Con­sult in­de­pen­dent floor contractors

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - HOMES - ARI MARANTZ

QUES­TION: I’ve been do­ing some ren­o­va­tions on our cabin and I am now start­ing to re­search floor­ing. I’ve been get­ting con­flict­ing in­for­ma­tion on the best type of prod­uct to use. We’ve been look­ing at lam­i­nate floor­ing as hard­wood has been taken off the play list as we do not heat the res­i­dence in the win­ter but do get down a few times.

We’ve been in­formed that tak­ing the cabin from mi­nus-40 to plus-20 in a mat­ter of hours, with our oil fur­nace and propane fire­place, would ex­pand the wood floors to cause pos­si­ble check­ing or crack­ing.

The back­ing for the lam­i­nates is the main ques­tion. Some are ply­wood and some are al­most like an MDF backer. Each man­u­fac­turer rec­om­mends their own prod­uct as be­ing less af­fected by the freeze-thaw tem­per­a­tures. Any in­forma- tion on this topic would be greatly ap­pre­ci­ated.

— Ken English

AN­SWER: I un­der­stand and em­pathize with your frus­tra­tions over in­for­ma­tion pre­sented by dif­fer­ent floor­ing man­u­fac­tur­ers on the suit­abil­ity of their prod­ucts for use in var­i­ous sit­u­a­tions.

I’m con­stantly an­noyed by hard­wood-floor­ing contractors telling home­own­ers in newly built homes that they have to in­stall me­chan­i­cal hu­mid­i­fiers on their fur­naces and keep the rel­a­tive hu­mid­ity in their homes ab­nor­mally high, just to pre­vent their new floor­ing from shrink­ing. A lot of the in­for­ma­tion is too gen­eral to en­com­pass all cli­mates, es­pe­cially our prairie ur­ban ar­eas or your lake coun­try. I will try to help you wade through the weeds and choose the cor­rect prod­uct for your sit­u­a­tion.

One of the main things to re­mem­ber when plan­ning ren­o­va­tions is not to be­lieve ev­ery­thing you read. There are in­creas­ing amounts of mis­in­for­ma­tion out there, much of it from poorly in­formed re­tail­ers or bad web­sites.

The best so­lu­tion, no mat­ter what type of floor­ing you de­cide upon, is to get opin­ions from the true guys in the field. By that I mean in­de­pen­dent floor­ing contractors who have been in busi­ness for many years and have per­son­ally in­stalled var­i­ous types of floor­ing in sit­u­a­tions like yours.

Large sup­pli­ers and re­tail­ers may em­ploy clerks, es­ti­ma­tors or sales­peo­ple who have never held a mal­let or air nailer in their hands. They may not have the ex­pe­ri­ence to know how some­thing will per­form af­ter in­stal­la­tion, es­pe­cially in the long term.

Small, in­de­pen­dent contractors know when things don’t work, as they are the ones re­spon­si­ble for mak­ing the sit­u­a­tion right if floor­ing does fail. It of­ten comes di­rectly out of their pocket for re­pairs or re­place­ment if prob­lems oc­cur.

To get back to your ques­tion, some types of wood floor­ing may be ad­versely af­fected by tem­per­a­ture swings, but more likely from mois­ture in the hu­mid lake con­di­tions that ex­ist at your cabin. Sum­mer rel­a­tive-hu­mid­ity lev­els can hover near sat­u­ra­tion at lake ar­eas, which may cause prob­lems for many types of hard­woods with tight grains and closed pores. Some of these woods are maple or birch, and may also in­clude other very hard ma­te­ri­als used for floor­ing such as red or white oak. These ma­te­ri­als may be sub­ject to ab­sorp­tion of con­sid­er­able amounts of mois­ture in the warm sum­mer months, and quite slow re­lease as the weather cools.

If too much mois­ture is re­tained, it’s plau­si­ble that the wood could crack or shrink ex­ces­sively in the win­ter in tem­per­a­tures be­low the freez­ing mark.

Con­versely, dry hard­wood floor­ing of this type could ab­sorb too much mois­ture in the sum­mer and swell or buckle. This would de­pend on many vari­ables, in­clud­ing the amount of ven­ti­la­tion in your cabin and whether it’s in­su­lated or not.

De­spite the down­side of pos­si­ble shrink­age of hard­wood floor­ing, you may not have to com­pletely rule out the use of it in your cabin. Wood, in gen­eral, is an ex­cel­lent choice for sea­sonal homes due to the nat­u­ral re­siliency and adapt­abil­ity to our cli­mate and changes in tem­per­a­ture and hu­mid­ity.

There are thou­sands of older cot­tages on prairie lakes, con­structed ex­clu­sively from wood, that sur­vive decades with­out ma­jor dam­age. As long as the wood is prop­erly treated and pro­tected from ex­ces­sive rain and sun, it can last in­def­i­nitely. Granted, most of these cot­tages are con­structed from soft­wood species that are quite open-pored and ab­sorb and re­lease mois­ture well, but not all.

Many hard­woods are more open-pored than tra­di­tional oak or maple, and find­ing one that would be durable enough for floor­ing, but breath­able, may be an­other op­tion.

One good choice may be fir, which is still a soft­wood, but quite hard and durable com­pared to other sim­i­lar species. It may be dif­fi­cult to find a good source of true Dou­glas Fir floor­ing, but I still see cot­tages well over half a cen­tury old with fir floor­ing in rea­son­able con­di­tion.

Much of this may be due to nu­mer­ous coats of var­nish or shel­lac, and heavy wax ap­plied nu­mer­ous times to the sur­face, but of­ten it is the nat­u­ral prop­erty of the wood, it­self.

Other soft­woods, such as pine or spruce, may work well, but are quite soft and will be­come eas­ily pit­ted, scratched and beat up. Many peo­ple ac­tu­ally like the worn look of older pine, and it can be an eco­nom­i­cal choice if that is what you’re look­ing for.

To ad­dress your pri­mary con­cern, I would avoid prod­ucts like lam­i­nate floor­ing which have a very durable sur­face, but ques­tion­able core. Most lam­i­nates have a fi­bre­board core that will swell and be­come dam­aged with high mois­ture lev­els. This can cause the floor­ing to come apart and ren­der it use­less, even af­ter a few years.

Ply­wood core lam­i­nates may be suit­able, but are more costly and may not have the long-term dura­bil­ity of nat­u­ral wood.

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