‘Tis the Season for Callbacks: Educating Your Customers About Wood Floor Gaps

Wood Floor Gaps

It’s November, which means winter is almost here. It’s also that time of year when contractors expect callbacks from customers who notice gaps in their hardwood floors.

If you’ve got some installation jobs coming up, prepare to educate your clients about what can happen to their floors during winter, when relative humidity levels drop and their hardwood floors experience contraction.

Why do hardwood floors gap in the winter?

Before you can properly educate your clients about wood floor gapping, you have to know what you’re talking about. Why does gapping happen in the first place?

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Wintertime gaps in hardwood floors can be explained by changes in relative humidity (RH) levels and the equilibrium moisture content (EMC) of wood.

As temperatures drop, homeowners crank up the heat. The increased temperature — mainly in forced hot air HVAC systems — sucks moisture out of the air, resulting in lower RH levels throughout the household.

In response to sinking RH levels, wood, which is hygroscopic, gives up some of its moisture and contracts. This is known as the wood reaching EMC.  This process often leads to the gapping between planks that some homeowners notice in their hardwood floors during the winter.

Some gapping is normal during the wintertime, but extreme moisture problems can lead to splitting out or cracking in some cases.

How to prevent angry clients and wintertime callbacks

Here are some tips for preventing dreaded winter callbacks moving forward:

    • Educate your clients about the possibility of gaps during the winter and what causes them. The best way to do this is to talk to them up front about the possibility of winter gapping due to the use of their heating system.You should also leave each of your clients with a floor care guide that discusses the normal range of gapping during the winter, and how to correctly identify abnormal gapping, splitting out, and cracks. The most effective way to prevent callbacks and disappointment is to establish realistic expectations with your customers.
    • If your clients are adverse to the idea of small gaps during the winter, let them know that the only floors that will meet their expectations will likely be engineered, a dimensionally stable species, strip flooring (2-1/4” or 3-1/4” ), and/or rift and quartersawn.
  • Discuss humidifiers and ventilation. Every time cold air is brought into the house, RH levels drop. This is because the heating system kicks in to warm up the cold air, a process which sucks moisture out of the air. The addition of moisture to the air can partially be accomplished using a furnace humidifier.Although a furnace humidifier might help alleviate some drops in relative humidity, it can be nearly impossible to replace all of the moisture lost during the winter if your clients live in an especially drafty house. Often, they’ll have to address the issues causing the ventilation problems, such as old windows or poor insulation. Standalone humidifiers can also help to replenish some moisture in a single room.Make sure your clients understand, however, that humidifiers can’t completely prevent relative humidity levels from dropping, particularly if they live in an area that gets especially cold during the winter their house has ventilation problems.

Education is the best prevention

Hopefully you don’t get too many callbacks this winter! To prevent them moving forward, take the time to educate your clients about hardwood floor gapping during the winter.

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