Hardwood flooring can be a significant investment for many homeowners. To keep floors looking their best, it’s important to know how to care for them properly. Because wood is a natural product, over time, spaces may appear between the planks. This is a common occurrence due to fluctuations in the weather as the season’s change, and humidity levels rise and fall. When temperatures vary, hardwoods can expand and contract, creating gaps. The gaps are especially noticeable in areas of the home closest to water and humidity, such as bathrooms and kitchens, and in high traffic areas. As the boards dry out, they are likely to form voids as the wood shrinks.
Avoiding Hardwood Floor Gaps
Try To Avoid Gaps In The First Place
Before installing hardwood floors, it is important to acclimate the product to your home. Have the installer perform a humidity level test because either very high or very low humidity can cause bowing, splitting, and warping. Use the results to decide what flooring is best for your home. Before installation, the new wood planks should be unwrapped and allowed to acclimate (or rest) inside the house for seven to ten days. Whether your floor is recently installed or old, it may take years for gaps to show. To help reduce that possibility, especially if your home has dry air, you may want to consider adding a humidifier to your furnace. Smaller, single-room humidifiers can also help to minimize issues.
Helpful Tips on Repairing Gaps
If you see gaps in your floorboards, it’s essential that you don’t delay having them repaired. How many there are, their size, and how stable the floor feels will determine how to fix them. Planks that have small gaps will need less repair than those with broader or too many voids, or if floors that are soft and bouncy. Keep an eye on cracks and spaces and note when they appear and whether they close up with a change in the weather. If so, the void is considered normal and nothing to worry about. However, if you are concerned, it’s best to have a carpenter or professional installer check it out.
If a floor is deemed to have too many gaps or too much damage to repair easily, it may be best to replace it entirely. However, if there are just a few small damaged areas, there are several ways to fill them. You can use putty, wood filler, caulk, or even long pieces of string or rope stained to match. These methods not only fix the gaps but can also prevent drafts from coming up through the floor. If done correctly, these fillers – made of putty or paste – can fill in gaps to give your floors their original smooth finish. It works best when gaps are narrow and few. However, it’s important to understand that as humidity changes, floorboards may still expand and contract, cracking the filler and forcing it out of the open space.
The first step in repairing your floor is to vacuum out any debris from between the floorboards. Using either a putty knife or your fingers, apply enough filler to allow a gap to overfill. Once it dries, use a piece of fine grit sandpaper to smooth out the rough edges. Add more putty if necessary and stain to match the floor. If the filler comes out throughout the year, you might have to continue the process in the most noticeable areas.
If the notion of replacing the entire floor is out of the question, there are a few ways to repair wide gaps. Using narrow strips of wood, wood shims, or pieces of rope is more time consuming, but more attractive and more permanent than using wood filler or paste in large voids. Do these repairs when the weather is most humid and when the spaces are the smallest. This will prevent your repairs from cracking when the floorboards expand. Once the shims are in place (you may choose to add glue), finish by sanding them smooth and stain to match the rest of the floor.
As with all home repairs, check the products carefully and follow directions. Also, consider contacting the flooring manufacturer for suggestions.
If you haven’t chosen flooring yet, engineered hardwood is an excellent alternative to solid. Engineered flooring is made with layers of plywood placed in different directions. This allows the layers to shift and move without gaps developing between boards. Like many products, both kinds of wood floors have pros and cons. Take into account your needs, lifestyle, and budget, and ask lots of questions before making a final decision.