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Tips before purchasing or maintaining your Hard Wood Flooring

 

 

It's spring in Missouri and if you own or are thinking of purchasing a hardwood floor you need to familiarize yourself with a few terms you may not have heard since Science class.  Wood is a hygroscopic material, meaning it can readily absorb moisture from the air.  When the air is dry because relative humidity is extremely low the  wood releases moisture. When the air contains a lot of moisture and the relative  humidity is high wood absorbs some of that moisture. This is why the relative  humidity in your home can affect your wood doors, wood flooring, trim and furniture.
 
 
Missouri seasons can change in a hurry and the constant movement of the wood throughout the structure of your home is unavoidable.  Over my years in the flooring business I've seen some pretty extraordinary circumstances caused by moisture and humidity in homes, but with proper maintenance you can avoid many problems.  Not unlike a water softening system can help you maintain your appliances and plumbing fixtures, maintaining constant humidity levels in your home through de-humidifiers and vaporizers are a key factor in keeping your wood floors, trims, cabinets and wood furniture looking their best. I've compiled some basic wood floor terminology along with references on how to help you maintain proper indoor humidity and trouble shoot problems with your hardwood floors.
 

Acclimation Basics

For those who are not familiar with acclimation, it is a required pre-installation process that allows the flooring material to adjust itself to the environment of its installation. The details of the process vary slightly among flooring manufacturers, but the basic concept is the same. The general consensus is to place the flooring in the room where it will be installed for 2-3 days with the temperature at 60-75° F and the humidity at 35-55%. It is important to note that the referenced humidity range is not the outdoor humidity level as stated in a weather report, but the controlled, indoor humidity level.
As the seasons change, humidity can fluctuate dramatically in some parts of the country, while other areas experience lesser swings. The desert southwest, for example, has very low humidity levels year round. In contrast, coastal regions have higher levels throughout the year. The rest of the country, especially the north, gets a taste of both extremes with humid summers and very dry winters.

Solid and Engineered Wood Flooring

Because wood is fibrous, it absorbs or releases moisture to equalizes itself to the humidity of its environment. Fiber saturation occurs when the moisture content is about 28%. As the humidity level begins to decrease, wood releases moisture, and when its moisture content drops below the saturation point, the wood begins to shrink. If the moisture content is below the saturation point and the humidity level increases, the wood will absorb moisture and begin to swell. Once it reaches its saturation point, wood becomes relatively stable. It remains that way until the moisture content reaches approximately twice the saturation point. That is why manufacturers recommend maintaining a room with wood flooring at a 35-55% humidity level.
 

Bamboo Flooring

Bamboo is actually a grass, but because it is fibrous, it is affected by moisture the same as wood. Therefore, acclimation and post-installation humidity levels must be controlled to maintain dimensional stability.

Laminate Flooring

Although laminate flooring is often thought of as “plastic flooring,” it is still constructed with a wood core. As such, laminate flooring is also sensitive to humidity and must be acclimated and cared for the same as wood and bamboo.

Cork flooring

Cork is not as susceptible to shrinkage and swelling as wood or bamboo, but since it is a natural product – the bark of the Cork Oak tree – it will fluctuate with humidity changes. Therefore, acclimation and continuous humidity control is recommended by cork manufacturers.

Controlling Indoor Humidity

To contend with very low humidity levels, humidifiers are used to maintain the recommended range and prevent the flooring from shrinking and separating. For extremely high humidity levels, air conditioners and dehumidifiers are used to keep the flooring from swelling and buckling.

Summary

All of the preceding information is important for two reasons. First of all, if you are going to spend a lot of time and money installing a new floor, you would obviously want to keep it in good shape for a long time. Secondly, in order to insure your warranty coverage, you must follow all of the flooring manufacturer’s recommendations to the letter.
Therefore, instead of thinking of flooring acclimation as a pre-installation process, think of it as an ongoing process. By carefully controlling your home’s humidity level you will maintain the integrity of your floor and the protection of your warranty.

Proper Indoor Humidity Percentage

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the correct  indoor humidity level is in the range between 30 and 50 percent. The humidity  inside a house should be adjusted accordingly so it remains within these  percentage levels. If the humidity level inside the house is high, but the  humidity level outside is not, open a window to allow in fresh air. Raise the  humidity inside the house, if necessary, by using a humidifier or  vaporizer/

 

 

Monitoring Humidity

Monitoring humidity is the key to knowing when the level should be altered. To  gauge the humidity levels inside your house, you can use a portable hygrometer,  which allows you to move it from room to room and monitor the humidity level in  each one. Hygrometers are instruments that measure the amount of relative  humidity in the air, and they are available in digital versions. You can  purchase them online or from your local hardware store.
 

Noticing Humidity Changes

Normal household living activities usually add enough moisture to the air to  maintain indoor humidity at the correct level. These activities include cooking  and washing clothes and dishes, or human breathing and perspiring, which should  all allow the humidity to stay at a comfortable level. If the percentage of  indoor humidity is too high, you will likely notice it through condensation on  the insides of windows, or mold growing on walls. If the percentage of humidity  has dropped too low, you may notice too much static electricity in your clothes  or the carpet.

Effects of Unbalanced Humidity

If the percentage of indoor humidity is not at the correct level, you may  also suffer physical effects, and the house itself may exhibit effects. If the  level is too low, under 30 percent, you may have a bleeding nose, persistent  respiratory problems or an infection that is caused by your mucous membranes  drying out. Just as a high percentage of humidity --- over 50 percent ---  fosters mold growth and encourages pests such as termites and cockroaches, a  percentage that is too low leads to cracks in plaster and drywall, as well as  shrinkage in wood flooring and other wooden objects.
 
Retrieved from: Christopher John, eHow contributor http://www.ehow.com/info_8442401_percentage-humidity-should-house.html

How to Spot Problems with Your Wood Floors

 
In a comfortable home with slight humidity variations through the seasons, wood flooring responds by expanding and contracting. These changes may be noticeable. During warm, humid weather, wood expands. During dry weather, wood contracts. This seasonal movement is a normal characteristic of wood flooring, and it never stops, regardless of the age of the wood. One of the best ways to ensure that wood flooring will give the performance homeowners expect is to install humidity controls and ensure that they are functioning before the flooring is installed.
 

Working with humidity controls

A homeowner who chooses hardwood flooring is making an investment in a floor that will last 40 years or more, and he or she should protect that investment by installing humidity controls--a tool that helps the floor maintain a beautiful, trouble-free appearance.
 

Cracks and separations between boards

 
Nearly every floor endures some separation between boards. In winter, when homes are heated and the air is dry, wood flooring gives up some of its moisture and therefore shrinks. When that happens, thin cracks appear between. This is normal, and homeowners should be forewarned of this. It is acceptable, and customers should not be calling the installers at the first sign of cracks. Once the indoor heat goes off in the spring, and the indoor environment regains moisture, most of these cracks will close up.
 
Cracks in winter--in the drier months--may easily develop to the thickness of a dime (1/32 inch) for solid 2 1/4-inch wide strip oak floors. Floors with light stained woods and naturally light woods like maple tend to show cracks more than darker, wood-tone finished floors.
 
The cure for cracks? Homeowners should add moisture to the air during dry periods. It's their choice-live with the cracks and wait until spring, or else add humidity by opening the dishwasher after a rinse cycle, switching off the bathroom fan or hanging laundry to dry in the basement near the furnace. Better yet, install a humidifier in the furnace, or an exterior air vent for the furnace burner. If cracks are a concern, laminated flooring moves less and shows fewer gaps.
 
"Cupping and crowning" are common complaints that develop with high humidity. Both problems occur across the width of the flooring material.
Cupping is when the edges of a board are high and its center is lower. It can occur after water spills onto the floor and is absorbed by the wood, but high humidity is more often the cause. If the wood expands significantly, compression set can result as the boards are crushed together, deforming the boards at the edges.
Cupping is caused by a moisture imbalance through the thickness of the wood: The wood is wetter on the bottom of the board than on the top. The moisture imbalance can be proven by taking moisture meter readings at different pin depths.
 
The first step in repairing a cupped floor is to identify and eliminate the moisture source. In the kitchen, it may be a leak from the dishwasher or icemaker. From outdoors, it might be the terrain of the lot, with rain and runoff not moving away from the house and foundation. Indoors, the humidity may need to be controlled, or a plumbing leak may be causing excess moisture in the basement, which migrates up into the subfloor and from there into the wood flooring.
Once the source of the moisture is controlled, cupping can usually be cured. The floor may improve on its own as it dries out over time. Other times, fans may be needed to speed the drying process. Once the moisture content has stabilized, the floor can be reassessed. Choices may be to do nothing at all, to recoat the floor or to sand and refinish the floor. However, it should not be sanded until moisture-meter readings indicate the floor is thoroughly dried.
Crowning is the opposite of cupping: The center of a board is higher than the edges. Moisture imbalance is sometimes the cause of crowning if excessive moisture is introduced on the top of the floor, perhaps from water used in maintenance or plumbing leaks from an overhead sprinkler system. However, a common cause is that the floor was previously cupped, but was sanded at the wrong time-before the moisture content returned to normal and the board flattened on its own.
 
It should be noted that some slight cupping and crowning may occur naturally, and should be tolerated: The bark side of lumber shrinks and swells more than the side closest to the center of the tree. Largely seasonal in occurrence, it's common in wider planks. Its appearance can be minimized by using a beveled-edge flooring product with a satin finish, rather than square-edge flooring with a high gloss finish.
 
Buckled floors The "buckling" of hardwood floors-when the flooring literary pulls away from the subfloor, lifting up to several inches in one or more places-is one of the most extreme reactions to moisture that can occur. Fortunately, it is not a common occurrence.
 
Buckling happens most often after a floor is flooded for a time, but there are numerous other causes. On nailed floors, insufficient nailing, incorrect nails or incorrect subfloor construction are possibilities. On glue-down floors, the causes range from the use of incorrect or insufficient mastics to an inadequate mastic transfer, a subfloor separation or a subfloor contamination. See Moisture Detection Equipment.
 
In flooded hardwood strip flooring, the swelling stress is theoretically high enough to push out walls. However, before that can happen the nails or the glue holding the flooring to the subfloor will usually give way, so that the floor bulges upward.
 
If buckling floors are caught early, spot repair and replacement may be possible. Once the standing water is removed, several boards may be taken up from the floor so that air can be circulated across and below the floor more effectively. Once the floor has dried to a more stable moisture level, repairs can usually be made.
 
 

Cleaning Tips For Your Hardwood Floors

from Armstrong Flooring

(Please refer to your floors manufacture warranty for approved products or cleaning specifications as each manufacture differs and can void your warranty if used improperly.)

 

EASY CARE STEPS FOR CLEANING HARDWOOD FLOORS:

DO:

  •  Wipe up spills immediately.
  • Vacuum, sweep or dust mop your hardwood floor once a week, or more, if needed. The vacuum head must be brush or felt.
  • Use interior and exterior doormats at entrances to collect dirt and moisture and prevent it from being tracked onto the floor.
  • Area rugs are recommended in front of kitchen sinks, at all pivot points and within high-traffic areas. The rugs     must be made of a breathable material to prevent moisture entrapment.
  • Place runners and area rugs (with slip-resistant backings) along high-traffic areas.
  • Keep animal nails trimmed to prevent finish scratches.
  • To prevent surface damage avoid rolling heavy appliances and furniture on the floor. Use plywood hardboard or appliance lifts, if necessary.
  • Use Armstrong or Bruce furniture leg protector pads under all furniture legs.
  • Replace hard, narrow furniture rollers with wide rubber rollers.
  • Keep the relative humidity in your home between 35% and 55%.
  • Protect your floor from direct sunlight.     

DON'T:

  • Use any of the following products (or products similar in nature) on your floor: ammonia based cleaners, acrylic finishes, wax based products, detergents, bleach, polishes and oil soaps, abrasive cleaning soaps or acidic materials such as vinegar.
  • Allow water to stand on your floor for any length of time – wipe up immediately.
  • Walk across your floor in poorly maintained shoes with heel taps, spike heels or with any sharp object     protruding from your shoe.
  • Allow furniture to rest on the floor on small metal tips or hard domes.
  • Use rubber, foam back or plastic mats as they may trap moisture and possibly discolor your floor.
  • Do not use vacuums with beater bars or hard heads.

HARDWOOD FLOOR CARE QUICK FIX TIPS

Spills and Tracked-in Dirt

  • Clean immediately.
  • Apply Armstrong Hardwood & Laminate Floor Cleaner or Bruce Hardwood & Laminate Floor Cleaner lightly to     the surface and wipe with a sponge mop or a soft cloth. NOTE: DO NOT use on Bruce Dura Satin Wax finish floors. Refer to Bruce Dura Satin Wax     Finish floor care.
  • Excess cleaner that does not evaporate immediately should be dried with a clean towel. No rinsing is necessary.
 

Spots Caused by Food, Water or Animals

  • Apply Armstrong Hardwood & Laminate Floor Cleaner or Bruce Hardwood & Laminate Floor Cleaner to a clean soft cloth.
  • Rub the area to remove the stain or spot.
  • More stubborn spots may require additional cleaning with mineral spirits, followed by cleaning with     Armstrong Hardwood & Laminate Floor Cleaner or Bruce Hardwood & Laminate Floor Cleaner.

Grease/Lipstick/Crayon/Ink Spots/Rubber Heel Marks

  • Apply Armstrong Hardwood & Laminate Floor Cleaner or Bruce Hardwood & Laminate Floor Cleaner to a clean soft cloth.
  • Rub the area to remove the stain or spot.     
  • If stain remains, rub with a cloth dampened with mineral spirits and follow by cleaning the area with     Armstrong Hardwood & Laminate Floor Cleaner or Bruce Hardwood & Laminate Floor Cleaner.

Chewing Gum, Candle Wax

  • Apply a sealed plastic bag filled with ice on top of the deposit.
  • Wait until deposit becomes brittle enough to crumble off.
  • After deposit has been removed, clean entire area with Armstrong Hardwood & Laminate Floor Cleaner or Bruce Hardwood & Laminate Floor Cleaner.

Minor Abrasions/Scratches

  • Use Armstrong Touch-Up Kit or Bruce Touch-Up Kit in smaller areas.
  • Apply Armstrong Restore Hardwood Floor Finish or Bruce Fresh Finish™ or Bruce Fresh Finish™ Low Gloss when larger areas are reconditioned.
 

Deep Scratches/Gouges

  • Individual planks, strips or parquets that are heavily gouged or damaged can be replaced by a professional     flooring installer.
  • If needed, the entire floor can be refurbished by applying one or more coats of Armstrong Restore Hardwood Floor Finish or Bruce Fresh Finish™ or Bruce Fresh Finish™ Low Gloss.

BRUCE DURA SATIN WAX FINISH FLOORS

Initial Hardwood Floor Care – Bruce Hardwood Floors

  • Following installation, darker shaded floors should be waxed with Bruce Dark 'n' Rich® and light shaded floors should be waxed with Bruce Lite 'n' Natural®.
  • Sweep, vacuum or dust mop the floor to remove loose dirt before it can scratch or be ground into the floor’s     surface.
  • Wax the floor once or twice a year, about as often as you would shampoo your carpet.
  • DO NOT use Bruce Hardwood & Laminate Floor Cleaner or wax finish floors.
  • NEVER clean or wet mop with water. Water may dull the finish and permanently damage the floor.
  • DO NOT use and wax or cleaner that must be mixed with water such as oil soap, as this may ruin your     floor and result in a loss of warranty.
  • DO NOT use Bruce® Hardwood & Laminate Floor Cleaner.

PERIODIC HARDWOOD FLOOR CARE AND MAINTENANCE

  • Buffing your hardwood floor between waxing will restore the original sheen. Large, heavy weight buffing     machines impart a much higher sheen to wax finish than small, lightweight machines. Use a fiber bristle brush attachment only.
  • It may be desirable to wax the floor slightly more often in drier climates, during the winter, and in heavy     traffic areas.

Expansion Cracks and Squeaks

Recognizing that hardwood floor dimensions will be slightly affected by varying levels of humidity within your building, care should be taken to control humidity levels within the 35-55% range. To protect your investment and to assure that your floors provide lasting satisfaction, we have provided our recommendations below.

Heating Season (Dry)

  • A humidifier is recommended to prevent excessive shrinkage in hardwood floors due to     low-humidity levels.
  • Wood stoves and electric heat tend to create very dry conditions.

Non-Heating Season (Humid, Wet)

  • Proper humidity levels can be maintained by use of an air conditioner, dehumidifier, or by turning on your heating system periodically during the summer months.
  • Avoid excessive exposure to water from tracking during periods of inclement weather.
  • DO NOT obstruct in any way     the expansion joint around the perimeter of your floor. NOTE: Final inspection by the end-user should occur from a standing position.

 Repair Tips on Bruce Dura Satin Wax Finish Floors

Wax Build-Up

Occasionally, wood floors become unsightly or lose their shine because of successive layers of old wax. To restore their natural beauty, strip old wax away with mineral spirits. Let dry and re-wax with Bruce Dark 'n' Rich or Bruce Lite 'n' Natural. Let dry, then buff to desired sheen.  

Spots Caused by Food or Water

 
  • Rub lightly with a Bruce Scrub Pad dampened with either Bruce® Dark 'n' Rich® or Bruce Lite 'n' Natural®.
  • Wipe dry and rub on a little wax.
  • Then buff with a clean cloth, or the dry end of a Bruce Scrub Pad.
 

Initial Care – Armstrong Hardwood Floors

 
  • Following installation, light shaded floors should be waxed with Armstrong Total Care.
  • Wax the floor once or twice a year, about as often as you would shampoo your carpet.
  • DO NOT use Bruce® Hardwood & Laminate Floor Cleaner.
Initial Hardwood Floor Care and Maintenance
 
 
  • Remove any existing adhesive on the flooring with Armstrong Hardwood & Laminate Floor Cleaner and a clean cloth.
  • Clean the floor thoroughly by sweeping and using Armstrong Hardwood & Laminate Floor Cleaner.
  • When the flooring is clean and dry, apply several thin coats of Armstrong Pattern-Plus® Shine with a swivel-head mop with a terrycloth cover per direction on the label.     
  • Let dry thoroughly before using. No buffing required.
 

Routine Hardwood Floor Care and Maintenance

 
  • Sweep, vacuum or dust mop regularly to keep clean. Wipe up spills or spots with a damp cloth or swivel-head mop with terrycloth cover using Armstrong Hardwood & Laminate Floor Cleaner.
  • Large areas can be cleaned by misting Armstrong Hardwood & Laminate Floor Cleaner on the area and wiping until clean and dry with a soft towel or swivel-head mop.
  • As needed, apply Armstrong Pattern-Plus® Shine and let dry. No buffing required.

 

Renewing worn areas:

 
  • In worn areas refurbish the flooring with an application of Armstrong Spray Tone.
  • Mist the Armstrong Spray Tone on the floor and rub briskly until it has been completely absorbed into the wood. Allow no excess to remain on the surface.
  • Allow the Armstrong Spray Tone to dry overnight.

 Renewing gloss levels:

 
  • Apply several thin coats of Armstrong Pattern Plus® Shine as necessary to maintain the appearance of the floor.
  • Anyone who has installed wood, bamboo, laminate or cork flooring is familiar with the term “acclimation” – and if they didn’t acclimate their flooring according to the manufacturer’s instructions, they may have learned a hard lesson about warranty coverage.

 

 

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