Reducing snagging, splinter hazard from cracked planks

Q: I have 2 1/4″ white oak and 3 1/4″ wide clear maple planks that have a handful of splits along the long edges, that form spike-like splinters. These cracks are somewhat clean, but because they form a spike-like point, they are snagging and splinter hazards.

Is there some way to ‘micro-glue’ them or at least reduce the snagging/splintering potential?

A: Well, those are a problem you have to deal with for sure. Sometimes it’s best just to break them off and use wood filler.

Perhaps you could use a tool with a thin edge and slightly raise the split wood enough to squeeze some wood glue in. There are tiny air guns that fire 23gage headless pins. You could fire a couple of those in to hold the piece tight until the glue dries. Any wood glue on the floor surface can be removed immediately with a wet cloth.

Minor chips and splinters on floorboards

Q: I have an engineered hardwood floor and the relative humidity in my house is between 45 to 55%. The hardwood is within 2% of the subfloor moisture content. The installation was done by a reputable professional that I personally know and have seen his work over the past few years.

The problem is in about 500 total square feet 30 or so boards have gradually exhibited minor chips and splinters, mainly on the edge, but a few in the center. Other than installation error could this be some type of product defect through milling or green wood not being cured properly?

Any other ideas or anything I should look for to determine if it’s a manufacturer defect or installer error?

A: I would be approaching the manufacturer with this problem. I know of no reason this would have anything to do with the installation or installer.

Gaps in glued down floor in high humidity climate

Q: I am buying a house that has old hardwood floors that look great. There is an addition that is newer and the hardwood is installed on a concrete slab. There are some gaps between the boards (the short sides), some as big as about 1/2 inch. The boards are not nailed down due to the concrete. The seller had a guy come out and look at it and he wouldn’t put putty in because he said it would look awful.

Any suggestions? We thought of taking off the shoe molding and trying to slide the boards in the right direction. Would that work? We’re deep in the south with major humidity all the time.

A: Installed on a concrete slab, it has to be glue down. Trying to move the floor out of the position it is in could break the glue bond, and where will that leave you?

I think you need to try to control the environment in the home as best you can. Keep the RH 45-55%.

Thin, long slivers of the flooring coming off

Q: We moved into a home 2 years ago. The previous owner had installed hardwood strip flooring throughout the main level. The flooring may be about 8-12 years old. We noticed that thin, long slivers of the flooring are constantly popping up and coming off between strips, leaving a crevice about 1/8′ wide, and in some places as long as 2′.

Can you tell me if this can or should be fixed, or should we consider replacing the floor entirely?

A: Is this wood filler that is popping out or are the edges of the boards cracking off? A floor this age shouldn’t have to be replaced, but it sounds, especially if this is filler that something wasn’t done quite right at the time of installation and the floor suffered excessive shrinkage.

Follow-up Q: This is the actual wood, not filler.

A: This is an indicator that the floors have been sanded to the maximum and are now too thin. With any movement in the board, or even a humidity spike, very thin edges can break off. The floors need to be replaced.

Related Q: The hardwood floors in my hallway are chipping. I keep stepping on the fragments at night. Is this a sign of water damage? How should I go about fixing the problem?

A: A sign of water damage would be cupping and heaving. Chipping? Do you mean pieces are breaking off the edge of the boards? That can result from a floor that has been sanded too many times, especially when there is significant movement in the sub floor. In a case like that, replacement is in order.

Gaps the size of a nickel after installation

Q: We installed a 5″ select white, glued and nailed, unfinished oak. The subfloor 11%. The material 10.2% finished with stain and LNL 1500. On installation the floor was tight and now there are visible gaps the size of a nickel. Can this floor be sanded, re-hydrated, and finished? If so, what process would you suggest?

A: The moisture readings, while not outrageously high could have been a percentage or two lower, but the difference between sub floor and oak is okay. If the air is dry you could run a humidifier. It isn’t often I see a floor that is without some small gaps. And the wider the board the greater potential for increased shrinkage.

This is probably not much help, I know. But controlling the environment is one of the few things we can have some control over.

Follow-up Q: Do you think resanding the oak and adding moisture to it by spraying water – similar to popping – will close the gaps? The house does have a humidifier in the heating system. We are desperately trying not to rip this finished product up.

A: Spraying water on the surface doesn’t have a hope of expanding the planks. I don’t think anyone can ever guarantee a wooden floor will stay tight and never get any gaps. NWFA has always held to the view that a gap about as thick as a dime is normal and expected. I would suggest to the home owner they give the floors time to go through a couple of complete seasonal cycles. It’s probably going to expand a bit in the humid summer. If you have a hygrometer set it on the floor for 15 minutes to see what the moisture level in the room is. I know you can’t have humidity up over 45 RH on cold winter days. But if it is down to 30 or less, that will suck the moisture out of everything. Did you give the flooring time in the rooms to get used to the environment?

Follow-up Q: Yes the flooring was in the house for a week. The only issue with waiting is this is a new construction so the house is presently empty. I will be doing RH testing and moisture reading tomorrow.

A: I figured it was new construction. I really don’t like doing those jobs. Other contractors are crawling over each other and everything gets rushed at the end, whether it’s ready or not. Back in the early days of self employment when I had to do sub contract work, there were a lot of jobs in new sub divisions. Installation of Bruce. There was no acclimating the flooring. The last week before closing, every trade was in the place. Every rule and precaution were broken as far as flooring goes. I kept telling the builder, if this floor goes south, it isn’t my fault.

One of the worst I saw was when I lived in Niagara. I got a call to look at a floor in a sub division. It was all badly cupped. Clearly the structure was not dried out before the floor went in, and the wood swelled. The builder told the home owner the floor meets warranty specs. I couldn’t believe it.

Splits and boards cracking up the middle

Q: I just had 890 sq. feet of A——— Hardwood floor installed in my house. They delivered it and started install the same day. The workers installed all 890 SQ. in two days.

The same night I notice my socks getting caught on some planks. I then saw many boards that began to crack up the middle and along the sides where joined. There are about 65 splits in a hallway that was 100 inches long by 60 inches wide. I design kitchens and the company that installed does our floors.

He said it was cupping due to a manufacturers defect. He basically told me acclimation was a farce. He agreed to replace all and brought wood to sit for 5 days before new install, just to appease me. Well I found out he was using A——— builders hardwood again. Is it due to poor quality?

It’s not done yet, but the hallway has just one board that’s split. He will replace it. The living room has just one split I can see because the cardboard is covering it while they do other rooms. He said splits are expected because it’s natural wood.

Is this acceptable and do I have to live with wood that splits up the grain of the planks? It’s not even finished yet and I afraid to complain. Am I being a nut case or should I stand up for myself? Please Please Please help me.

A: Absolutely stand up for yourself. The splits will get worse when the finish is applied. If this product is a cheaper grade or even mill run, then yes, you will get that type of thing, but they should be picked out and not installed.

I disagree that acclimating is a farce, but the main issue here seems to be poor product. I wouldn’t have that in my floor and you are right to complain. If I was installing this floor, I would be complaining to the people where I bought it.

Similar Q: We had solid white oak flooring installed, B********, and we have had vertical cracking occurring. Do you think this is a defect in manufacturing? What causes this? Any remedy?

A: I’ve seen this in a couple of white oak floors, about 65% rift and 35% quarter sawn, several such boards had crept into the installation. I would think the best thing to do is replace the affected boards.

Adhesive for splits breaking off wide pine floors?

Q: My house has wide pine floors and several of them have partially split along the long side, right next to the gap from an adjacent board. I am afraid of one of these splits breaking off completely. I am unsure how best to repair this. I would be happy to send you a photo.

A: Do you have any way to inject some adhesive under this cracked piece?

Follow-up Q: I think I could get something under there. Maybe some clear epoxy. Can you suggest something?

A: I’d like to suggest Gorilla type adhesive except in this case it worries me. It expands as it cures. I’m afraid if this split edge is just hanging on, the adhesive will actually push it up and we will have made the matter worse. If the gap is wide and deep between the boards, you may have to pack something in the gap to prevent the glue from running away. Cyano acrylate (from Lee Valley Tools) sets up in seconds. It would be ideal if the adhesive bottle also came with a long nozzle allowing you to direct the adhesive sideways into the groove on the board. (assuming it is the groove side that has the split). Fast setting with a nozzle, and best to stay away from expanding foam urethane. Some wood glues set in about half an hour. That might work too.

Follow-up: Thanks again. I’ve attached a photo but its a bit difficult to take a picture of. I had read about the gorilla glue and I thought that the expansion might help as the splits go downwards when stepped on but maybe the expansion can’t be reliably predicted or controlled. I have previously tried inserting some wood matchsticks (not the striking end) and some wood glue but I was hoping there might be something better. I’ll look into the the cyano too as you suggested.

Sealer or wax that might hold a splinter in place?

Q: I have maple hardwood flooring in my foyer. One of the boards has a small split and has a small piece that catches on the swiffer when cleaned. What can I do to prevent this from getting worse? Would be hard to replace a center piece about 3″x18″? Any kind of sealer or wax that might hold the splinter in place to prevent it from breaking off?

A: There are several different types of adhesive you could try. I would apply tape around the split so as not to get the adhesive on the rest of the board. Cyano-acrylate can be purchased from Lee Valley Tools, called Hot Stuff. With an accelerator it will harden in about 5 seconds. Without it takes about 30 and dries clear. Some other wood glue and liquid polyurethane adhesives such as Gorilla glue will expand as they cure, so you would have to cut them back flat with the floor surface after they dry, but they accept stain. You don’t want to get that product on your skin.

Related Q: One or two planks in our hardwood floor have splintered along the edge, leaving a small uneven gap. Is there a recommended procedure for filling this with wood filler? Do you recommend a particular product?

A: For small spots like that there is a product in a tube called Color-Rite. It comes in hundreds of tones and is much like caulking. It won’t crack out after it is dry and is water clean up until then. Some hardwood retailers carry this product such as Woodchuck Flooring in Toronto. They also have a web site. Find the closest tone and apply. Push it into the gap with your finger. You may have to do this more than once if it is a deep space and the product shrinks.

Cracks at some joints after HVAC was turned on

Q: I had my 225 year old heart pine floors refinished (sanded, caulked and finished with water base satin finish). The job was done two weeks before HVAC was turned on. I now have noticeable cracks at some joints. My contractor says that it is because the HVAC was turned on causing the wood to dry thereby causing cracks. The floors have been in this environment for 25 years. What is your opinion?

A: When I lived in Toronto there was oak strip in the dining room which was 70 years old. One winter was particularly cold and long with the snow starting in early November and going right into April. So the furnace had been running for quite a long time. I noticed some gaps appearing in this floor that I had never seen before. I got the furnace installed humidifier running and the gaps went back to the way they were. So, it doesn’t matter how long a floor has been in a house, the wood still reacts to the environment. The wider the plank, the greater the expansion and contraction. I think I would buy a hygrometer and keep an eye on the relative humidity in the home. 70-75 F with RH of 35-42% would seem a good environment.

Cracks and boards separating after overheating dried out floor

Q: While away from home recently for an extended period of time, a power surge caused our electronic thermostat to malfunction and the heat stayed on continuously for what may have been as long as 2 weeks. Because of that there was extensive damage throughout our home, especially to our hardwood floors which contracted to a point where walking on them without footwear is painful. The cracks are large and the boards have pulled away from the walls.

I now have a humidifier running and hope that in the coming months the floors will expand enough to close the gaps. I have noticed that because of the large gaps, not all of the boards are staying level. Do you believe they will they expand enough to close the very wide gaps? Will we experience warping when they do expand?

A: I don’t know what is going to happen. I’ve seen floors that got soaked, cupped and heaved and then later settled down to the point you could hardly tell there had been an issue. Your problem is exactly opposite. I don’t think they will cup and they should expand.

I think you need to set up a humidifier in a lower level, below the floors. This way the increased and correct moisture will rise and go through the bottom of the floor and work it’s way through the wood. If you had a moisture meter you would better be able to monitor the actual moisture content in the flooring, which generally is 7-9% for normal readings.

Good luck with it. I guess when possible, it is a good idea to have someone check in on the house every few days if we are away for an extended period.

Related Q: We just put in a new red oak floor in about two months ago. The weather was warmer and now we are in the middle of winter. The whole floor is separating. We are wondering if the boards were tight enough or if the wood was seasoned enough. The wood sat in our house one week before being installed. Does wood have to be seasoned for a period of time prior to purchasing? What else would have caused this?

A: You need to raise the humidity levels in your house. The floor may have been acclimated to the climate in the home at the time. However, if for example you don’t have air conditioning and you don’t run a dehumidifier in the summer, and the floor was installed with, say, 75RH in the home, then if it drops to 27% in winter with the furnace running, that is quite a difference.

I would buy a cheap hygrometer to keep an eye on the temperature and RH in the home and invest in a good dehumidifier. If you could find one that does that plus dehumidify that would be a bonus. Try to get it up close to 40% in winter. The gaps should close up or at least ease.

Spots where wood is cracking along the grain

Q: I have been in my house less then a year. We have distressed oak floors with a lot of character, which is fine, but there are numerous spots where the wood is cracking along the grain-enough to catch a sock.

Were they not finished properly? Another sanding and coat of polyurethane needed?

A: Cracks developing has nothing to do with the sanding. The boards were probably “defective” before they were installed and then with dryer conditions inside the house they may have shrunk a bit and the cracks revealed themselves.

You can either have the boards changed, or something you might try is injecting some type of adhesive into the fissure to stop it from opening further. If the adhesive dries below the surface you can then fill up to the top of the board with colour match wood filler. Try not to get the adhesive on the surface of surrounding boards. Cyano-acrylate adhesive may work well in this instance. It dries clear.

Related Q: Our newly installed hardwood floors have a plethora of deep cracks along and through the grain of the boards, which one can see from outside the room in multiple boards; some cracks are extended through the knotholes in the custom cut combination #1 and #2 Red Oak hardwood floorboards and seem to extend through the thickness of each board.

Should we allow the installer and contractor to do as they have proposed and re sand and fill the cracks and then apply another coat of finish, or should the custom cut hardwood floor system be replaced?

A: Not surprising you have so many split boards given the low grade of the oak. I would recommend replacing the bad boards and then sanding over. Sanding and filling won’t make the deep cracks disappear.

Filler is old, dried out and falls out easily

Q: We recently bought a Victorian farmhouse that has wide-plank pine floorboards. The boards have gaps that have been filled once, but the filler is old, dried out and falls out easily. I would like to re-do the filler, but I’m not sure of the best product to use. Any recommendations? Some gaps are quite wide, up to 3/8″ wide. I love the look, but it’s drafty on a windy day and I want to re-seal them.

A: I’ve use a number of wood fillers, but they all will crack and pop out eventually, especially so if there is movement between the boards. Even vibration can cause it to pop out. With one pine floor which had large gaps, I packed the gap with rags twirled like rope and applied some expanding polyurethane adhesive. (rope or other alternative could be used) After that dried, I sliced off any adhesive that expanded out of the gap and then filled on top with Timbermate which is a more robust filler. It is expensive and difficult to work with because you have to keep mixing water with it. No waste with the product though, which is one of the good things. Be aware that if you don’t plan to have the floors sanded, you will need to tape off the surface of the boards along the edges of the gaps so the expanding adhesive does not get onto the face of the board. One thing for sure in using this method: it won’t fall out and it helps to stabilize the boards against movement.

Related Q: We refinished an old wood floor. There were a lot of little gaps between some of the planks, so we filled them with wood putty, then stained and polyurethaned. Now we notice that a lot of the putty is popping up through the floor. What do we do? Can we sand what’s above floor level and re-stain and poly again? What do you suggest?

A: Which brand of wood filler did you use? The way this is suppose to work is the gaps are filled, sometimes more than once to bring it to the level of the floor surface or above. When it has dried this all has to be sanded off flush with the floor surface. Staining is done after this. If you are saying that the filler is now being pushed up this means the floor is expanding from excess moisture. This could be from high humidity or perhaps from water in the filler itself. You have already finished the floor. I think I would cut the excess off with a razor knife carefully, then buff and coat if needed.

Similar Q: There were gaps between some of the floor boards in my home, which a flooring company repaired with a wood filler. The filler has already cracked and it looks as if the edges of the hardwood floors have cracked with it. What is the best solution for this problem? How best to remove the old filler?

A: Gaps as wide as a dime are considered by the National Wood flooring Association to be normal. Of course, good climate/humidity control and proper acclimation of the floor before installing will go a long way to minimizing gaps. It should also be noted that some wood species are more susceptible to gapping than others.

From what I’ve found to date, all wood fillers will crack if there is movement between the boards. Removing it is tedious and may result in some chipping of board edges. You could simply run a thin screw driver inside the gap and suction out the pieces of filler. At times you may have to tap down on the filler to break it away from the board edge. A razor knife may also help in removal. Perhaps a better solution on larger gaps is to mostly fill the gap with an expanding polyurethane adhesive and when it cures, use wood filler to top up the gap flush with the floor surface. A word of caution however: Moisture can exert a lot of stress on a floor. If humidity readings and moisture readings in the floor are high the wood is going to expand and push planks over. After the moisture level drops the boards will shrink. A very strong side bond created by the adhesive could cause a problem called panelization where the floor gaps in sections. Best solution is to control indoor humidity or accept that floors are an organic substance and will move with the environment.

House — ceiling, stairwell — is cracking

Q: A week ago we installed hardwood flooring on our main floor. 2 Massive cracks have developed: first in ceiling, and then an even larger crack appeared going up the stairwell above the new flooring. Is this common? We will have them filled and repaired, but I’m concerned. Thank you!

A: I don’t know what the relationship could be of having a hardwood floor installed with cracks in the ceiling or up the staircase. If this is a new house perhaps it is still drying out. If this is the case, I hope the installers checked the sub floor for moisture first.

Splits on edges of board due to wear

Q: We recently had some oak engineered flooring installed and have noticed two small splits at the very edge of one of the boards. I think they have steadily gotten worse as they sit right near a door threshold, which is a high trodden area. Can it be repaired or will we need to replace it? Thanks.

A: You could use some colour matched wood putty to simply mask the cracks. A good product is Color Rite. Comes in tubes. Dozens of choices and easy to work with. If the split get serious then of course the board will have to be replaced.

Similar Q: We have a Pergo floor that received some water damage, splitting a small portion of the glued pieces. What product can be used to fill these gaps? I was thinking of using BONDO® WOOD FILLER and then staining it. I’m not even sure if I can stain or paint Bondo. Is that a good idea or is there something better? Thank you for your help.

A: Color-Rite acrylic filler in tube form comes in hundreds of colours. Easy water cleanup of residue.

Editor’s note: Haven’t tried Bondo. Guest comments welcome.

Glue down hardwood floor separating at joints

Q: My parents had hardwood floors installed in their home a little over a year ago. They live in a home that is about 8 years old and the 3 rooms that had the flooring put in all had carpet in them previously, which was properly removed. Then the floor was levelled. This weekend the flooring started separating at the joints, in random parts of all 3 rooms, which are in different parts of the house. The installer is a friend of mine and he had never seen or heard of such a thing. The flooring was purchased from my work, and when I spoke to the decorator here she said that it has to be an installation problem. The installer knows he used the correct type of glue, but have you ever heard of a floor doing this after being down long? The house has no structural issues.

A: This floor is glue down? It sounds like the sub floor is shrinking and the glued down floor is separating at the sub floor seams. I’ve seen it only a few times in 40 years, even on very old floors. It stands to reason, the finished floor will react to what the sub floor is doing. I would put a moisture meter on both the finished floor and sub floor if you have access to that. They should be within 4% of each other. You may also check the humidity level by placing a hygrometer on the floor for a short time, say 15 minutes. I feel fairly confident the issue is the sub floor itself. What was used to level the floor? If water was added to the sub floor along the joints (I assume it is sheets of something) it may have expanded and then as it dried it shrunk.

Filling large gaps in wood floor

Q: I live in a 200 year old house that was nicely restored about 40 years ago. Our living room has a pine plank floor, which was finished in shellac (I think). The boards have separated over the years and there are large gaps ranging from 1/16″ to 3/4″ of an inch. Since the boards go under the walls there is no way to lift and move them. I also don’t want to refinish the floor, as it is rather striking as it is. What was in the gaps previous seemed to be a mixture of clay, sawdust, hair, and maybe glue (very old-timey). I have cleaned all of this out.

My current strategy is to fill the large (3/4″) gaps with a strip of wood (dyed and finished to match), and use dyed hemp rope in the medium sized gaps. I might use dyed hemp rope for the bigger gaps as well. If you have any other suggestions, I’d be grateful. I also wonder if there is something to put in the smaller gaps that won’t require refinishing the boards.

A: It sounds to me you’ve got a good grasp of how to take care of these gaps. As for the small ones, there are numerous coloured fillers in jars and tubes you can search out. Push it into the tiny gaps and wipe the residue off the surface with a damp cloth.

Related Q: I need to repair large gaps, in seams in several spots, in the old hardwood floor of our upstairs bedroom. These are bad enough (about 1/2″) to allow any liquid to drip through and down to the ceiling of the 1st floor. I had planned to mix sawdust and Elmer’s glue, let it harden and sand it level. Any comment or suggestion would be appreciated.

A: I would likely try some version of your suggestion, except I would probably use Gorilla polyurethane adhesive or equivalent. You would have to stuff something into the large gap to hold this adhesive until it starts to set though, so it doesn’t just run through to the ceiling. Also, you would have to apply painters tape to the boards on each side of the gap because this adhesive expands as it cures and you don’t want it all over the surface of the floor.

When it has dried, cut the excess off with a knife, preferably to below the surface of the floor. Then use a colour match wood filler to just glaze over the top so it doesn’t look too obvious.

New wood floor splitting

Q: We moved into a new home. Our oak floors are only 1 year old. In their first year there have been dozens of splits in several areas of the main floor. What causes new wood floor splitting? We have an HRV that runs all the time and the humidity is 40%, constant.

A: I would say your humidity levels are near perfect as can be. However, you say this is a new home. To me this is a clue. I’ve worked in houses being built. It isn’t pretty! The structure is suppose to be dry and the floors acclimated before installation but often that is not the case. And so, everything is rushed and over months the sub floor and finished floor continue to shed moisture and shrink. Certain cuts of flooring are more prone to getting splits such as quartered and rift sawn. It may be the cracks were present in the boards at installation but were not noticed. As the floor dries and shrinks they appear! Ideal at installations is 7-9% moisture in hardwood and not more than 4% difference between it and the sub floor.

Follow-up Q: Thank you for taking the time to respond. That’s what my wife and I thought. It may be because the builder isn’t owning up and said it’s on us. We’re just trying to find as much info as possible. Is there any else that could cause this? Thanks again.

A: Well, wood and wood products will react to environmental conditions. I don’t see a thing wrong with the humidity levels you hold. I live in a fairly cold climate and in winter 40% would be the upper level I would recommend in a house without creating condensation issues. When I lived in —— I was asked to look at pre finished floors in a sub division in Welland. The floors were all cupped. Clearly the structure was not dry when the floors were installed. Terrion, the warranty company and the builder said this condition was acceptable within their standards! It’s a load of crap in my view but how can you fight it without it costing more than the floors and enough stress to bring on cardiac arrest? I suspect the system is set up that way. Kind of like getting a ticket and to fight it will cost more than the price of the ticket. When it comes to new construction, builders usually have different price packages. I would tell someone go for the cheapest and do upgrades with private, personally chosen contractors after you move in. That way you avoid the huge builder mark ups and get personalized service. I know that is too late in this case.

Related Q: Hi. We built a house last year and had wood flooring fitted on top of UFH. Within the last 6 months the solid floor has started to split. We currently have 70-75% of the floor showing cracks, some of the cracks are quite large. The UFH was all fitted correctly with no problems. Any ideas why this might be? I’m not having much luck with the company who fitted it. Thanks.

A: Possibly the flooring or the milled wood used to make the flooring was not properly dried. Are you also getting gaps between boards? I would definitely press the installation company to come back and have a look. I would also find out who the manufacturer of the floor is and contact them.

Follow-up Q: Hi, thanks for getting back to me. I have tried contacting the supplier, but they don’t deal directly with the public. I have got gaps but nothing substantial.

A: Wood will always react to it’s environment. I think your floor is drying and is thus presenting some cracks. Honest business practice would say somebody should come back and at least look at it and take some moisture readings and give advice. I will suggest you contact the National Wood Flooring Association as a last resort. They have a lot of expert advice and have trained people who may be in your area to come in and evaluate this problem.

Q: Our pre-finished floors began splitting shortly after installation. The floor boards are continuing to split with the grain of the wood. We were told the installer used too many nails.

What would be the proper fix for this issue? A complete re-install or just replace the splitting boards?

A: I would replace the splitting boards. I don’t think it is possible to use too many nails.

Have you checked the RH in your home? Perhaps it is too dry. And it could be the boards had hidden fissures directly from the mill that only opened up after they started to adjust to the climate in your home.

Poplar floors have cracked, gapped, and some planks slightly cupped

Q: Problem- Floors have cracked, gapped, and some planks slightly cupped.

Floor Description: 3/4″ Thick, 5″ wide new poplar floors, installed fall/2008.

Finish: A water-based polyurethane finish was applied to unfinished boards after installation.

There is a full size, unheated basement below the floors.

Humidity readings we started taking in late winter of 2009 have run consistently between 40 to 50 percent.

Our contractor has contacted the poplar flooring supplier who said he does not guarantee his lumber. I was not told this when I bought the planks.

Our contractor has said there is nothing he can do. He explained (which we already knew) what would have to be done to replace the floors: moving furniture, ripping out baseboards, damage to dry wall, etc. Needless to say we are talking about a huge expense. Additionally, he said he couldn’t replace the cracked/split planks, as they are tongue and groove. He also stated the cracking may happen again with any new planks. We are not willing to accept this non-solution as it has greatly decreased the value of our home, not to mention how it looks. Last year when I talked to him about the floors again, he said the cracks just make the floor look old.

I need to know what I should do to pursue this issue, as my contractor is not interested in seeking further information in helping solve our problem.

I was 3 hours away taking care of sick parents the majority of time the contractor was installing our floors, so I do not know how they installed the floors. I do think they placed paper on the subfloor. The contractor said they protected the planks prior to installation. I do know they cut the planks outside as they installed the floor and I know they did not take lumber back to the basement at the end of the day. I also do not know if they allowed time for planks to acclimate to the environment. I do not know if they checked the moisture level of the planks or the sub-flooring prior to installation. How should they have installed the floors? Adhesive? Should floors have been nailed or stapled?

The contractor has stated he thinks this would not have happened had I used an oil-based polyurethane finish. I question this, as the supplier I purchased my finish product from is reliable and has not had this problem occur.

Another interesting observation: The floors installed in the first two rooms have not cracked.

Bottom line, our contractor has basically walked away from the problem (both literally and figuratively). We have had a leak in our ceiling originating from the bathroom vent, and he has not returned to fix it since we revisited the floor problem.

Should we, the homeowners, be financially responsible for this problem? What steps should we take to investigate the problem? Call in a floor specialist to look at the floors?

We live in a very small community. Finding resource people is difficult, as we live 2 to 3 hours away from a major city. We do not want to get into litigation.


Many thanks for responding to this problem.

A: I’ve never worked with poplar flooring. It isn’t very common, at least not in Canada. I have read however that it is subject to checking and splitting during drying. These boards probably already had splits in them which went unnoticed during installation but opened up after finishing which is a common occurrence. Everything you have described to me is a moisture related issue. Gapping? Given the readings for RH in your basement this would tend to suggest the flooring may not have been acclimated to the room it was installed in. One of your comments suggest the flooring was stacked in this unheated basement. I would suggest perhaps running a dehumidifier year round in the basement to keep the RH between 40-45%. I doubt using a water borne coating had anything to do with any of this. While they are called water borne, there really is only a minute amount of water in modern coatings of this nature.

It doesn’t matter that the floors are tongue and groove regarding board replacement. Make 2 saw cuts down the center of the cracked planks and remove that center piece of plank between the cuts. Then remove the lengths on each side with hammer and chisel. Remove the bottom edge on the groove side of the new plank, apply glue and tap the new plank in place with the tongue being the leading edge. That isn’t all that difficult really.

You could see if you have an inspector from the National Wood Flooring Association who would be willing to come and give a report.

I understand not wanting to go to court. That drags it out, doesn’t fix the problem and just causes everyone a lot of pain.

Large slivers of wood have broken off leaving big gaps

Q: We purchased a foreclosed home and it had water damage on the hardwood floors. We have been here 5 years and within that time large wood slivers have broken off leaving big gaps. We were told that nothing could really be done because of the heat expanding it, that it will continue to get worse. Before we go ahead and tile I would like to try and save these floors. I love hardwoods, but can’t afford to put in all new flooring.

A: I suspect the edges are breaking because the floor has been sanded too many times and the stress of the water damage (which does swell the wood) was just too much for the floor. If there is a lot of flex between the oak and the sub floor that would put even more pressure on these thin edges when you walk over those areas. It depends how many areas have splintered as to weather it is worth trying to keep. I have used a polyurethane adhesive in such gaps. It does hold the 2 boards quite well, but expands as it cures. So you would be wise to tape the floor along and around the gap first. This adhesive is in bottles from Home Depot. It’s not the thick adhesive in cartridges. This is moisture cure polyurethane adhesive. Also, you will have to cut the excess away flush to the floor with a sharp knife when dry and spread some wood filler over top of it to try to colour it and fill the air pockets it has a tendency to leave.