How Long Do Hardwood Floors Need to Acclimate?

by Charlie
How Long Do Hardwood Floors Need to Acclimate

Hardwood floors are immensely popular, because they look classy, they’re attractive, and they are very hardwearing, meaning they offer excellent value. However, they do cost a lot, and you want to make sure you know how to lay them to ensure they fit well and last for as long as possible. That means they need to acclimate.

Hardwood floors often have to be acclimated because they are stored in dry, cold conditions before they are sold. Your home is very likely to be damper and warmer than the warehouse, and if you don’t let the boards acclimate before you lay them, there is a high risk that they will expand, causing warping or even splitting.

How long do hardwood floors need to acclimate? Estimates can vary, but most people recommend leaving hardwood floors for at least 72 hours before laying them. Some estimates are lower, at around 48 hours, but it’s best to err on the side of caution and make sure the boards have acclimated before you lay them. Try to allow 3 days before you start installing the floor.

Do Hardwood Floors Really Need 3 Days to Acclimatize?

Ideally, you should give hardwood floors at least 72 hours. When you bring the wood into your home, it will start to absorb moisture from the air, and this will cause the planks to expand slightly. The damper your home is, the more the wood will expand. If you don’t let the boards acclimate, this expansion will happen when the floor has been laid, which can ruin it.

When you start laying hardwood, you generally try to minimize the gaps between the boards, and get them as close together as possible, and as evenly spaced as possible. If you do this before the boards have acclimated, however, your hard work could actually be a problem, because there won’t be room for the boards to expand.

If you’ve got them very close together and the wood needs to expand, there’s a risk that the pressure will split the boards or cause them to warp. You might see splintering, cracking, twisting, buckling, cupping, etc. This is obviously a big problem, and could ruin the whole floor. Even if only a small area twists, your floor will look much worse and will not last as well.

You should therefore always allow at least 48 hours for your boards to acclimatize, as this minimizes the risk of them expanding much more. A small amount of expansion can usually be accepted by the floor, so 48 hours may be enough – but you might want to wait 72 hours for the sake of safety.

Some flooring companies recommend that you use their flooring directly, rather than waiting for it to acclimate. If the company you buy from recommends this, discuss your living conditions and their storage conditions before you make a purchase, so you can understand how the wood is likely to behave once it has been installed.

Do Hardwood Floors Need Weeks to Acclimate?

You may have heard that hardwood floors should be left for 2 weeks, or even longer, before they are laid. This information is generally outdated, and is from before we started kiln drying wood properly. It was actually to let the wood finish drying, rather than to allow for moisture expansion.

You don’t need to leave modern hardwood boards to acclimate for 2 weeks before you can lay the floor. 2 or 3 days should usually be enough. However, do make sure you allot this much time when you are planning your project, and don’t try to skip it unless the company you buy the wood from tells you that it is unnecessary.

What Conditions Should You Be Acclimating Your Floor to?

Homes vary quite a lot, and that means the conditions your wood will be exposed to will also vary. As mentioned above, some flooring companies don’t recommend acclimating the floor, as they provide it ready to go in “normal living conditions.” This usually means it will cope with a relative humidity of 30 to 50 percent, and a temperature range between 60 and 80 degrees F.

This will vary depending on where you live, so it’s always a good idea to talk to a professional about your home and the wood’s needs. If your living space wildly fluctuates between summer and winter conditions, you should find out what steps you’ll need to take to prevent the wood from warping or twisting once it is in place.

Should You Bring Hardwood Boards to a Work Site?

If you’re having other work done or installing hardwood floors in a new building, do not acclimate the boards to the worksite. When a lot of building work is being done, the air tends to be pretty humid, and the boards will quickly soak up this humidity, which could cause damage before they have even been laid.

Hardwood floors aren’t designed to deal with very wet environments, and they will act like sponges if you put them somewhere really damp. Construction sites could have an ambient humidity of around 70 percent, and this could ruin the boards.

Even if it doesn’t, when the humidity levels go down, they will shrink, which will cause further problems with splitting or warping – especially if you have laid the floor by this point. Boards should therefore be kept offsite and only installed when the home has reached its “normal living conditions.”

Remember to think about things like heating and air conditioning, as these will change how the floor behaves. Try to make sure the area the floor will be installed in is as close to its normal conditions as possible before the wood is laid, as this will minimize the risks of shrinkage, swelling, and the associated damage.

Final Thoughts

Acclimating wooden floors allows the wood to adjust to the normal conditions in your home, and a lot of manufacturers suggest you do this. Some will tell you how long to let the boards sit for, so follow their guidelines, or allow 2 to 3 days to ensure the boards have fully adjusted before they are laid.

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