Q: Dear Bill, I helped install some feature flooring for a friend just before Christmas and they have since told me they are seeing some significant gapping between the boards. I was hoping to see if you have experienced anything like this or what else I can do? (Frankie, East Keilor).
A: I have one important question for you: was the lock-up stage completed before you laid the floor? I recently attended a flooring installation site with concerns regarding boards gapping immediately after laying. The reason why this was happening was easily discovered – this home was not at the complete lock-up stage. It had missing windows, no plaster and no external doors. That meant the flooring had been acclimatising to an open home environment in a very warm summer week. I was not surprised to find some shrinkage of floorboards, thus creating gaps.
Gapping in timber floors is often a result of the boards being exposed to very dry conditions. Site storage and handling procedures of timber flooring are extremely important. The flooring must be protected from weather exposure and other sources of heat and moisture. If the flooring is subjected to varying temperatures, it will alter its moisture content and consequently the board width. The rate of movement can vary within a floor because of the timber cutting patterns and their sapwood content. Installing boards with different widths also adds to the creation of gaps. This issue can become further problematic when the flooring is sanded and finished.
Some finishes can penetrate these gaps and act as an adhesive, bonding group of boards together causing what’s known as ‘edge bonding’. Subsequent heating and cooling could cause the floorboard to create larger gaps spaced at intervals. Frankie, it is the flooring installer’s responsibility (that’s you!) to pre-assess environmental conditions that will affect the flooring (for example, too dry or high humidity) before you install. That means determining if the environment is as close to the in-service conditions the flooring will experience.
The good news is Bowens solid timber flooring is moisture tested prior to delivery to ensure it is within the Australian Standard 2796.1 1999. Our solid timber flooring manufacturers aim to kiln dry timber flooring so the moisture content is similar to the average equilibrium moisture content closest to the capital city it is destined for. For Melbourne, this moisture content is approx. 10-12%. This can allow the flooring to be installed without an acclimatisation period, providing the pre-installation assessment has been completed. The Bowens Flooring Installation Guidelines include pre-installation suggestions. These importantly look at evaluating the conditions in which the floor is to be laid. They note subfloor ventilation, drainage, dry and level substrates, wet trades including plastering to be completed, moisture content checks and flooring acclimatising. It is not enough to just tick a few boxes here, all these points combined will help avoid flooring problems before they occur.
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