Wood Floors in Winter
Natural materials such as wood tend to react quite markedly to external factors such as temperature and humidity. So although your wooden floors have usually undergone the appropriate treatment and drying process before finding their way in to your home, it would be fair to say some reaction to a change of temperature is unavoidable.
But it is possible to minimise these changes considerably, thus preventing the wood expanding, contracting, moving and splitting. This is best done by keeping the installation temperature as consistent as possible. By doing this the floor will respond well and offer maximum performance and durability for many years to come.
Wood absorbs water, which causes it to swell. This expansion reacts unfavourably in flooring as the planks then become too large for their space, causing irritating groans and squeaks. Consequently where there is growth there must also be reduction and during the summer when the temperature becomes warmer the wood loses its moisture and shrinks, which often causes gaps and further movement between the boards.
By maintaining a constant ambient temperature within the room you are lengthening the life of your floor and the time between refinishings. In a nutshell, to get the most out of your floor avoid temperature extremities. Recommended humidity levels fall between 45-60% in the UK.
Because the air loses moisture in a typical winter with the air becoming drier, central heating systems exacerbate the problem by adding to the dryness in the air, making it more likely that your wood flooring will react.
It should be noted that serious warping can occur if a floor is left untreated for a long period of time, and this type of refurbishment will almost certainly be costly and may even involve removing the floor completely and starting again. So it is far better to deal with flaws caused by winter temperatures as they occur, rather than leaving them for too long.
The key to not losing moisture is to keep the room temperature constant. This means monitoring room temperatures and whilst this can be carried out by a meter reading, you can also accurately gauge your room temperature yourself. A good idea is to have a thermostat in the room. If you already use a humidifier this should be a good enough indication in itself.
If you have underfloor heating the problem of air temperature control becomes more difficult and it would probably be a wise decision to take professional floor sanding advice as to best practice.
Pay particular care during the winters when the exterior temperature dips to below zero. When this happens the interior humidity level will be reduced, sometimes by as much as one-fifth, which can cause serious damage to hard and softwood flooring.
In the most general terms, the ideal humidity level indoors should be around 45-50%, as at this level wood flooring will remain in optimum condition. It is also true that the ideal humidity level for the human body is the same as for floors, 45-50% making this a good indicator that if you feel comfortable then your floor feels comfortable too!
As well as keeping a consistent temperature, remember that your floor may need additional TLC in winter in the form of sweeping, vacuuming, dry dusting and a moist mopping every 3-4 weeks. Avoid all abrasive cleaners and soaps on the floor. Wood flooring is not difficult to clean and you can make it even easier by wiping up spillages immediately, removing small scratches and marks caused by children’s toys and pets.
A well maintained floor should require wiping with an almost-dry soft mop no more than twice a month. Never allow large amounts of water to puddle and settle into the floor and remove scuffs and scrapes as they happen. Your floor will reward you with many long years of beauty and service.