Wood floors can be kept looking like new, year after year, with minimum care. A good rule of thumb is vacuum and/or damp mop weekly. A damp mop can be used for spills, and when necessary general cleanup on floors which have non-waxed polyurethane or a similar surface finish. Never pour water on the floor. While a damp mop may be used on polyurethane and other surface finishes, excessive amounts of water seep between the boards and into small scratches causing deterioration of finishes. Basic rules relative to floor maintenance:
Keep grit off the floor
Use area rugs at high spill locations
Use fabric glides on the legs of furniture
Gaps are the most common cause of complaints on wood floors. It’s normal for the interior of homes to become dry during heating seasons. Under this circumstance wood floors also dry out and shrink slightly. Properly made and properly installed wood floors should be expected to have hairline gaps between boards in dry months in most areas. Depending on the width of the boards used, the size of the room and the severity and duration of low outside temperatures (and the intensity of heating), the term hairline gaps can have various interpretations. Generally, hairline gaps can be considered to be normal if, in strips 2-1/4″ wide or less:
- The gaps close up during non-heating months
- The gaps are not wider than the thickness of a dime in some locations
- The gaps vary from the thickness of paper in most areas to scattered large gaps up to the thickness of a dime
Plank or strip floors sometimes “panelize” due to movement of under floor construction, or if the finish cements individual boards into panel, so that all the shrinkage is concentrated into only a few gaps, with other joints remaining tight together. In this event, the gaps that do appear will be considerably wider than the thickness of a dime. If the floor expands so that the gaps disappear in high humidity season, it should be considered normal.
There are several other reasons for gaps in floors and these have little relationship to job site moisture. These include:
- Foundation settlement
- Over-drying above forced air heating ducts
- Fatigued sub-floor materials
If normal, in the sense the gaps close up in summer months, no repairs are practical. Any filler used to fill up gaps when they appear (i.e., when the floor is dry) will be pushed out as the wood expands when it picks up moisture. In the process fillers, some of which are as hard as wood, can crush and damage edges of boards. Thus, the fillers may cause uglier gaps than those Mother Nature forced on the floors, and the process of filling solves nothing.
Even floors which have gone through a very high period of moisture absorption, then dried to leave abnormal gaps, can be repaired by a professional however, gaps may never be completely mitigated. If the floor has a surface finish (i.e., Polyurethane), matching filler should be troweled into all gaps. When dry, the floor can be screened and a new coat of Polyurethane applied.
Installation of a whole-house humidifier can help relieve gaps associated with over-drying of hardwoods. We recommend each Purchaser research and consider installation of an adequately sized humidification system.
Our recommendation: Enjoy your hardwood floors. Follow prescribed maintenance procedures and accept that gaps, as defined above, are inherent characteristics of this beautiful but imperfect product.