Here’s Why It’s So Important to Acclimate Hardwood Flooring

Here’s Why It’s So Important to Acclimate Hardwood Flooring

Hardwood flooring is the most superior choice for any residential or commercial space, offering durability, quality, and elegance. Compared to engineered wood flooring or vinyl, hardwood is a lot more flexible and durable, and can withstand the test of time. So, why is it then that we hear so many people complaining about their hardwood floors warping, bulging, or showing early signs of damage?

There are many reasons why hardwood flooring can show damage in the first years, or even months, after initial installation. Issues are all the more common when people decide to install new hardwood flooring themselves, following instructions or tutorials they find online. Improper storage or installation, choosing the wrong type of wood for the space, aggressive buffing or improper finishing – there are many things that can go wrong when DIY-ing such a task. 

A common reason why hardwood flooring can become damaged is failing to properly acclimatize the hardwood planks before installing them. Hardwood needs a bit of time to adjust to a new environment, just as humans do whenever we walk out of an air-conditioned building during a heatwave. Our bodies take some time to adapt to the climate, and hardwood is just the same. Failing to allow hardwood floors to acclimate before installing them can lead to a lot of problems, problems that can be avoided very easily – it just takes a bit of patience. 

What happens if you don’t acclimate your hardwood floors?

Failing to properly acclimate new hardwood floors before starting the installation process can prove to have significant downsides down the line. Hardwood is an extremely durable choice when it comes to flooring, but without proper acclimation, it can show signs of damage and wear much earlier than it’s supposed to. These are some of the effects that improper acclimation can have on wooden flooring:

  • Cupping: the center of the hardwood floor sinks to a lower level than its edges, leading to a ‘cupping’ effect;
  • Warping: the hardwood planks expand and become warped due to high humidity or moisture accumulated between the floor and the subfloor;
  • Crowning: the opposite of cupping, where the center of the hardwood swells, giving a dome-like effect to the flooring;
  • Buckling: in extreme cases, where the planks expand significantly, the hardwood floor can even pull away and detach from the subfloor. 

How do you acclimate wood flooring?

As a professional in this industry, you already know how important acclimating wood floors really is, and why it’s crucial to follow the proper steps to ensure that the installation will go smoothly and the floors will last for many years. However, sometimes clients are in a rush to see their floors installed, but their excitement shouldn’t get in the way. It’s important to explain to them all the details and the steps required to properly acclimate the wood, and convince them that waiting and getting it all done right will benefit them in the long run. 

The acclimating process is more than anything, a waiting game. It basically means giving the hardwood planks the necessary time to adjust and adapt to the new environment, aka the climate, the moisture, the temperature. Sometimes, a shipment of hardwood planks can travel from a warehouse in Michigan to a client in Florida. The wood planks will need time to adjust to the drastic change in climate, because hardwood is hygroscopic – this means it will either contract or expand, depending on the moisture levels and humidity in the air. 

Acclimating hardwood floors is quite a straightforward process. It basically means taking the planks out of the packaging and cross-stacking them, using small pieces of wood between the planks. This will allow the hardwood planks to breathe and adjust to the humidity level and climate conditions. It’s crucial to store the planks in the same space where they will be installed, and that space needs to be properly prepared in advance, as well. 

Hardwood floors perform their best when installed in a space with a 30% to 50% humidity and a temperature between 60 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. The building or the space should be completely enclosed, with all the doors and windows installed into place. If the space is a new construction, it’s crucial to make sure that all concrete, drywall, plastering, and other elements are completely dry before installing the wood flooring. Heating and air conditioning should be functional and running for at least five days prior to installation, to ensure that the climate conditions are constant. 

How long does a wood floor need to acclimate? 

Usually, it’s recommended to allow the wood planks to acclimate for at least three days, but in some cases, the process can take up to two weeks, depending on the wood species, the climate conditions, and the origin of the shipment. Exotic wood species tend to require more time to acclimate, as they have a high oil and resin content, and they’re denser than domestic species. 

Even engineered wood flooring requires acclimation. While engineered wood planks don’t contract or expand to the same extent as hardwood planks, they are still susceptible to climate conditions. When the environment is very dry, engineered wood planks can contract significantly, so it’s important to take the acclimation process very seriously. Additionally, the moisture levels of both the floor and subfloor should be checked at regular intervals. 

A professional will be able to offer an estimate as to how long the acclimation process will take for a specific project, depending on all the factors we’ve already mentioned throughout this article. If you need more information on the acclimation process for different species of wood, feel free to contact First Atlanta Flooring and speak to a flooring specialist.