Seasonal Floor Movement

Winter is fast approaching, and with the colder temperatures it is not uncommon to notice that your hardwood floors are still as beautiful as they have ever been but are no longer silent.

Seasonal related issues with their hardwood floors are one of the most common complaints that homeowners have this time of year.

While some people are comforted by the familiar sounds that their home makes, seasonal floor movement can be a source of annoyance for others, especially if they don’t understand why their quiet floors have suddenly started to make noise.

Reasons why wood floors make noise

There are two factors involved in hardwood floor noise. In order for a floor to squeak it requires some impetus to move, such as a person walking on the floor, and a place to move to, such as a gap between the floor boards or a gap between the subfloor and the floor boards.2 The heat from a furnace is really the culprit in fall and winter seasonal floor movement. When we turn on the heat on a cold day, the relative humidity in our homes drops and the air becomes drier. Wood, being a natural product, acclimates to its environment.

Wood is actually made up of small cells which are hydroscopic which means these cells are porous and capable of absorbing moisture.3 When it is dry in a home, the wood loses moisture and contracts, getting smaller. As a result, while you may not be able to detect them visually, gaps begin to appear between the boards. This is a normal process.

Nearly every wood floor will have some seasonal separation between the individual boards throughout the floor during the fall and winter months.4 The width of your floorboards, and how the wood was cut, are actually factors in how much expansion and contraction will occur with the seasons.

In identical scenarios, for example, an 8″ wide plainsawn plank of white oak flooring will shrink twice as much as a 4″ plank of the same cut and species.5 So, if you have wide plank floors you will probably experience more seasonal floor movement and related issues.

Does anything help?

These seasonal gaps, and the seasonal squeaky floor problem, can be resolved, or at least lessened. The key is maintaining the proper relative humidity level in your home. The recommended relative humidity level for hardwood flooring is in the 35 percent to 55 percent range.6 The outside temperature is a factor in determining ideal relative humidity. Generally, 30-40 percent is the industry standard for colder climates during the winter months.7 Keep in mind that too much humidity is not good either. You need to keep the relative humidity below 50 percent to prevent the growth of mold and mildew, which can rot your home’s structural components and contribute to poor health. Controlling relative humidity is important to minimizing dust mites and mold, both of which are significant sources for allergies and asthma.8

It’s easy to check the relative humidity level in your home by using a hygrometer. These devices can be purchased at your local hardware or big box store and are relatively inexpensive.

If your hardwood floors squeak all year long, it may be time to call in a hardwood flooring expert. There are many situations which can cause floors to squeak, which aren’t related to normal seasonal floor movement. An expert will be able to determine the cause of your floor noise and recommend a solution.

Cameron the Sandman are hardwood flooring experts that can help you with your wood floor needs. Whether you are looking to install new wood floors, refinish or restore existing wood floors, our hardwood flooring professionals are here to help. We have been beautifying homes and businesses with our hardwood flooring services throughout Michigan for over 80 years! Call us today to learn more!