Gapping, which refers to the separation between the edges of flooring pieces, is a common complaint from wood floor owners. These gaps are unattractive, attract dirt and, if the boards start to curl or cup, they can also pose a tripping hazard. If the floorboards have been installed on the joists directly, the gaps can also make a room feel drafty, which will cause your heater to work harder and drive up your energy bills.
Learn what causes gapping in wood floors and how to prevent wood floors from separating when it comes time to install your flooring.
Causes of Gaps in Hardwood Floors
First of all, keep in mind that not all gapping is considered a problem. Whether it’s an issue depends on the width of your planks, the type of wood used, the room’s size and the intensity and duration of the cold season, hence the intensity of heating required.
Generally speaking, gaps in a wood floor are normal for boards up to 2¼ inches wide if the gaps close during more humid times of the year. Normal gaps can vary in width, ranging from hairline gaps to the thickness of a quarter. You can expect larger gaps in regions with longer dry heating seasons and milder summers where air conditioning is not really needed.
Below are the most common causes of gapping:
1. Improper Spacing During Installation
Hardwood is a completely natural product, which means that it expands and contracts when it experiences large variations in temperature and moisture. Generally speaking, when temperatures and air moisture content are high, wooden boards will absorb the moisture and expand. Conversely, when the surrounding air becomes cooler and drier, the boards will contract.
When wood floorboards are installed, the changes in moisture and temperature that the boards will experience must be taken into account. If the boards are installed too close to each other during a drier, colder time of year, when they expand during a wetter, warm time of the year, they will not have room to expand and may bow or cup. They may expand even more if they absorb moisture from a subfloor without adequate damp proofing. Conversely, if boards are installed with a slight gap during a warmer, wetter time of year, that gap may become too wide when the boards begin to contract when the weather becomes colder and drier.
2. Failure to Acclimate Floorboards Before Installation
Boards can also separate and develop gaps if they’re not properly acclimated before installation. Acclimation is the process of preparing the wood for the new conditions where it will be installed. If done properly, the wood boards won’t expand or contract excessively from the ambient conditions after they have been fitted.
3. Improper Fitting
Once the boards have been acclimated, it’s also important to install them properly. If they aren’t installed to fit the neighboring boards snugly, they’ll most likely separate and gaps will eventually form. If you are unsure of how to install wood floorboards, don’t hesitate to contact a professional.
Three Tips for Preventing Gapping
To control wood floor gaps, there are several options:
1. Preparation of the Hardwoods
After cutting a hardwood plank to the proper dimensions, its surface will then be prepared, which will enhance its appearance and protect it from potential damage. Hardwood can be finished with dyes, colorants, glazes, stains, sealers, wood fillers, primers, toners and shade coats, all of which will produce different appearances and bring out the natural components of the hardwood.
The finish you put on the hardwood will also control how much moisture the wood absorbs and releases into the air in your home. Therefore, it is important to apply the finish with efficiency and skill.
2. Acclimating the Hardwood
You should also allow the temperature and humidity of the hardwood to match that of your home. If equilibrium is not achieved between the wood and the surrounding atmosphere, some problems may occur after the installation. If the hardwood has a higher moisture content than that of the subfloor, it might contract after installation and shrink, leaving gaps. If the hardwood is dryer than your home’s atmosphere, it may expand, leading to buckling and exerting pressure on the outside border of the flooring.
To acclimate your flooring, follow the steps below:
- Store the wood in the room where it will be installed.
- During storage and installation, set your HVAC to temperatures that are consistent with your normal routine.
- To speed up the acclimation process, stack the wood boards in a log cabin formation to allow for more airflow.
- Acclimate the wood for a minimum of seven to 10 days. However, keep in mind that the recommended duration of the acclimation may change depending on the time of year, the local weather conditions and your home’s tightness.
3. Regulating In-Home Humidity
The humidity levels in your house are the main factor that affects the contraction and expansion of the hardwood. Try to keep the humidity as consistent as possible to reduce the amount of expansion and contraction after the installation.
Below are some tips to create an appropriate environment for installing your hardwood floor and prolonging its lifespan:
- Reduce ventilation: When air from outside travels into your home via ventilation channels, the air heats up and loses its relative humidity as a result. In essence, the relative humidity goes down, which calls for your home to be weatherized by sealing cracks around windows and doors.
- Add moisture: It’s recommended that you keep your home between 35 and 55% humidity, which you can often achieve with the help of a humidifier. Residential humidifying systems can generally produce sufficient moisture to keep your home’s relative humidity within this range.
Keeping these pointers in mind will help your installation go more smoothly, lower the chance of your wood boards contracting or expanding after the installation and maximize your hardwood flooring’s lifespan.
Schedule an Appointment With 50 Floor
If you want durable, high-quality flooring that matches your needs, style and budget, it is critical to pick the right flooring company. At 50 Floor, we provide a better experience when picking out flooring. We offer a free in-home consultation so you can see exactly what the floors you’re considering will look like against your other decor. You also have access to valuable advice from a flooring professional, who can help you decide what flooring is best for your home. Book your free consultation today!