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.