Is 1/16″ a large gap?

Q imported from our old site, Face Lift Floors: My only question for you now, is do you think that 1/16″ is a large gap?

A: I wouldn’t consider 1/16″ gap to be large, especially when viewed from the moon. But I don’t think I would want to have one any larger than that between any given boards in my floor.

You like your tools, do you? Well, regarding measuring humidity, you can get a very simple and inexpensive one from Radio Shack. It is called a hygrometer. About $40. It will give you the temperature in the immediate area in which it is placed as well as the relative humidity. To actually measure the moisture content of any given item, you would need a moisture meter which come in pin or pinless types. I have a Wagner pinless, which cost me nearly $400.

The moisture content of the environment is interesting, and to me, a contradictory subject when it comes to hardwood flooring. Of course, there is merit, theoretically, in keeping to a certain level of humidity year round. However, and depending on which source you read, the ideal humidity level should be somewhere between 30-55% relative humidity. Most sources I have read say between 40-55%. I have found it is impossible to maintain such a level of humidity in our cold climate in winter. Water would be streaming down the windows, as did happen to me this past winter. Some woods and I suspect cherry is one of them, are more sensitive to humidity changes. I think we have to live with that fact and accept small changes that come with the season.

This past winter and last, I got the humidifier working on my furnace. I had noticed a few larger than normal gaps in my 70-year-old oak floors. It was soon after that I bought my hygrometer. The gaps did close up shortly after getting the humidifier working. However, I have noticed this past winter that when I kept the relative humidity at around 35% which seemed the normal range, all was fine. A couple of times it got up to 45%, which is the level recommended by hardwood flooring manufacturer sources, I had water streaming down all windows. Perhaps the keyword we need to be concerned about is “relative”. Relative to what? Well, if the wood is shown by a moisture meter to be dry within acceptable limits with a moisture meter, and when installed is acclimated to the environment, and is not beyond about 4-5% different from the subfloor at the time of installation, then we should be able to keep any shrinkage or expansion to acceptable limits. If, however, we had some flooring, and took it from one environment into our house, and did not give it several days to adjust to its new environment and just installed it right away, we could have a rude surprise.

As an example, years ago I was working with another company which prided itself on getting things done fast. We had a floor to install right on the edge of Scarborough Bluffs on Lake Ontario. We did not take the wood (oak) into the house for a few days first. We just went in, slammed the floor down, sanded, stained and finished it. Within 3 weeks we had a call back because the floor had cupped from expansion pressure. Moisture off the lake! We had to resand the job. I think the really important factor was: Has the wood product adjusted to the environment we live in before it was installed?

For your next tool, I would suggest a hygrometer. Not expensive, but a good tool to have around the house.

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How about 1/4″ gaps?

Q imported from our old site, Face Lift Floors: I understand from your website that you recommend filler for repairing gaps. Last year, we had our general contractor replace a portion of the hardwood flooring in our entry hallway. Wasn’t great. In one area, in particular, there is a gap approximately 1/4 of an inch wide. Should our exchanges with him prove fruitless, would you be able to fill the gaps for us?

The area with gaps is approximately 3×5″. We have 4 large gaps ranging in size from 1/8 of an inch to 1/4 of an inch. Lengthways they extend maybe a foot or so.

A: 1/4″ gaps are not acceptable, of course. Other than taking up the repaired area and doing it over, some type of filler would have to be used, though, for such a large gap, it’s not the best solution. This is something you can do. Woodchuck Flooring at 161 Nugget Ave. in Scarborough (Toronto, Ontario, Canada) carries a filler line in tubes called Color rite. You should take a trip there and pick a color you think will be the closest match to your floors. This product is more like caulking. Very nice product to fix up little holes and such in wood. About $16.00 per tube. Their phone # is 416-299-5151.

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1/2″ Large gap

QQ imported from our old site, Face Lift Floors: We recently purchased a colonial-style home built in 1979. The kitchen floor is random-width maple planking. It must have been laid wet because there are many gaps, some up to ½”. I’ve thought about tearing up the floor, but it’s screwed down at the ends. Plus, that would be a lot of work. Is there something I can use to fill the gaps? Some wood filler or perhaps wood strips?

A: 1/2″ gaps? That is really sad, isn’t it? I know maple is kind of cranky when it comes to humidity changes, and I know that the wider the plank the greater the potential for gaps. Sheesh! This gap is huge!

My opinion is that if you have gaps that big, you may be better to slice some maple (or get some maple splines) and glue them in the gaps, then have the floor sanded and finished. There are maple fillers that are lighter in color to match this wood. But given the gapping you have, you will still need to have some refinish done. Also, while these latex fillers stick pretty good, if there is any movement from one plank to the next, it will crack, especially in large gaps. I think your best bet is to do the wood insert and sand approach.

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