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Hardwood Floors


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By Ric in North Bend, WA on 9/2/2009


Hi all,

Well, having progressed through the other crises that come along with building a house, I'm onto the hardwood floors.

We had a lot of moisture in the subfloors, so we brought in a couple of dehumidifiers and let 'em run for a couple of weeks. My installer came out and checked the floors (with a very cheap-looking tester), and couldn't get a reading (his meter started at 8%). He did see 8% and 10% in a couple of areas, but he deemed that acceptable. That was about one week ago. Based on that we ordered the wood.

I now have about 1,600 sq ft of hardwood sitting in three large stacks in the house. When they delivered the last bundle yesterday, the delivery guy checked the floors, and they're rebounding. He was getting readings running 10-13%. Still not a show stopper, but it's enough to worry me. Especially since the wood is already in the house.

One of the things that concerns me about this particular installer, is that he's young, and has "only" been doing hardwood for less than 8 years. That's not a LOT of experience to fall back on.

I've sent him the recent info on the floors, and requested some advice on what to do.

But, my big question is: Should we bring the dehumidifiers back in? Would that be safe with the wood in the house? The wood is Sucupira. It's quite hard, and excessive, and sudden changes in humidity could be an issue for it.

If he says he'll install anyway, should I use my backup installer instead? (Yeah, I have a backup if I decide to sack the young guy.)

I'm just trolling for some opinions on this. I'm uncomfortable with the high moisture in the floors, and a bit concerned that the installer didn't consider the near certainty that the floors would rebound after being dried.

Thanks for any and all advice.

-Ric


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By Jeff in Hartland, WI on 9/2/2009


Hi Ric,

Have you taken any readings on the flooring? If it's kiln dried (as it should be), it's probably at about 6% -- unless it's been sitting in some unconditioned warehouse somewhere. Be sure that the guy understands how to read the meter, and adjust the reading for extremely dense hardwoods. The important thing is that you shouldn't see a major difference in moisture content of the subfloor versus the flooring.

If the flooring is bone dry, at 13%, you're taking a chance -- the moisture content of the subfloor will be about double that of the flooring.  The flooring will probably absorb most of that moisture, and swell within a few days/weeks. Once it dries, you'll get gaps. If you trust the moisture meter (and its operator) I'd bring the dehumidifiers back in and wait a few more days. 

Here's a couple other things you could try:

1. Go and get your own meter if you have a local woodworking shop in your area.

2. Have your flooring guy take a reading on a few of the studs, stair carriages, etc.  If they also have a 10-13% rating, I'd guess that you're okay now, and I'd suspect that the meter is a bit whacky.  For us, the main reason we had extreme moisture content in the subfloor was because of some rain that fell late in the fall season before the roof was on -- and the subfloor had no time to dry out before it froze.  The studs were dry (~8%). Once we turned the furnace on and the subfloor reached the same moisture level, I figured it was fine to bring the wood in.

Jeff

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By Ric in North Bend, WA on 9/3/2009


Hi Jeff,

Thanks!
The installer only has a very cheap-looking meter. It's just a row of LEDs that light in sequence to represent higher/lower moisture. There is no adjustment to it. I'm considering buying one of my own. I don't trust his.

I did a check with a better meter, and am getting pretty consistent readings in the 10-12% range for the subfloors, and 8-10% on the studs, stairs, etc. We got soaked, froze, and snowed on before the root went on, and at times we had an inch or more of standing water on the floors (and a foot of snow for a short time, etc.). But that was early in the year. It has dried now, with only a little residual moisture in the subfloors.

I don't believe the wood itself has been tested yet, but that's on the list. With hard, dense wood, we don't want any major variations between the wood and the subfloors. As you say, the flooring will absorb the moisture, and then re-dry. If we were lucky, it would only crack and gap. Worst case would be that it would absorb enough to buckle the flooring (I've seen that happen).

What concerns me is, if I bring the dehumidifiers back in it would further dry the wood itself, leaving about the same offset between the wood and the subfloors.

I'm probably worrying a lot for nothing, but I'd sure hate to see this floor buckle, and then separate and crack. By the time we install, the wood will have been in the house for just over two and a half weeks. It should acclimatize pretty well by then (we hope). I was just very concerned that the installer didn't seem to understand that a severely wet floor will rebound some after removing the dehumidifiers. For that matter, any floor should. It will find its balance with the local climate. The wood should do the same, just a little slower because of the density.

Installation day is 9/14. I'll continue keeping a close eye on it between now and then.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 9/3/2009


Are you putting any barrier between the hardwood floor and the subfloor? My cabinetmaker suggested using roofing felt butt joints, for just such a purpose. While this is not a substitute for drying moisture out of the subfloor, it does seem that this could prevent moisture transfer between adjacent materials. I used 15-lb roofing felt myself, didn't really see a need to use heavier for this application, but then my subfloors were also dried out and my flooring was acclimated for a period of several weeks.


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By Ric in North Bend, WA on 9/3/2009


Yep, I had already planned to use roofing paper as an underlayment. Only difference will be overlapping the paper, or taping the joints to prevent moisture from coming up between them. The wood will also have been in the house acclimating for two and a half weeks by the time we install, so that will help.

Lastly, as a safeguard, we're going to put the wood down, and let it sit for a week before sanding and applying the finish. Then if it wants to adjust itself, it can do so without disrupting the finish. We'll sand and finish after it settles. It should be okay (I hope). The installer is starting to redeem himself.


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By Jeff in Hartland, WI on 9/3/2009


Ric,

I wouldn't worry about the floorboards drying any more than they already are.  If they're kiln-dried, they've been baked in a great big oven for a month or more.  They take them down to 6% moisture content in the kiln, so the boards aren't going to get any drier than that in any climate wetter than Death Valley. If anything, their moisture content will increase. The important thing is to get things into equilibrium, and get the moisture content of the subfloor as close as you can to that of the flooring.  If you're waiting another couple weeks, that should be plenty of time. You shouldn't even have to worry about bringing the dehumidifiers in. 

Waiting on the finish is fine, but it's pretty flexible, so it will move with the wood. But don't be surprised if you hear a bunch of popping after the first coat or two of finish. It sounded like a popcorn popper in here for a day or two.  The wood picked up moisture from the finish, expanded, and then contracted as it dried. When the wood contracted, the finish cracked between the boards. I couldn't see the cracks, but I could sure hear the cracking.

Jeff

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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 9/4/2009


I don't know how thick your hardwood is, but I found that with overlapping joints of felt, my hardwood would telegraph the locations of the joints, as suddenly my subfloor wasn't perfectly smooth and uniform. Hence why I used butt joints. My felt joints ran parallel to my hardwood flooring though, perhaps if they were perpendicular my results would have been different? My floor was prefinished; site-sanded and finished might also knock this down as well.
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By Jeff in Hartland, WI on 9/4/2009


Hi Kenneth,

I agree that this would be a problem with a prefinished floor, but since Ric's floor will be finished on site, it won't be a problem.  The sanding process will level everything so this shouldn't be a problem.

Jeff

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By Ric in North Bend, WA on 9/4/2009


Taping the joints would seal them without adding a lot of thickness. I've already discussed that with my installer. Alternately, you can overlap, but he said he usually runs the paper perpendicular to the wood, rather than parallel.

My biggest concern was the moisture level, and whether I wanted to put dehumidifiers in again. After doing some more testing on the floors and watching them, they're not going up any more, and in fact are settling back down some. It was just a natural rebound from having the dehumidifiers in before. They over-dried the top layer of the subfloor, but there was still moisture deeper in the wood. that moisture had to equalize. That process is leveling out now.

What worried me about that was how much moisture the hardwood would have picked up from the subfloor. That would have caused swelling of the hardwood and shrinkage as the moisture exited. That would have resulted in cracking and separating. But with the subfloor stabilizing, I think I'm good and we're going to proceed on schedule to lay the floor.

Thanks all!


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 9/5/2009


Thank you for the explanation Jeff. Sometimes there are other variables in play, which is why it's nice to have knowledgeable people posting and helping on this forum.
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