Why Does Flooring Need To Acclimate – Before an engineered floor can be installed, it must be at or close to equilibrium moisture content (EMC), as defined by the manufacturer’s requirements, to avoid moisture-related defects such as cupping, crowning or distortion. This article will answer questions and provide some key tips for customizing engineered flooring.
The short answer: absolutely. Many manufacturers suggest that engineered wood floors should be conditioned in the home for a period of time prior to installation. Most engineered hardwood floors are packaged and sealed in a plastic-wrapped box and pre-conditioned to a specific humidity range as defined on that package.
Why Does Flooring Need To Acclimate
Although engineered wood floors are designed to withstand changes in temperature and humidity better than solid wood floors, the location where these floors are installed must still meet the requirements of the flooring products themselves. This will ensure that the floor will perform as it was intended to perform in that given environment. Adaptation is simply matching the workplace to the requirements of the floor being placed in it.
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Since many factors can affect the job site, and ultimately the wood’s MC, it is important to accurately measure the MC before, during, and after installation. This brings us to our next point.
Photo courtesy of NWFA | Engineered wood floors are beautiful and more resistant to temperature changes, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take the time to customize it.
Imagine this scenario: you receive a shipment of wood and without checking it, you let it sit at the installation site for 48 hours, according to the manufacturer’s instructions. You install the floors, and a few weeks later, your customer complains about warping of the hardwood floors. What went wrong?
Well, if the wood planks had a high MC when you received them—perhaps due to temperature changes, improper storage, or shipping complications—letting them sit on the job for 48 hours didn’t help much. Depending on how wet the boards are, it can take weeks or months without any further drying interventions for the floor to find EMC.
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How do you solve this problem? The key is to accurately measure the MC of the boards before you even unload the shipment.
Properly testing MC in an engineered wood floor can be challenging. Most importantly, know your meter and know your meter representative. They can help you use the appropriate setting for the engineered floor being tested. To help them help you, you must be able to identify the product itself, the type of wear layer and the base material.
When the shipment of flooring arrives, use a moisture meter to measure the MC of several boards. Then ask yourself, “Does the MC of these boards match the EMC as defined on the material packaging?” And does this match the conditions at the final installation site?”
If the answer is yes, you need to be in good shape to unload the shipment and place it on site. If the answer is no and the MC is a few percentage points away from the EMC, you are probably better off returning the shipment. If, at this point, you decide to unload the shipment and prepare it to fit the job, you will need to consider any distortion within the boards that was caused by this high MC, and know that the manufacturer’s warranty more will not be valid.
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Another critical step in ensuring a proper floor fit involves measuring the moisture in the floor. If your floor – whether it’s wood or concrete – is still wet, then it doesn’t matter how customized your wood floor is. You will probably still have moisture related floor failure.
Be sure to conduct the proper moisture test for the floor you’re installing, whether it’s wood or concrete. This will ensure that the subfloor and wood flooring are compatible with moisture.
Photos courtesy of Wagner Meters | Reduce acclimatization time and make informed decisions by using your moisture meter.
If the installation site is enclosed, you can bring the wood in without worrying about it being exposed to the elements.
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Make sure grading is complete and drainage runs away from the building. Proper drainage will prevent water from collecting everywhere and affecting the moisture condition of the floor. If the moisture condition of the floor is affected, it will eventually cause moisture problems for the wood floor.
Wet structural elements, including paint, release moisture as they dry. When they do, the wood can absorb that moisture and increase the MC.
When the AC and heating systems are working, you can be sure that the temperature and humidity of the installation site are stable, which is crucial for proper wood installation. Operating these systems at least five days prior to the arrival of the wood shipment will best prepare the site for installation.
At the end of the day, you won’t know for sure when your floor is adjusted and ready for installation without a reliable moisture meter. Don’t put your reputation – and your client’s floors – at risk. Reduce acclimatization time and make informed decisions by using your moisture meter.
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Jason Wright is a New Product Business Development Specialist for Wagner Meters. He brings over 30 years of experience in the flooring industry with a particular specialization in wood flooring products and installation. Starting in 1986 with a small distributor in Medford, Oregon, Wright rose through positions in regional sales, product development, business development and marketing programs at various flooring companies. Contact him by email at [email protected]. For more information on moisture-related issues in engineered wood floors or to learn about Wagner Meters, visit wagnermeters.com.
Editor’s Note: To ensure the desired floor performance, please refer to your specific manufacturers recommendations for relative humidity and temperature requirements. Not all wood products are designed to operate outside their intended moisture content range. One of the more essential steps to a successful engineered hardwood floor installation actually happens at least three days beforehand. It’s called “conditioning,” and it’s a process that synchronizes the moisture in engineered wood floors with the humidity level of the environment it will enter at the time of installation.
Hardwood comes from a living organism, which means it reacts to the moisture around it, even while it’s still in boxes. When a hardwood floor arrives at your door, it has either expanded or contracted based on the humidity levels it was previously subjected to. The purpose of acclimatization is to achieve a balance between the natural moisture content of the wood and the content of its environment. If not adjusted, hardwood floors have a very high risk of swelling or shrinking after installation, resulting in splitting or cupping.
The gap occurs when the moisture level of the wooden floor is higher than the environment. The boards will eventually shrink after installation as they adjust to the lower humidity, resulting in a separation (or gap) between the edges of the boards. Warps occur when the wood floor’s moisture level is lower than the surrounding area, causing the planks in the center to swell from the extra moisture and crush together to give a bulging appearance. Both of these phenomena are not only unsightly, they can also result in a “squeaky” floor when walked on.
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Acclimating the wood prior to installation allows the wood to adjust to the moisture level in the environment so that when it is installed, it will be the correct size. This is, of course, dependent on maintaining ambient humidity levels in the recommended range of 35-55% with a temperature in the range of 60-80 degrees Celsius.
When acclimatizing wooden floors, it is also important to check the moisture content of the floor if it is wood. NWFA installation guidelines require that the average moisture content of the wood subfloor should not be more than 4 percent of the average for strip flooring or 2 percent for plank flooring, at the time of installation. Most professional installers will check this, but if the installation is a do-it-yourself project you will need a hand-held resistance-type meter (knob meter) or capacitance-type meter (pinless meter).
The easiest and most common way to adjust is to place the cardboard in the room you will be installing it in at least three days in advance (longer is always better). If you have the room, move the cardboard away. If not, the cartons can be stacked (but staggered) to allow as much air as possible to circulate. If necessary, you can speed up the process by removing the boards from their cartons and placing them on floor scraps or thick strips of cardboard, leaving a 1/2″-plus gap between the boards while they acclimate. That’s it. simply.
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, and the same goes for luxury vinyl flooring. Acclimatization is a
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