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What Is Acclimation? Summer Cleaning Series

Summer is the perfect time to install a new hardwood floor in your home. This is especially true in Michigan when you have to consider a fast-approaching weather change as we prepare for fall to roll in. But the window of time best suited for a job like this is not the only thing the weather affects. It also changes some of the ground work that you have to put in before installing a hardwood floor. You actually have to introduce your boards to your house so they can adjust to the environment. This process is called “acclimation”, and it is an important step in making sure that your floor will last for years to come.

Why do I need to acclimate my floors?

Did you ever get one of those “grow your own dinosaurs” as a kid? You know, the little miniature creatures that you drop in a cup of water and they magically expand before your eyes? Take them out of water and a few hours later they’re back to their original size. This is similar to the phenomenon that wood goes through when it’s exposed to moisture in the air. That’s because wood is hygroscopic; it takes moisture from its surrounding environment. An impressive quality, to be honest, but one that can cause flooring to expand, check, split, distort, shrink, cup, push against its fasteners, or stretch its adhesive. And that’s just if the floor absorbs moisture! Don’t even get us started on what happens if the wood gets too dry!

No matter which way you look at it, wood’s hygroscopic nature becomes an expensive issue if not handled properly. Enter acclimation. Just like any hearty human being, wood is able to conform to new conditions as needed. By giving your wood the time to slowly adapt to the unique environment of your home before it is put into place, you will end up saving yourself a lot of time and money. You’ll also avoid the irreversible physical distortion of your floor that would occur otherwise.

How do I acclimate my hardwood floor?

Floor acclimation is a 5-part process. If it helps, just remember the sequence, “RECORD, CONTROL, MEASURE, STACK, and DOUBLE-CHECK”.

  1. Record. Before even bringing the wood into your home, check the environment of its designated room with a hydrometer. Take a piece of paper with you to record the temperature and humidity levels.

  2. Control. You’re going to need to keep the climate of the room controlled for at least TWO WEEKS before your wood is hauled through the door. Make sure that the temperature and humidity levels are at their usual setting.

  3. Measure. When your two weeks are up, use a moisture meter to measure the moisture content of several boards in each box of flooring. You’ll want to make sure that they are consistent. Then measure the moisture content of the subfloor as well. The moisture level of the subfloor is usually good to go if it’s less than 12%.

  4. Stack. Unwrap your flooring and “sticker-stack” the planks to allow air to flow through the floorboards. Think Lincoln Logs for this. Put down one layer with the boards lying vertically a few inches apart, then stack a new layer on top of these in a horizontal position. Repeat until all of your boards are stacked.

  5. Double-Check. After you’ve given your wood flooring time to acclimate, go back in with your moisture meter and check the moisture levels of your boards again. If the moisture content between the wood flooring and the subfloor is 2-3%, you can go ahead and start installing your floor!

How long should I let it acclimate for?

Patience is a virtue, and it is going to take some time for excellent results.

Typically, you’re looking at about 72 hours to properly acclimate your wood. However, this is not a “one-size-fits-all” situation, and if you have a particularly high or low level of moisture, the process may take longer. Rather than focusing on the amount of time, think about the moisture content. Again, when the moisture content between the floor AND the subfloor reaches between 2% and 3%, you’re clear to start laying down your boards.

Is that all there is to it?

Not exactly. While it is true that you now have the gist of what you need to know about floor acclimation, there are some aspects to the whole thing that can make it tricky for DIY enthusiasts. Learning how to measure moisture levels and being able to confidently judge when wood has fully acclimated often calls for some extra experience. We’d love to help you ensure that the investment you’ve put into your floors meets its maximum potential. If you have any questions or would like one of our seasoned professionals to come take a look at your project, don’t hesitate to give us a call.

Happy flooring!

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