Claims file: Get ready for dry air

Home Columns Claims file: Get ready for dry air

by Lew Migliore

With winter already upon many regions in the country, the ambient air inside homes and commercial buildings is being heated. Heated air, unless humidified, is very dry and dry air will change flooring material significantly. Wood flooring is especially susceptible to dry air, as it will lose moisture and contract. Carpet could also shrink as nylon will react to the gain or loss of moisture—the same as the wood.

When wood type-flooring contracts it shrinks, resulting in gaps at the ends or at the edges of the boards. This is a common occurrence and not one that would be related to the installation of the flooring material. Complaints for wood flooring especially increase in winter months as a result of the wood shrinking.

Most of you should understand the law of physics. Newton’s Third Law of Motion that I’ve so often spoken about states, “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” Simply put this means if wood gains moisture it will expand and swell, and if it loses moisture it will contract and shrink. Similarly, carpet can grow and wrinkle, or shrink and open seams. Vinyl tile could also shrink or open up slightly on the floor as could sheet vinyl.

Most flooring material is going to react to a change in temperature or humidity and when it does enough to become visible, you are going to get a complaint. This is why acclimating a flooring product is so important: The product has to adjust to the space it is installed in. Even so, it will still react to ambient conditions changes, visibly or not.

The first thought that comes to mind when a flooring product expands or contracts is that it was not installed incorrectly. Installation compromise certainly could be a factor but no matter how well the installation is done, material can still move. When enough energy is generated in the flooring product from an external force, bolting it to the subfloor may not be enough to keep it from moving.

The flooring is not going to be the only furnishing or material in a space that is affected by changes in ambient conditions. Wood moldings can open up, especially if they are large crown moldings that visibly exhibit gaps. Doors could close or open more easily. Wood furniture joints may open; even ceramic tile may crack or joints could develop hair line cracks from the plywood beneath it moving. You have to look beyond the obvious to determine what is the cause of a problem.

In winter, one of the easiest ways to prevent flooring material from contracting is to humidify the air. This can be done with units installed on the furnace or individual units operating separately in rooms.

A balance has to be achieved in the space with the HVAC controls or a separate small device that will measure and indicate the temperature and humidity.

All flooring manufacturers have guidelines for what the ideal temperature and humidity should be for their products. It is important to know what they are so you can intelligently convey the information to your customer. You can also test the air space for temperature and humidity with a meter; there are several hand held types available. If you are going to test wood flooring, the Wagner wood meter is one of the best.

Winter weather can also wreak havoc with static electricity in the space. Walking on carpet in low humidity and then touching a metal surface can jolt you into reality. If you get a complaint like this you can check the air space with a humidity meter and determine if humidification is necessary.

Armed with this information and simple technology you can be the most trusted expert flooring dealer in your area, resolve complaints and impress people enough to increase your business.

Lewis Migliore is a troubleshooter, consultant and speaker based in Dalton. To reach him, call 706.370.5888, e-mail or log on to

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