Hardwood Floors with Cracks, Gaps, Creaking and Squeaking

Hardwood Floors with Cracks, Gaps, Creaking and Squeaking

By Mark Brown — Ray Darrah

Cali-Floor Technical Services


Phone calls and emails received from homeowners with hardwood flooring problems described as cracking, gapping and crackling/squeaking have become a daily occurrence with the increase in hardwood popularity. The last 5 or 6 years have seen an increase in consumer demand for Green and Natural materials. The use of these materials has brought issues to the flooring industry rarely experienced prior to the turn of the century. Bamboo, Cork, Linoleum and Hardwood flooring have increased in popularity coinciding with the move to the use of renewable resources over non-renewable petroleum based materials.

Natural products are derived from plants, trees and grasses that are naturally high in moisture or water content. Removing the water properly is the key to producing quality flooring materials that are durable and stable when placed in indoor environments.

The amount of water in these products is referred to as moisture content. Moisture content for wood and plants is expressed on either a fractional or percentage. Moisture content is defined as the ratio of the mass of water contained in the mass of the same dried sample. Moisture content is a major factor in the processing of plants and trees because it influences all physical and mechanical properties, durability and performance during use.

Natural flooring material properties of shrink and swell vary greatly with species and are directly related to the moisture content of the plant or tree in its natural environment. Generally speaking, wood grown in North America has less water content while in the ground than trees grown in the swamps and wet areas of South America. Dried wood flooring produced from trees grown in North American are generally more stable when compared to dried wood products from tropical, or wet, environments. The wetter the plant while in the ground the more the end product shrinks and swells with the changes within the indoor environment it is placed. There are always exceptions to rules of nature as there are species of wood grown in the Tropics that are as stable as North American Species.

Temperatures and relative humidity changes seasonally. Summer months have higher temperatures and higher relative humidity, while winter months have lower temperatures and relative humidity. Higher temperatures and relative humidity in summer months causes wood to swell, or expand in size. Winter months with lower temperatures and humidity cause materials to shrink leaving gaps between the planks. The changes in dimensions associated with increasing or decreasing moisture content makes it easier to understand gapping between boards and seasonal variations in squeaking.

Shrinking and swelling resulting in gaps and occasional noise does not necessarily prove a product defect. This should be explained by salespeople when purchasing solid wood flooring, cork planks, bamboo engineered floors or any natural products. There are situations where gapping and squeaking are excessive. Excessive gaps and squeaks may be product related if the gaps never close or the noises never subside.

Determining the difference between natural characteristics and defects in manufacturing or installation requires an expert with an understanding of wood science and trained in inspection techniques to determine the difference. If you are a consumer of natural products experiencing difficulties, please feel free to ask questions of the team of experts at www.FloorTekTalk.com or review the list of experts listed at www.FloorReports.com. Were here to help.

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