Hardwood floors are all about care. However, keeping your new wood floors pristine begins before they’re even installed — they have to be acclimated. With a little preparation and some advice, it’s a simple process that can save a lot of heartache later as wear and tear and weather leave their marks on your floors.
Acclimation is the process of bringing the wood to the same level of moisture content and temperature as the room in which it is expected to perform. It works the same way a mountain climber acclimates to very high elevations — gradually changing conditions so no damage occurs and the long-term results are better. If a mountain climber doesn’t acclimate, he or she could become sick and have to choose between descending immediately or dying. For wood floors, acclimation allows the wood to expand or shrink to match the environment so you avoid gapping or wall damage later.
It can be a simple process, but it means more than just bringing the wood to a room and leaving it in a pile for a few days.
Essentially, the room should mimic normal occupancy conditions in the home. It should be fully enclosed, the heating and cooling systems should be operating, and all the other work in the room should be done before the floors go in. In the room itself, this is more notable for new construction than for remodels, depending on the scope of work.
Before the wood is even delivered, monitor the conditions in the room where it will go. Wood floors perform best in humidity ranges of 30–55 percent and between 60–80 degrees Fahrenheit. With a functional insulation and HVAC system, this shouldn’t be hard to set. The National Wood Flooring Association recommends making sure the system is operational for five days before delivering the wood flooring.
If that’s not possible, a temporary heating/cooling and dehumidification system will help offset it. But it’s important to make sure the area is climate controlled overall.
Have the wood flooring delivered directly to the room where it will be installed. Though it may be easier, it’s important not to store wood flooring in a garage or outdoor patio — they are both uncontrolled climate conditions and won’t allow for proper acclimation.
Once the wood is delivered, test the moisture content of multiple boards. Every region’s ideal indoor condition is different. Testing the moisture content will establish a baseline for acclimation.
How the flooring is arranged upon delivery can also make a difference. Instead of all being piled together, break the flooring units up into smaller lots, allowing for greater air circulation. The National Wood Flooring Association recommends cross-stacking with a spacer between the layers as well.
There’s no set guideline for time. Some species of wood will take longer to acclimate than others; go by the moisture content rather than by time, and check with the manufacturer about specific instructions. Most recommendations for acclimation set a minimum of three days, with no maximum.
Before installation, check the moisture content again to determine the difference from the subfloor. For solid strip flooring (less than 3 inches wide), there should be no more than 4 percent moisture content difference between the wood flooring and the subfloor. For wider planks (wider than 3 inches), there should be no more than 2 percent moisture content difference, according to the National Wood Floor Association.
Engineered and Prefinished
There’s a caveat to these general rules: engineered and prefinished floors. Per the manufacturer’s instructions, some of these floors may not need to be acclimated. This includes factory-finished flooring and engineered wood flooring. Make sure you follow the manufacturer’s recommendation to retain the warranty coverage.
Another case may be if the wood cannot be delivered to an adequate jobsite to be acclimated. The National Wood Flooring Association recommends pre-acclimating the material to the estimated “normal” conditions in the home and then testing it upon arrival for moisture content.
Once installed, wood will change with differing conditions, but if it was acclimated properly the changes will be less drastic. Without acclimation, wood can warm, gap or cup and damage to the extension joint can occur.
If wood is acclimated properly, there should be no issue with the integrity of your wood floors upon installation. Stay in touch with your installer throughout the process to keep informed about conditions and make sure you’re following best procedures before the flooring is installed.