There are few things as luxurious and comforting as a beautiful wood floor. It is a classic beauty evoking images from bygone days. Hardwood floors can vary in shade, style, and pattern, but the problems that homeowners sometimes face with their wood floors have quite a bit in common. These are some of the most common signs of trouble:
Some wood floor designs involve gaps, but they are generally all the same size. If installed properly, the gaps would be equal. When those gaps change in size over time, then it can signal trouble.
In general, it is the result of flooring that is too wet. Perhaps it wasn’t completely dry when installed and it has shrunk over time when drying. Or, the space under the flooring has too much moisture and has affected the wood. It is difficult to keep the wood all the same temperature and moisture when covering a large space. The proximity to windows, woodstoves, and water can affect it over time and cause gaps. These gaps might not be a sign of major structural damage, just a bit of uneven movement. It is best to repair the gaps during the most humid time of the year when the gaps are smallest. Otherwise, you might end up with buckling when the wood tries to expand again.
Cupping happens when the edges of the wood planks rise higher than the middle. This is caused by the bottom of the board being wetter than the top. This moisture imbalance can start with installation. If the flooring is being installed over a damp basement or crawl space then there should have been something put in place to draw out the moisture in the subfloor, such as a vapor retarder. If that wasn’t installed and the cupping is caught early on, then there is hope! First, find the source of the extra moisture coming in from the bottom and address that. Often the wood will flatten itself out once the right moisture balance is achieved. If not, then sanding might be needed. If that is required, make sure that you have the moisture levels checked carefully. You’ll want that problem to be fixed before sanding, or you could have the boards just flip their curve once they are sanded.
Moisture is also the culprit of buckling wood floors. When the wood becomes too moist and there isn’t room to expand, then it rises off the subfloor. Besides creating an interesting walking experience, it can also affect the door frames and molding. This might be because of flooding, standing water seeping through the boards, or installing the floors when it was too dry and not allowing space for expansion later. Wood can be finicky! The warped boards will need to be removed and the moisture problem addressed. This one can’t be mended by sanding.
When the finish peels it is because something has come between the wood and the finish. Once again, moisture may be the culprit. This can often happen when the wood isn’t prepped well before finishing. If it is sanded too much, for instance, it can create a surface that is too smooth for the finish to grab and stick, allowing air or moisture to creep in where it isn’t wanted. And as anyone that has had a sunburn knows, peeling doesn’t stay in one spot! Once peeling begins, it is probably time to get out the sander and start over. Sand it down to bare wood and start fresh with the finishing process.
Generally, hardwood floors hold up well with stains, but some stains can do real, lasting damage. Or, perhaps we didn’t get to a stain as quickly as we should have. All is not lost and a well-placed rug isn’t the only way to fix it. Several wood floor cleaners can be used first, but if that doesn’t help then the handy sander will be called on to save the day. If the stains have penetrated deeply into the wood’s fibers, then even sanding won’t help. Pet stains are usually the culprit in this kind of damage.
Replacing the deeply stained floorboards might be necessary. Some wood bleaching products can pull out the embedded stains, but there can be drawbacks there. The bleach will weaken the wood, which makes it more vulnerable to denting. If you do decide to bleach out the stain, be prepared to bleach the entire floor instead of just the affected spots. This will take more time but will ensure a consistent tone and color in your flooring.
Prevention and Cures
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” holds water in many cases, even in wood flooring. Many of the problems we’ve listed can be avoided by proper installation. Pay attention to the moisture levels in your home, and don’t be afraid to ask a builder or contractor what they are doing to make sure everything stays dry and level. Watch out for standing water on your floors and act fast if you start to see your floors rolling. If you catch it early and need a sander, take time to learn how to use it. Sanding too deeply can cause problems of its own, so do your research if you’re DIY-ing it and get plenty of references if you’re using a pro.
Wooden floors are a beautiful thing that can hold up well under thousands of impromptu dance parties, soccer cleats, high heels, puppy paws, and all the memories that they’ll create over the years. They’ll just need some attention now and then to keep them flat, strong, and looking the way they did when they were first put in. For more information on caring for lumber and wood products for flooring, contact one of our three Colorado lumber shops.