Water and Hardwood Flooring

Where does wood come from? Trees of course. What do trees need to grow? Sunlight, water and soil. If any of these elements is absent, the tree will not survive. If water is so critical to the survival of a tree, why should it be avoided with hardwood flooring?

Well, let’s think about the cycles an oak tree goes through. Every year, new growth pops out in the spring; it continues to grow throughout the summer; its leaves change color and fall in autumn (due to declining sunlight), and then it becomes dormant during the winter.

In each of these stages, the needs of the tree are a little bit different. When it is growing, it needs more nutrients than when it is dormant. Like any living thing, its needs change gradually over time.

One reason we like to use wood in our homes is because it creates a feeling of natural warmth. Although the material is no longer living, it does continue to respond to changes in temperature and humidity. When wood swells, our doors become harder to open and close and the spaces between planks of flooring are reduced. When wood contracts, the spaces between the planks become more pronounced. The degree to which the wood swells or contracts depends on the local climate and the type of wood.

How does this relate to the rooms in our home? We want to avoid using wood flooring in rooms where significant changes in temperature and humidity occur. Although we are constantly using water in the kitchen – increasing the chance that the floor will become wet – it is not risky to install a wood floor in the kitchen. If there is a spill in the kitchen it will likely be cleaned up quickly. We are most attentive to the use of water in the kitchen then we are in other rooms where plumbing is present.

If we do not usually spill water in the laundry room, why is it strongly discouraged to use wood flooring there? The laundry room is a small enclosed space and the level of humidity fluctuates with each load. For example, the average family may clean 5 loads of laundry in a week. At least one of those loads will be washed in hot water and probably several will be washed in warm water. The steam from the hot water will greatly increase the humidity in the room and the effects of the warm water will be amplified because it is an enclosed space.

Bathrooms are the most common rooms that wood floor enthusiasts may risk using wood flooring, even if they understand the risks. If the bathroom is a half-bath, meaning it does not have a shower or tub, a wood floor would not be at risk. If however, there is a tub or shower, wood flooring should be avoided. The reason is that it is possible that the tub could overflow onto the floor at some point and the steam from the shower or tub would greatly impact the humidity in this small enclosed space. Taking household size into account when planning your space is an important step to determining what kind of flooring is best.

What happens if wood flooring becomes completely saturated? It depends on how much water is spilled and how long it is left untreated. The local climate and type of wood are also factors, but to a lesser extent.  The worst case would be that the wood would bow, split and crack because of the sudden change in humidity. It also may cause a stain without harming the integrity of the wood. If it were to split, that portion of the flooring would need to be replaced. Depending on how recently it was installed, it may be difficult or impossible to match. If it were stained, it may require refinishing or replacing the entire floor.

With the investment of time and effort that goes into installing hardwood flooring, it makes sense to avoid using it in rooms that are small enclosed spaces where the temperature and humidity changes rapidly and often. For more inside information about hardwood flooring, contact our customer service staff at MacDonald Hardwoods at 303.625.9780.