shrinks from the lack of it.

With a solid wood floor, you might see gapping between boards. Within a week, if the hygrometer shows a low humidity level reading, you will see spaces opening up between the width of the boards.

With an engineered wood floor, some of the warning signs can be a slight cupping of the floor where the ends of boards or corners rise higher than the planks.

Within the first two weeks of these warning signs, if you take care of the low humidity immediately, you have a low risk of doing damage to the wood.

If these problems are not addressed with your solid wood or engineered floor, then you risk possible damage that can’t be undone. For instance, if you’re below 20% for two weeks or longer with engineered flooring, you are likely to have irreparable damage. On the upside, with that $20 investment in a hygrometer, you can stave off any of these kinds of issues.

Protect your floors.

Happy autumn! As the weather cools, we hope you’ll make sure to invest in a hygrometer and care for your beautiful wood floors. If you need other products to protect and preserve your flooring, please check out our line at the Real Clean Floors website.