Okay, in my first post on the subject of flooring moisture issues I reviewed some of the more common causes of moisture intrusion in flooring and I touched on how it effects different types of flooring. The one thing I left out was what happens when moisture is introduced to a wood or laminate floor. Bad Things, bad things happen when moisture and wood come together.
Wood is made of, well, wood – and so is laminate, just in a more chopped-up-into-tiny-bits-and-squished-together kind of way. No matter the form it comes in, wood is cellular by nature and wants to do what it has always done when introduced to water – it wants to drink it. When it does it begins to swell, warp, and pop off the floor. Let’s make sure this doesn’t happen to you:
Okay let’s just say that you have just moved down here from Chicago, just bought a house, and want to install hardwood flooring in your new home. You would like to get the solid, 3/4″ wood floor like you had up in Chicago – good idea right? Nope.
Wait, let me italicize and bold that…
Solid hardwood flooring installed over a concrete slab is pretty much always a bad idea. You see that solid plank is basically just a chunk of tree – all the natural grain patterns are the same as they were when they were part of the tree and they travel along the plank in a curved lateral direction, kinda like a smile or a frown.. What this means is that when the solid plank floor is introduced to moisture either from the sub-floor or topically, the floor begins to grow in the direction of the grain – usually sideways and up, causing peaking of the edges and often buckling of the floor. In most cases the only solution to this problem is total replacement.
Look, you are a savvy shopper and I know you will try those 1800truckloaditators guys or maybe talk to a pimply faced kid at a home center and they will likely tell you that you can install solid wood floors glued down over concrete. 9 out of ten times they will be right, there won’t be a problem, but what if you are lucky #10? Be sure to ask them what they will do if you are….and then google their name followed by complaints…just sayin.
Look, the most important thing you can do to prevent moisture issues with a hardwood floor is to buy an engineered hardwood floor. An engineered floor is essentially layers of wood glued together with the grain placed in opposite direction on each layer. These layers give the plank superior dimensional stability and are far less likely to swell when introduced to moisture. The top layer is your species layer and can be anything from oak to Brazilian Lapacho, in thicknesses up to 4mm. This top layer is mostly what you are paying for – the price goes up or down depending on the species of wood, the thickness of the top layer, and how many coats of urethane are on it.
You get why the species is important, it provides all of the visual appeal and most of the hardness to the floor. but why is the thickness and the urethane important? This is why I think engineered floors are so much better than solids. You see your floor in Chicago was installed unfinished, and had a few coats of standard urethane mopped on afterwards. This is a finish that would quickly dull and easily scratch and in a busy house needed to be sanded down and re-coated every five years or so. An engineered floor has the finish applied at the factory. this allows them to apply many coats of a urethane modified with aluminum oxide (hardner) and then baked on with UV rays. The end result is a floor with a finish about 10x more resistant to everyday scratches and dulling.
….And here is the answer to the question I know you are itching to ask -what If I decide I want to sand it and refinish it later on? I will start by saying that the factory finish really does last longer no joke and I have seen maybe three people in the past 14 years actually want to do it. Having said that I will say that most engineered floors allow you to do a screen and coat ( a light abrasion and re-coating of urethane) up to three times. Let’s say you really get a wild hare and decide you want to sand off the original stain and re-stain it a different color – this is doable too, just be sure the floor you buy has at least a 3mm wear layer. If you really want to get your checkbook out you can even have an engineered floor with a wear layer as thick as the one on a 3/4″ solid floor – probably overkill in my opinion but whatever floats your boat.
Okay, so far in this series I have terrified you about moisture problems here in Florida and utterly convinced you about the superiority of engineered wood floors to help you overcome your fear, so far so good. In my next post we are going to talk about what you need to know when you are ready to actually install it –