Hardwood flooring has a long history as a building material. According to BuildDirect.com, planks of wood have been used as a flooring option since the 1600s, starting out as a simple way to lift people off of dirt floors and foundations. It then evolved into the elegant, highly-detailed floors of palace ballrooms. Hardwood flooring is a popular flooring option because it is resilient, long-lasting, easy to clean, and aesthetically pleasing. Hardwood floors only need occasional maintenance in the form of sanding, cleaning, and waxing or re-sealing to keep them in good condition for decades. But did you know your HVAC system can affect hardwood floors in your home?
Hardwood flooring can have a personality all of its own when it comes to your home’s internal air. It is a natural product that can move and shift in accordance with your home’s ventilation, along with humidity. Like a leather chair that can become cracked or damaged if it is not occasionally treated with a conditioner, hardwood flooring can also become damaged due to poor air conditions. The heating and cooling of the air around your home can have several effects on your home’s hardwood floors. There are also ways you can make sure that your flooring will stay in good condition for many years to come.
Floors have Feelings, Too!
If your hardwood flooring could speak it would probably first ask you to take your shoes off before you walked all over it, and then it would ask you to adjust the humidity in your home. Hardwood flooring can expand, contract, and warp in the presence of water. If you ever caught an earful as a child about how you must clean up liquid spills immediately and never let water sit on hardwood floors, this is why. Even now, as an adult, you may find yourself repeating the same words to your own children as you rush towards a spill with a towel in hand!
Well-installed hardwood flooring is put into a home with the knowledge and understanding that the individual wood planks will have some slight expansion and contraction. This is a normal part of hardwood floors and not inherently damaging. However, the extremes that lead to floor damage need to be prevented. This can be done by maintaining a proper level of humidity near the level of the hardwood floors. The HVAC system does affect hardwood floors in a home by either working with or against it. Wood floors have a specific air quality condition that can decide whether or not they risk warping: the relative humidity of the home.
Relative humidity, or RH, is used to describe the amount of water currently in the air in relation to the current temperature of the air. Colder air can hold less water, and is therefore less humid, while warmer air can hold more water. RH is a crucial part of air comfort in homes and a big part of why humidifiers and dehumidifiers are used to adjust indoor air. Wood floors are like people in the way that they do not like to be too dry or too wet, and suffer when subjected to extreme conditions.
Typically, a home will be at an appropriate level for wood floors because the people inside the house want to be comfortable, but trouble spots can lead to floor damage. Poorly insulated doors and windows can lead to an escape of air that can dry wood floors, while unattended leaks can make wood floors soggy. To make sure that there will be no issues with a hardwood floor, you must take RH measurements near the floor to ensure an accurate reading. Getting down-low with your home’s flooring can also help you inspect for any signs of damage.
From Above and Below
Now that you’ve considered the ways that a home’s interior air can interact with hardwood flooring, you also need to remember an important fact. Most hardwood flooring is going to be impacted from two sides: the side that faces the interior of your home and is actually walked on, and the underside that is exposed to the crawl spaces, basement, and interior cavities of a home. The air in these spaces is typically less subject to change as they are “out of reach” of an HVAC system’s influence. However, to keep your hardwood flooring in good shape, you must take these spaces into consideration.
Crawlspaces and basements that have issues like moisture or drafts can negatively impact hardwood flooring. Even though these spaces are not used as living spaces, they also need their air conditioning needs met. This will help maintain the health and comfort of a home. DeWitt writes that, “because these spaces are conditioned (or not) to a different level from that above the floor, they can affect the flooring from the underside. We see the effects of this kind of situation when wood flooring cups because of a wet slab.” Hardwood floor installers have to take all of these factors into consideration when putting a floor down for a home, and homeowners must remember to think about their whole house when it comes to keeping their floors in the best condition possible.
The Solution is in the HVAC System
Applying proper HVAC practices with a focus on humidity levels and ventilation are the best ways to keep your hardwood floors beautiful. Inspecting doors and windows for any leaks that can let air or moisture in can also help protect your floors and make your HVAC system work more efficiently. The relative humidity of your home matters, especially near the floor, and keeping it at a good level can keep hardwood floors from cracking or warping as the seasons change. Areas like crawlspaces can also affect floors if they have excess moisture or ventilations issues.
If you have concerns about how your HVAC system can affect your hardwood floors, please consult your local, licensed HVAC service provider for a whole home inspection.