Mid-January in the Rocky Mountains means a lot of things – great skiing, hot fires, and cold dry weather. It also means that your floors are probably starting to shrink and there are now gaps between the boards. The other day, relative humidity here was at 14%. That’s pretty dry, but I don’t need to look online to know it’s dry. I simply need to look at the floors in our showroom.

Let’s look at this annual flooring phenomenon in closer detail.

To be stable (read “move less”) wood floors require a relative humidity in the range of 35% to 60%. Our governing body is the National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA). The NWFA has a consumer web site (http://www.woodfloors.org). According to their site, wood looses moisture when relative humidity levels fall, and that causes wood to shrink – creating the gaps in your floor. This is not an issue of workmanship. This is an issue of osmosis.

Note the following from the NWFA’s article entitled “What to Expect” at http://www.woodfloors.org

“What to Expect”

“Once you’ve decided to install or refinish a wood floor, you may wonder what will happen next. Knowing what to expect before, during, and after the work takes place will help ensure a high-quality job…

Keep in mind that no two floor boards will be identical. Variations in appearance are completely normal. As your floor ages, some color change can occur. This also is normal, but can be minimized by limiting exposure to direct sunlight, and periodically moving furniture and rugs. Cracks are normal as well, and will appear and disappear between floor boards during seasons of high and low humidity. Generally, anything less than the width of a dime is considered normal, and will correct itself as seasons change. Flooring inspectors recommend inspecting the floor from a standing position in normal lighting to identify irregularities…”

Can a humidifier help? Yes, to a degree. Most people that have a humidifier have the drip humidifier that is attached to a furnace unit. These devices do not do a lot to contribute to relative humidity levels. Steam injected humidifiers do a lot more to help maintain relative humidity levels, but these devices are relatively expensive and subsequently, they are relatively uncommon.

In the end, seasonal expansion and contraction comes with owning a natural product like wood floors. Some species are very stable (i.e. mesquite). Some species are less stable (i.e. hickory). These seasonal gaps come with living in dry climates like Colorado. I recommend that you enjoy your floors and don’t fret about the seasonal expansion and contraction. After all by next June, these gaps, like the snow, will be long gone.