Mois­ture causes on­go­ing buck­ling of floor boards

Hu­mid­ity, leaks can be cul­prits, but floor may also have been in­stalled in­cor­rectly

Ottawa Citizen - - HOMELIFE - JEANNE HUBER For The Wash­ing­ton Post

A how-to guru ad­vises a reader on who or what may be at fault if a home’s floor boards are buck­ling again.

Q In June 2017, part of the floor­ing that had been laid two years ear­lier in my house had to be re­moved and re­in­stalled be­cause of flood­ing from a bro­ken wash­ing ma­chine. In Oc­to­ber, I had to call the ven­dor be­cause some of the boards had buck­led. A worker re­paired the prob­lem by loos­en­ing some of the boards.

Last month, the prob­lem reap­peared in worse form. The ven­dor told me that if the hu­mid­ity in my home is higher than 55 per cent, I would have to pay for new floor­ing and labour. He brought a hu­mid­ity me­ter, and in the wet weather the read­ing was above 70 per cent. Most of the floor­ing looks fine ex­cept where there is buck­ling, which ap­pears to be caused by the boards be­ing laid too tightly. Am I jus­ti­fied in con­clud­ing that the floor-lay­ing in June was faulty and that the com­pany should fix the job?

A Call a dif­fer­ent wood-floor­ing con­trac­tor and ask for an in­spec­tion and an es­ti­mate of how much it would cost to fix the prob­lem. Once you learn the likely cause(s), you can de­cide whether to go back to the ini­tial in­staller to de­mand a fix if the prob­lem is in­deed how the floor­ing was in­stalled. Or if the prob­lem is some­thing else — such as a new leak — you’d know that you need to pay to have the floors fixed. Then it would be only fair to hire the com­pany that did the in­spec­tion.

Rusty Swin­doll, tech­ni­cal ser­vices man­ager for the Na­tional Wood Floor­ing As­so­ci­a­tion (nwfa.org), looked at the pic­tures and said his best guess is that there is a fresh leak of some sort from the wash­ing ma­chine, the nearby hot-wa­ter heater, or where wa­ter is piped to or from th­ese ap­pli­ances.

Hu­mid air can in­deed cause prob­lems with wood floor­ing, Swin­doll said, but if that were the only is­sue, you’d see what the floor­ing in­dus­try calls cup­ping. Edges of the boards rise and the cen­tres sink, giv­ing the floors a striped tex­ture.

The boards on your floors look flat, ex­cept where they have bulged. So, be­sides a leak, there might be a few other is­sues. The boards might not have been fas­tened se­curely, or the in­staller might have failed to pro­vide the re­quired ex­pan­sion gap where the floor­ing meets the walls. Boards should be in­stalled to sit tightly to­gether, but there needs to be a gap at the edges so that the wood can swell a bit in hu­mid weather. The re­quired gap de­pends on whether the floor­ing is solid wood or “en­gi­neered floor­ing,” which is made up of lay­ers of wood or com­pos­ite ma­te­rial. The pic­tures you sent show you have an en­gi­neered prod­uct, which means the gap width should equal the thick­ness of the boards, Swin­doll said. So, if your floor­ing is fiveeighths-inch thick, the floor­ing would need to stop that dis­tance from the walls.

In­stall­ers use base­boards or a piece of mould­ing at­tached to the lower edge of the base­boards to cover the gap. But if the mould­ing is nailed to the floors, the nails de­feat the pur­pose of the gap, which could also be the prob­lem.

Al­though en­gi­neered floor­ing can be dis­torted per­ma­nently if soaked, it is more for­giv­ing of swings in hu­mid­ity than solid-wood floor­ing, Swin­doll said. Man­u­fac­tur­ers gen­er­ally spec­ify that a house with en­gi­neered wood floors needs to be kept at 60 to 80 F (about 15 to 27 C) with rel­a­tive hu­mid­ity be­tween 35 and 55 per cent.

To the ex­tent that high hu­mid­ity in wet weather is a fac­tor, you (not a floor­ing in­staller) would be re­spon­si­ble for ad­dress­ing that through the use of a de­hu­mid­i­fier and a hu­mid­i­fier, de­pend­ing on the sea­son. But no one should as­sume that high hu­mid­ity is the only cul­prit un­til all of the pos­si­bil­i­ties are checked out.

To find a trained con­trac­tor, you can use the “find a pro­fes­sional” ser­vice on the floor­ing as­so­ci­a­tion’s con­sumer-fac­ing web­site, Wood­floors.org.

If seek­ing help from a dif­fer­ent con­trac­tor still leaves you feel­ing as if you are be­ing taken ad­van­tage of and you want to pur­sue le­gal ac­tion, hire a floor­ing in­spec­tor who can tes­tify on your be­half. The floor­ing as­so­ci­a­tion also has a “find an in­spec­tor” fea­ture. But you will need to pay the in­spec­tor for the di­ag­no­sis; floor­ing con­trac­tors gen­er­ally bun­dle their cost for do­ing the in­spec­tion into the cost of fix­ing the prob­lem.

Wooden floor­ing — hard­wood or en­gi­neered — needs to be in­stalled with a gap at the walls to al­low for ex­pan­sion due to hu­mid­ity.

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