Acclimatize your Flooring – Mandatory Information with Pro Tips
Before installing laminate, engineered hardwood, vinyl (all types of wood floors), the flooring needs to reach a moisture content (MC) level that is in equilibrium with the surrounding environment. This process is known as acclimation. Failing to properly acclimate flooring may cause excessive expansion, shrinkage, dimensional distortion or structural damage. This is your responsibility as the home owner to ensure you purchase the flooring in plenty of time to have it acclimatized, and then follow your suppliers / manufacture’s guidelines. Many installers will arrive when scheduled and they will install your flooring. They will operate under the assumption that you have already properly acclimatized the flooring. So many times we have customers come in on a Friday and say we need the flooring because the installer is coming tomorrow. No! That doesn’t work. Buy it with at least a weeks worth of time to accept delivery, to get boxes into each room that will be installed in. Follow guidelines to acclimatize. SPC Vinyl and laminate flooring need less time to acclimatize than solid and engineered hardwood, and tropical hardwood species need extra care… but don’t push your timelines too close. Extra acclimatization time is a good thing, it can only help you. Rushing and installing too soon can only hurt you. Don’t make the mistake of rushing, why invest in a beautiful new floor and risk performance issues because you didn’t manage your timelines properly??
I will ramble on several points here, so skim the article to see what you need and dive in. This is not your official guide to follow, you shouldn’t follow this blog you should read your manufacture warranty and installation guidelines. But, in general, much of this blog post is good, industry information and will point you in the right direction. At the end of the article I have reprinted a section directly from the NWFA installation guidelines, which is the industry standard in North America. I advise our Vancouver / Richmond / BC customers to follow these guidelines.
Some random Pro Tips:
These are some statements I have heard pros say over the years:
“Moisture content in the floor, this is for hardwood: Remember first that your "target" is 6-9% MC in the product. That MC is arrived at by the manufacturer knowing that this is the AVERAGE within Canadian households.”
“If new construction, we won’t stage the engineered plank until the HVAC has been operating at least 7 days. "Acclimation" is dependent on the age of the home, AC unit, home location. Recent and forecast weather conditions. Open all the boxes, remove the plastic, cabin stack, make certain ceiling fans are in operation moving the air if in middle of summer and your regions heat is high. Installing in Kelowna in the summer is a lot different than Kelowna in the winter. Get your home to regular living conditions, it must be a consistent level regardless of the time of year. Before install and acclimatizing, and during installation, maintain "normal living conditions".
How to Store Wood Flooring at a BC Job Site
Wood flooring should not be stored at the job site under uncontrolled environmental conditions. Make sure wood is stored in an enclosed building. Garages and exterior patios are not acceptable areas to store wood flooring.
Verify the temperature and humidity in the building are maintained at normal living conditions. The best conditions for storing wood flooring will vary from region to region; ask your flooring installation professional about the ideal climate conditions for your floors.
Measure the Moisture Content of Wood Flooring
Pro Tip, especially is moisture levels are a concern: Immediately upon delivery, check the moisture content of your wood flooring with a moisture meter. This measurement will establish a baseline for acclimation. To ensure a more accurate measurement, check the moisture content of multiple boards – typically 40 boards for every 1,000 square feet of flooring.
Before Installation: Operate Heat and/or Air Conditioning Systems
Permanent heating and/or air conditioning systems should be operating at least five days before you install your wood floors. This will allow the wood to acclimate to actual living conditions inside the building. Heating and A/C systems should continue to operate at normal conditions during and after installation.
If it is not possible to operate the permanent heating and/or air conditioning system before, during and after installation, a temporary heating and/or dehumidification system can be used to allow the installation to proceed.
Reaching Equilibrium Moisture Content
Prior to installation, wood flooring should be within an acceptable range of moisture content with the wood subfloor.
· Solid strip flooring (less than 3" wide) should have a moisture content no more than 4 percent different from the moisture content of your subflooring materials
· Wide plank solid flooring (3" or wider) should have no more than 2 percent variance in moisture content compared to subfloor materials.
When wood is neither gaining nor losing moisture, equilibrium moisture content (EMC) has been reached. The chart below indicates the equilibrium moisture content of wood flooring at various temperatures and humidity conditions. Most flooring manufacturers use a 6-to-9 percent range for equilibrium moisture content – any higher or lower and wood flooring can shrink or swell dramatically.
Best Practices for Acclimating Wood Flooring in British Columbia
If the manufacturer recommends the wood flooring be acclimated before installation, proceed as follows:
Allow Wood Flooring to Acclimate for At Least Three Days, 7 is Ideal
Acclimation times vary by species and product, but a rule of thumb is to acclimate laminate and vinyl floor products for at least three days, and real wood (engineered hardwood) for 7 days. You’re trying to reach an equilibrium between the moisture content of the wood materials and the air where the product is being installed.
Acclimation is the process of reaching this equilibrium moisture content – that is, the point at which the wood is neither gaining nor losing moisture.
Break Flooring Materials into Smaller Stacks
Professional wood flooring installers recommend opening your flooring boxes and breaking the shipment into smaller lots. This will increase exposure to airflow, which helps with acclimation. You may also wish to cross-stack planks using spacers between layers to increase circulation. Crack the boxes open, if in plastic wrap, open the plastic to allow air in. I just suggest placing all over the rooms / hallways that you plan to install product into. Do not leave flooring in the garage or basement and then install in a bedroom. Not appropriate.
Engineered Hardwood Flooring Requires More Time to Acclimate than Laminate and Vinyl
Also note that if using a glue in your installation (for engineered hardwood to be glued down or floated) be sure to look for recommendations from the adhesive manufacturer.
Treat Tropical Wood Species with Care, especially in BC
Some tropical wood species lose moisture or gain moisture at faster or slower rates than domestic species. In fact, expect this. In addition, the resins and oils in tropical woods can make accurate moisture content readings difficult. As a result, tropical wood species typically require more time to acclimate. I would absolutely wait longer than 7 days for exotic woods. It is vital these have time to adjust to its foreign environment. Look at a photo of South East Asia in the winter and then look outside in Kamloops in the winter… doesn’t look the same, does it?
Exotics / tropical hardwood is not from here and you must give it extra time to acclimatize and adjust. I can not stress this enough. As the home owner you need to do your research and decide if you should be buying this type of exotic wood. Just because companies sell it, doesn’t mean you should buy it. I like a nice tropical wood, but, I don’t think I would install in my home. If I love the look, I would go with a vinyl or laminate that looked the same. Real tropical hardwood is a risk in BC. Sorry, just giving you that information as a data point. Many have done it, and it works, but acclimatization is extremely important. And this is your responsibility as a home owner.
Follow Manufacturer Recommendations to Keep Flooring Warranties Intact
Your wood floors may have a warranty that could be voided if installation does not follow manufacturer recommendations.
Directly from the NWFA (National Wood Flooring Association) installation guidelines:
Storage and Conditions
1. Do not store wood flooring at the jobsite under uncontrolled climate conditions. Garages and exterior patios, for example, are not acceptable areas to store wood flooring.
2. Ideal interior climate conditions vary from region to region and jobsite to jobsite. It is your responsibility to know what your “ideal” climate conditions are and build your floor around those conditions. For a general view of moisture-content averages by region, refer to Appendix D and Appendix E.
Note: Some manufacturers do not require acclimation for certain products prior to installation. If the manufacturer recommends that the wood flooring be acclimated before installation, proceed as follows:
1. Ensure that the building is enclosed.
2. Verify that the building is maintained at normal living conditions for temperature and humidity.
3. Where building codes allow, permanent heating and/or air-conditioning systems should be operating at least five days preceding installation to promote proper acclimation. For radiant heat see Appendix H.
4. If it is not possible for the permanent heating and/or air-conditioning system to be operating before, during and after installation, a temporary heating and/or dehumidification system that mimics normal temperature and humidity conditions can enable the installation to proceed until the permanent heating and/or air-conditioning system is operating.
5. Upon delivery, check wood flooring moisture content with a moisture meter to establish a baseline for required acclimation. Check the moisture content of multiple boards. A good representative sample is typically 40 boards for every 1,000 square feet of flooring. Acclimate to manufacturer’s recommendations or as necessary according to geographical location and your jobsite location.
6. Prior to installation, ensure that wood flooring is within acceptable range of moisture content with the wood subfloor. For solid strip flooring (less than 3” wide), there should be no more than 4 percent moisture content difference between properly acclimated wood flooring and subflooring materials. For wide-width solid flooring (3” or wider), there should be no more than 2 percent difference in moisture content between properly acclimated wood flooring and subflooring materials.
More important blog posts to help with installation and site preparation before install: