You’re building your dream home. Top of the line everything — beautiful hardwood flooring, granite countertops in the kitchen and bathrooms, bay and bow windows, tile, appliances — you name it. But a few months go by after you move in and you start to notice the wood floor has large gaps between the boards, or it’s buckling in the center of your living room. Why is this happening? These floors are brand new?
Why Do New Wood Floors Fail in New Homes?
“What happens in a lot of new construction homes, builders go in, they frame up the house and there’s no heating or air conditioning running,” said The Men With Tools Owner John Kolbaska. “The wood flooring company will install the floors in 90 degree weather with high humidity. After the floors are installed, the sheetrock crew is next. They install and tape the boards with compound that’s filled with moisture — that all seeps down into the floor and subfloor causing the newly laid floor to expand or swell.”
This is a classic example of “lay and pray,” where the contractor will lay the floor down and literally pray that the floor doesn’t gap, buckle or cup. What many new home builders and flooring contractors don’t realize is there are a lot of factors that need to be addressed before, during and after the installation of hardwood flooring.
Wood is like a sponge and absorbs moisture. Just because it was cut down from a tree, it doesn’t mean that the wood is dead. It’s still alive and well, breathing in and absorbing moisture, whether it’s from the air or directly from the subfloor underneath.
Acclimating Wood Floors Properly
What many flooring contractors and builders will do to cover themselves is let the floor sit and acclimate for a week, so if there are any problems they can say, ‘Oh, I acclimated the flooring for a whole week,’ but sometimes that might not be nearly enough time. On top of that, the contractor may only open the ends of the boxes, which is another improper way to acclimate.
“The floor could sit and acclimate for 6 months in the wrong conditions and it’s not going to be ready,” John said. That’s why a lot of people who buy new homes are having problems with their wood flooring. The builders don’t run the HVAC system for proper acclimation, it gets turned on when the homeowner moves in and that’s when the floors start showing issues.”
Flooring is typically one of the first projects to be installed in a new construction home because the builder doesn’t want to hold up the other trades — the electrician, painter, plumber, etc. — but really, it should be installed near the end. Unfortunately most builders make this common mistake.
Relative Humidity & Moisture Readings Are The Key
Any professional home builder should hire a competent wood flooring contractor that measures and documents moisture in the air and subfloor. Taking these readings with a hygrometer and moisture reader will inform the contractor about the current environment and based on that, they will take the necessary steps to get ready for installation.
If the necessary precautions aren’t taken, you’ll find your floor buckling, warping, shrinking and doing all kinds of crazy things that will dismantle your home and find yourself having to do the project all over again. Unfortunately, most home builders aren’t aware of how important these steps are or choose to ignore it all together.
Not All Wood Floors Are The Same
Another important factor is choosing the right species of flooring, that’s suitable for the climate they'll be living in. If you like it warm in your home during the summer and rarely run the AC, Brazilian Cherry wood wouldn’t be the right choice as it’s sensitive and will expand and contract due to the smallest moisture change. Engineered or laminate flooring would make more sense.
But if you’re set on having that Brazilian Cherry wood installed, your contractor should be telling you the necessary steps to make your home compatible. You’ll first want to purchase a dehumidifier and run your central air unit in the summer to keep the humidity levels stable.
Not only can it be too humid, but your home can also not have enough moisture in the winter. Relative humidity levels naturally drop in the winter and drop even further when you heat the air inside your home. Here, you’ll need to do the opposite and purchase a humidifier to increase humidity levels in your home. Otherwise you’ll start to see gaps at the edges.
Before you purchase your home from a builder, make sure you ask them the following questions:
- What species of wood floor is being supplied?
- What month was the floor installed?
- What were the relative humidity readings during the install?
- What were the moisture readings of the subfloor during the install?
- What were the moisture readings of the actual flooring during the install?
- Were the floors installed at the beginning or end of the project?
- What trades worked on these floors after installation?
- Can you provide documented relative humidity and moisture readings?
- Is there a warranty and what does it cover pertaining to the hardwood floors?
- Who can I contact if issues or defects happen?
If they can’t or refuse to answer these simple questions, then we suggest looking for a another reputable homebuilder on Staten Island, NY or New Jersey.
Here at The Men With Tools, we've seen hundreds of flooring failures in new construction homes over the years. We hope that you will take this information and avoid the mistakes so many others have made. Good luck, and remember that purchasing a new home is probably the biggest investment you’ll make in your life. Make sure your new wood floors last that long.
Hardwood flooring should last 100 years or more if installed correctly. It can be repurposed and resanded multiple times, so there isn’t any reason for you to be ripping it up after 5, 10, 20, even 30 years.
Are you in the market for wood flooring? Check out The Men With Tools on Staten Island, NY who won’t lay and pray and will give you a fair price. Call us today at 347-815-4151 for a free estimate.