Best weather, temperature, and humidity condition to install wood flooring?

Q: What is the best weather/temperature and humidity condition to install hardwood/engineered floors?

A: That is a tricky question and I don’t think there is any one correct answer. It depends on the general climate where you live for one. If you are most comfortable at 75F with 45% RH IN YOUR HOME then acclimate the flooring to that and try to maintain that environment as closely as possible year round.

If the flooring is installed, for example in very high humidity conditions in summer (even if it is acclimated to that) when the heating season arrives, the furnace kicks in and the RH in the home now becomes 30% or less, the floor will shrink and probably significantly.

If you install the floor in winter, during heating of the house and the RH is very low, in summer if humidity is high the floor will expand and if an expansion space has not been allowed at the walls or if no effort is made to lessen the humidity, you will have a problem with cupping.

Vapor barrier on second floor?

Q: I’m installing 5/8 engineered hardwood floor on second floor over 3/4 plywood. These are 7 1/2 planks. Do I need to install a vapor barrier? We are nailing it with 1 1/2 inch L cleats. Is this workable over floating the floor or gluing it? How does a wood floor expand when nail tight to a plywood floor? How can it move without the plywood moving?

A: Well, the product is engineered which means it is suppose to be, because of it’s construction very stable. You should not need a vapour barrier on the second floor. In fact, if it is nailed down and you are punching a thousand holes through such a barrier, how can it be a barrier? As to specific installation instructions, there is so much variation from one product to another, it is best to follow the recommendations of the manufacturer.

Solid wood floors are more of an issue in significant humidity swings than engineered. And some species are more affected than others. I prefer cleats over staples because cleats allow some stretch or expansion of the floor board. Staples are more resistant and under sever conditions can cause splitting of the tongue. The wood floor moves separate from the wooden sub floor. This is why you can walk into any given building and see gaps between boards. Expansion and contraction.

Installing in small space under the slant fin hot water system

Q: I have problem installing 3/4 x3 hardwood floor. The problem I have is due to the radiant heat slant fin. I cannot nail the starter board under slant fin. If I glue how do I press until glue dries. Need advice. I only have 2 1/4 inches of space under the slant fin hot water system.

A: You will have to have several rows installed out from the rad. Perhaps you can use wedges against the wall to apply pressure to the one row of boards. Or you can gently tap a board between the rad fins and floor board to apply a bit of pressure. Make sure you use a flat, not bowed board. And I would recommend a polyurethane adhesive applied to the floor if able and certainly the underside of the board you are installing.

Bad product or bad installer?

Q: Is there any reason I should expect (or accept) a floor that’s been installed (HW oak prefinished) with dings so that it needs to be filled in and stained by myself? Also it has a micro-bevelled edges and I see pieces that do not line up (or fit correctly). One of the pieces I’ve found so far has a three-inch slice missing along the fitting and you can see the subfloor.

A: That depends if these marks and defects are part of the product you purchased at reduced cost or are the result of rough handling during installation. I’ve seen some very poorly manufactured floors along the way where there was significant variation in the width of the boards. It’s an installers nightmare. So, it really depends whether the problem is the product itself or the result of what the installer did or didn’t do.

Raised/heaved concrete at joint of two concrete slabs inside

Q: How do we fix this problem: old house, original owners extended a patio and made an enclosed sunroom and tiled it. Where they poured the addition, meeting the original concrete, it has raised and split the tiles.. at the joint of the two concrete slabs inside our house. How do we fix this?

We think we should take out the tile, clean and fix the joints, put down a plastic barrier against bugs, then install a floating wood floor. What are your suggestions?

A: I think you will have to pull the tile and find out why that area has heaved.

To install a laminate or engineered floor the substrate must be very near dead flat and you will need to make sure you don’t have moisture coming up through the concrete.

Good quality products such as those from Torly’s and Quick Step have their own pad that must be used. I would check their site for installation recommendations of their products.

Contractor used white oak instead of red oak for repairs

Q: We recently had some remodeling done in a house that we just bought. The entire house has beautiful wood floors with walnut inlays dating from the late 30’s. In building the master suite, some new wood was needed to cover areas that had been carpeted in a previously-built addition. The color does not match very well, and the contractor simply claims to be surprised that it did not work out as well as he planned.

I asked a flooring specialist to take a look, and he claims that the contractor used white oak instead of red. Can I assume that any flooring pro could tell the difference upon inspection, and that it’s fair to say that I can confront the contractor with those facts?

A: An age difference of 70 or more years is bound to show a difference in colour, with the older boards generally darkening.

White oak and red oak are simply not the same colour and a flooring professional would or should know that. A lot of older homes also had white oak, quarter sawn, which may or may not be your old floor. This ‘cut’ shows ‘tiger stripes’ as the grain pattern rather than the heavy, sweeping grain so typical in plain sawn red oak.

If the contractor used the wrong species for the repairs or even the incorrect grade, (#1 common is a lot darker generally than select and better or clear grade) then I think it is fair to say he should be made aware of it and make the correction. Especially if the floor is a natural, not stained floor.

Don’t expect a perfect colour match.

Roofing tar paper for underlayment?

Q: I am installing 3/8″ engineered over existing old hardwood. Two questions: What is the best product for levelling out the low/uneven areas of this old floor? Also, What is the best underlayment? I am leaning towards roofing tar paper. Thanks in advance.

A: As long as the dips aren’t too severe you could use that same building paper to fill in those dips. You can’t really use any type of compound mixed with water or you will buckle the wood you are installing on top of. Yes you can use the roofing paper. But you don’t have a moisture issue and the engineered won’t slide into place easily if you use that. I assume this is glue down engineered.

Concrete dry time before wood flooring install

Q: We are in the process of a kitchen remodel. They have had to move some major plumbing areas, so I have a 6 foot by 1.5 foot trench in the middle of my kitchen that they are going to fill with concrete. I was planning on putting three-quarter inch solid pine floor down with a three-quarter inch subfloor. How long do I have to wait before we install now with the just laid concrete?

A: If memory serves me correctly the recommendation is 30 days. Keep an eye on it and perhaps in a week tape a piece of plastic over the concrete and leave it over night. Check to see if condensation has formed on the plastic. I don’t think you will have much of an issue with that small amount of concrete.

Transition or staggering to join wood floor in two rooms

Q: We want to replace the tile in our foyer to match the wood in the family room. Our wood floors are glued down since we have concrete floors. How do we match the wood in the foyer to the family room, since the end of the wood is a rough cut and covered by a threshold?

A: Well, if the hardwood is running into the tiled foyer you have 2 choices. Remove the tile, install matching hardwood and use a dome cap or T cap to cover the rough cut ends or stagger back each row of existing hardwood and knit in new wood then have the entire thing sanded.

Install baseboards above floor or push them into gap?

Q: I recently purchased my first home and am beginning to prep to paint some rooms. I was happy to know that the hardwood floors throughout were just refinished before I moved in. When I began to take out the baseboards I was surprised to find out that the baseboards were installed first and the floor butts up against the baseboards.

I will be replacing the baseboards with new ones.

My question is, should I use larger baseboards and install them above the floor or should I push the new ones back into the gap? I assume I should put them on above the floor that way there is the necessary expansion gap for the floors.

A: I would install the base above the floor, as you mentioned and then install quarter round, either paint grade, primed or the wood species (oak) of your floor. If the base is painted, best to go with primed paint grade.

Bamboo flooring a bad choice for a family with large dogs?

Q: Is bamboo flooring a bad choice for a family with 4 large dogs (60 – 80 lb.)?

A: There is no wood or grass floor which will be unmarked by large dogs. The problem I have with bamboo is the use of adhesives to bond the strips together which emit a urea Formaldehyde vapour. Also, every sample I have seen exhibits large gaps between the planks indicating it shrinks quite a bit.

I think you would be best to go with a heavy grained wood to hide the scratches or go with a wood that you intend to look distressed. In that case, the scratches will just be part of the floor and add to it’s distressed look.

Related Q: I’m looking to replace carpet with wood floor. We have 4 dogs and accidents happen. What style or manufacturer would you recommend for a living room/family room that has high traffic from both people and pets?

A: I would go with site finished, not factory finished. Oak is good with pets because the heavy grain helps to hide the nail impressions. If you want to go with a very hard wood I’d probably suggest Hickory. You have to know in advance that unless a real tight environmental program is followed, Hickory will tend to expand and shrink a lot. A site finished floor has the coatings applied over the entire floor surface rather than individual boards and is much easier to deal with as far as applying a refresher coat of finish down the road.

Brazilian Teak good choice of wood floor for someone with dogs?

Q: I was wondering what you think of Brazilian Teak as a choice for wood floor for someone with dogs.

I have an American cherry floor all through my house that has been destroyed by the dog’s nails (I have two dogs).

I want to replace the floor and really like the look of the teak, but I don’t want to invest all this money if the floor is going to end up like the cherry. We had a refinisher look at our cherry floor and he told us the wood is so soft that in three months after he refinished it, it would look the same, so we didn’t want to invest in refinishing it.

A: Well, the cherry is quite soft. Brazilian teak is harder, but it isn’t as hard as Hickory which is the hardest native species. A large enough dog applying his weight to the tips of his claws would probably be able to mark any wood, regardless of hardness.

Aside from needing to keep the dogs nails well trimmed and filed, have you ever considered having them wear dog boots in the house? It may sound silly, but it’s worth taking a look at.

Hickory floor susceptible to environmental changes

Q: We had a hickory hardwood floor put in our living room, dining room and kitchen, on the main level of our house. We have a finished basement and the humidity is 46%. It was installed in September by the flooring contractor in one day and started showing splits and cracks in 5-6 boards. They repaired a few of the boards by replacing them. A few days later and one of those boards in the kitchen now sits slightly lower on one side along its length. Now I have 39 boards with splits and cracks in the boards themselves with some of them getting larger. The installer did not have the flooring acclimate to the house, he installed it the day they came with it. What should I expect to be done to correct this? I am concerned if they try to replace all of these boards and they sink it will be worse and I’m worried about continuing splits in the floor. Thank you for any information or help you can offer.

A: Clearly you have a real problem with this floor. That is a lot of boards. We don’t have much hickory in Canada used as flooring. But I do know it is susceptible to environmental changes, more so than a lot of other wood species. In other words it tends to be unstable. So it would be very important to allow the flooring time to adjust to that environment before installing. The one board that was replaced and has sunk along the one edge sounds more like a milling issue with that board. I would contact the manufacturer immediately over this issue. You could also contact the National Wood Flooring Association who may be able to send out an inspector.

Q: My sister had all new hickory hardwood flooring installed a few months ago. The hickory seasoned in the house about three weeks before installation, and it was nailed down. Now she’s hearing popping sounds. And joints have split open all over it. A couple of individual planks have even split. Reasons?

A: Hickory is a very hard wood which tends to over react to environmental changes much more than a species such as oak, for example. I think it will need to go through a couple of complete seasonal cycles before it really becomes settled. Did the installer check moisture readings in the flooring before installing? It clearly is shrinking which indicates it is now shedding moisture content. In summer it may expand a bit too.

Acceptable percentage difference of moisture between the plywood and the wood?

Q: I am a wood flooring contractor. About seven months ago we install a 4 inch red oak select floor with strip glue. We made sure before installing that the home was cool with air conditioning. However they are experiencing some buckling. I had one of my guys remove a few pieces and the plywood is reading 15% moisture. I was wondering what is the acceptable percentage difference of moisture between the plywood and the wood?

A: The recommendation is no more than 4% difference. I wouldn’t worry if the plywood showed moisture content of more than 4% less than the oak but 15% is high. If this is a new house the entire structure may not yet have dried out. You know how through framing the place it an get rained on or filled with snow, etc. So it is a good idea to always check everything with a meter before you start. If it is an older home perhaps the plywood was stored out in the lumber yard not properly protected from the rain? A lot of people don’t realize how difficult our work really is.

Follow-up: Agreed, thank you for your response.

Tongue and groove separated on the edges

Q: I had engineered oak floors installed in October. They are tongue and groove, and were laid as a floating floor in my condo. Now, some of the boards have separated on the edges. The separation is around 3mm or so. What could be the cause? Thank you for your time.

A: I wouldn’t have expected this with an engineered floor. They are constructed similarly to plywood so the boards are very stable. I can’t imagine that the top, hardwood layer would be able to shrink independent of the other layers. And I assume this is a click type of joint. Generally this type of joint required inserting the next board on an angle and then pushing down to click them together. It shouldn’t just pull apart. Changes in moisture content are generally the cause of wood shrinking or expanding. I think I would contact both the installer and the manufacturer. If this was a solid hardwood floor, nailed down these gaps would be very minor and normal. I’m not so sure I can say the same for an engineered floor.

Follow-up Q: Thanks for your answer.

This is actually a tongue and groove system, and the boards are glued to each other on the edges. This is not click. This floor was installed as a floating floor. Does this change your opinion? I don’t know if this was an effect of moisture, but the moisture is not affecting any other area. Maybe the glue gave up?

A: Okay, interesting. I said ‘click’ because in the early days of laminate flooring, before click joints each panel was glued together, squirting the manufacturers recommended adhesive into the groove. Then they invented the various joints that snap together and the glue joint went away. But those floors, as laminates still are, are rather thin. Some engineered floors are not thin but rather 1/2″ to 5/8″ thick. I would be doing some research before relying on a glue joint install with a floor that thick. Here is what I would do. Go to the web site of the manufacturer, unless you have the directions that generally come with each box of flooring. Find out if they recommend this type of installation for that product. It sounds like the floor may have shrunk a tiny bit and it has pulled away. If this were severe shrinkage It could potentially start breaking either the tongue or bottom edge of the groove side. That hasn’t happened which is good. Find out from the manufacturer if they recommend this type of installation.

Can prefinished hardwood be sealed?

Q: I read the question about the differences between laminate, hardwood and pre-finished. As noted, the prefinished allows for the possibility of spills going through the slats. Can prefinished hardwood be sealed to avoid this problem?

A: No. Prefinished floors offer serious challenges to re coating because of the type of finish and the bevel edges. If you want a floor that is coated over the entire surface, have a site finished floor.

How far apart should sleepers be for subfloor over concrete?

Q: I am installing a new hardwood floor. I leveled a low spot on the concrete, put 15 lb. tar paper, and I am putting 1 by 4 strips of wood for a subfloor.

How far apart should these pieces be?

And do I need to adhere them to the concrete or even nail them or not?

A: I would install the sleepers as if they were joists, 12 or 16′ centers. I think I would fasten them to the concrete. Otherwise, you may end up with some bounce. You may have to do some shimming if the floor is not level.