How to Keep Hardwood Floors From Shrinking


Unlike other building materials, the fibers in hardwood flooring expand and contract when they gain or lose moisture. When your floor loses moisture and shrinks, this can gradually cause gaps to appear between your floorboards. Many homeowners experience this problem in the winter because of the drier air. To keep hardwood floors from shrinking, install the floorboards in ideal environmental conditions and maintain them in the appropriate temperature and relative humidity ranges.

Things You'll Need

  • Moisture meter
  • 1-inch sticks
  • Insulation
  • Wood finishing product
  • Humidifier
  • Measure the moisture content of the wood flooring planks and the subfloor before installation. Use a moisture meter. The two numbers should be within 4 percent of each other if the floorboards are less than 3 inches wide. If the floorboards are wider, the difference should be no more than 2 percent.

  • Acclimate the floorboards if their moisture content and that of the subfloor differ widely. Close all windows and doors. Open the packaging and stack the floorboards with one or two 1-inch sticks between each board to allow air circulation. Operate the heating or cooling system as normal for that building, ideally between a range of 60 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

  • Install the hardwood floor in ideal environmental conditions. Wait for the indoor temperature to range between 60 to 80 F and the relative humidity to be 30 percent to 50 percent. If the relative humidity is higher than 50 percent, it will gradually lose moisture content after installation. This causes floor shrinkage and results in gaps between the floorboards.

  • Insulate the ceiling of the basement if the hardwood flooring is directly above a furnace or similar appliance. The heat given off directly below the flooring can gradually cause shrinkage.

  • Apply a wood finishing product soon after installation. While this doesn't stop shrinkage entirely, it can help slow it down.

  • Keep the temperature range between 60 to 80 F and the relative humidity level from 30 percent to 50 percent to maintain the hardwood floor after installation. Use a humidifier, if necessary, especially in the winter when the air becomes drier.

Tips & Warnings

  • If other construction activities are taking place during the hardwood installation, ensure that these activities will not influence the humidity levels. For instance, the drywall, plaster, paint and framing lumber should be thoroughly dry before installing the floor.

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