If you’re a homeowner with hardwood floors, then you know the value and beauty they add to your home. They are durable and can make any room in your house so inviting. But did you know that maintaining the ideal humidity level for your hardwood floors is crucial for their longevity and keeping them in good condition?
Yup—the humidity level in your home can strongly impact the hardwood. If it’s too low, the wood can become dry and brittle, causing cracks and splits, and even discoloration. But, if it is too high, the wood may absorb too much moisture from the air, resulting in warping and cupping.
Maintaining the relative humidity levels (RH) in your home is the key.
Below, we’ll explain exactly what that ideal level is. We will also explore the different ways you can monitor, control, and maintain the ideal humidity for your home so you can keep your hardwood floors looking beautiful and in good shape.
Humidity and Relative Humidity
Humidity is the amount of water vapor in the air. Relative humidity (RH) is the moisture in the air that is relative to the maximum amount of water vapor that the air can contain at a given temperature.
Both can have an impact on the moisture content of your hardwood flooring. This means that if the humidity in an environment is high, the wood will absorb more moisture. And this will result in high moisture levels in the wood rising, causing it to expand.
However, if there’s a humidity level in the air, your hardwood floor could lose its ideal moisture content, making it prone to damage.
Note: Humidity levels and moisture in hardwoods aren’t the same things. The moisture level is the amount of moisture present in the wood itself. However, the humidity levels in the environment affect the moisture content in hardwood.
To find out the acceptable moisture level for wood floors, check out our FAQs below.
How Humidity Affects Your Hardwood Floor
Wood is a hygroscopic material. That is, it absorbs moisture from the air. Humidity affects the moisture level of your hardwood floor by absorbing all the moisture from the air—the wood still thinks it is a tree!
However, when exposed to low humidity conditions, the wood will release water and shrink or decrease in size. When this happens, your wood flooring compresses or expands, forcing them to develop gaps or be pushed against one another.
The impacts get worse in locations where humidity levels fluctuate dramatically with weather patterns. This can cause hardwood planks to shift.
So, What Is the Ideal Humidity Level for Hardwood Floors?
First off, it’s worth noting that the ideal humidity level for hardwood floors varies slightly depending on the type of wood. The location and the conditions in which the wood floors will be installed also matter.
According to the EPA, you must keep indoor humidity below 60 percent (ideally between 30 and 50 percent). This will help keep the moisture content in the wood within a stable range. Here’s a table that shows how varying humidity levels affect your wood floor:
|Humidity Level (%)||Impact on Hardwood Floors|
|0-25||Low humidity level; wood may lose moisture and become prone to cupping (where the borders of the wood boards are higher than the center) and scratch and scrape damage. Expect the wood to crack and create gaps in the floor|
|30-50||Ideal humidity level; wood maintains its moisture content and stability|
|Above 60||High humidity level; wood may absorb moisture and become prone to gaps between the boards, warping, and damage from water or spills. Expect mold and mildew growth. In extreme cases, it can ruin the wood flooring’s structural integrity.|
Low Humidity Levels on Hardwood Floors
Since wood is a hygroscopic material, it responds to the humidity in the environment. Low humidity can be due to a range of factors including the use of a heating system like furnaces and wood stoves. Your air conditioner and dehumidifier also remove moisture from the air.
Also, if you have poor ventilation and there isn’t enough moisture in the air, it can dry out your indoor environment.
Signs of Low Humidity
Aside from temperature and humidity changes, here are a few indicators of low humidity that you should never ignore:
- Dry, itchy skin
- Static electricity – a shocking sensation when you touch metal objects or walk across the floor
- Dry throat and nose
- Cracking or peeling paint,
In addition, certain regions, such as desert areas, have naturally low humidity levels. So, during the dry season, the low humidity level can:
When the humidity level drops below the normal range, it can cause your hardwood floors to shrink, resulting in thin gaps between the wood planks.
When the humidity is low, your hardwood floors can dry out and shrink. It can make the wood more prone to damage, such as splitting or cracking. This can ultimately cause splinters to protrude, creating a safety threat in your home.
Damage Hardwood Finish
Low humidity can also cause problems on the finish of your hardwood floor. It can become dry and dull, affecting their look.
High Humidity Levels on Hardwood Floors
High humidity levels can be damaging to hardwood floors. It can be due to several factors such as leaks or water damage, which allows moisture to seep into your hardwood flooring.
Another cause could be the use of water-based wood finishes. Such treatments make it difficult for moisture from the product to fully evaporate before the finish cures, resulting in higher humidity in the wood.
Also, if your home has inadequate ventilation, moisture in the air may not be able to evaporate. And this can lead to higher humidity levels.
Signs of High Humidity
There are a few signs that you may have high indoor humidity levels. It may include:
- Fogs on the windows
- Musty odors
- Mold or mildew – discoloration on the walls and other surfaces
- Allergic responses
In general, your location also affects the humidity levels in your home. If you live in close proximity to bodies of water and or vegetation in an area, you can expect indoor humidity to rise. So, when there’s too much moisture in the air, it can:
Have you been noticing a weird shape on the surface of your hardwood floors lately? Your home may have high indoor humidity. High humidity naturally makes wood expand. This can cause the planks’ edges to rise while the middle stays relatively flat, giving in the cupped look.
Cause Hardwood Floors To Crown
When moisture penetrates the wood fibers in hardwood floors, crowning happens. As a result, when there are two sections connected together, you’ll notice a slight bow or elevated area of the floor.
This isn’t typically a problem. But it might drive you insane if you constantly scuff your foot on it or if it gets in the way of normal foot traffic.
Buckling in hardwood floors is when they become raised or “buckled” off the subfloor. The high moisture content in the air can produce a warped or buckled hardwood floor. It’s a common problem if you have a basement and crawl space with inadequate ventilation.
Aside from exposure to harsh weather conditions and the weight or movement of heavy objects on the floor, high humidity levels can also create cracks on your hardwood floors.
The wood absorbs the moisture from the air when the humidity is high. And this will cause it to expand or swell. Cracks are more likely to develop if the indoor humidity is consistently high over an extended period of time.
Keep the Ideal Humidity in Your Home!
Hardwood flooring is one of the most expensive types of flooring on the market. So it only makes sense to protect your investment, right?
One way to do it is to keep the relative humidity in your home at an adequate range. Here are a few ways you can do that:
Clean the Floors Carefully.
Cleaning your hardwood floor is an important part of keeping its overall condition and look. If you spill any liquid like water, juices, sauces, or coffee, make sure to wipe it clean right away. Make sure to use a hardwood cleaning solution and use as little water as possible.
Install a Humidifier or a Dehumidifier.
Humidity control in your home is the best way to protect your hardwood floors. And you can do this by installing either a humidifier or a dehumidifier. These devices also help improve the overall quality and comfort of your indoor air.
You should use a humidifier only when the humidity level in your home is too low. Humidifiers release water vapor into the air. They can help moisturize dry air and prevent dryness-related issues such as dry skin, chapped lips, and dry throat.
On the other hand, choose a good dehumidifier for wood floors when the humidity level in your home is too high. This device physically eliminates excess moisture from the air by pulling in humid air and condensation. Dehumidifiers can help prevent mold and mildew growth, musty odors, and window fog.
Before installing one, consider the size of your home as well as the specific needs of your space. You can talk to a professional HVAC technician or refer to the manufacturer’s instructions to find the ideal size and model for your home.
Monitor Humidity Levels With a Hygrometer.
Using a hygrometer can help you keep track of the humidity level in your home. This device comes in handy because it helps you figure out if you need to use a humidifier or dehumidifier to get the humidity level back into the optimal range.
Hygrometers are available in analog and digital models. Although analog hygrometers tend to be on the more affordable end, digital models will give you more accuracy and are easier to read.
When using a hygrometer, make sure to avoid setting it up near sources of heat, fans, or open windows. Doing so might influence its reliability.
Leave Your Windows Open on Warm Days.
Warm days allow you to enjoy the outdoors, but staying indoors? Not so much!
Now, imagine what that does to your hygroscopic hardwood floor.
Leaving your windows open during humid summers can help improve the interior air quality indoors by allowing fresh air to circulate. It can also help to minimize excess moisture in your home, which can cause mold and mildew growth, and other moisture-related problems.
But, before leaving those windows open, think about the location of your home as well as the current weather conditions. If it’s really hot and humid outside, opening your windows for a long period of time might be a bad idea since it raises the humidity level in your home.
If you must leave your windows open, do it in the early morning or late evening when the outside air is cooler and less humid. You can also use fans or other ventilation solutions to circulate air indoors, so you won’t have to open your windows.
What humidity is bad for hardwood floors?
It’s always best to keep humidity levels in your house between 35 and 55 percent. Anything higher (60 percent) or lower (30 percent) than that range can cause issues for your hardwood floors.
What is a normal moisture reading for wood floors?
It depends on a few factors. You need to consider the type of wood, the location of the flooring, and the installation conditions. When you have the hardwood floors installed, the moisture content of the wood should be between 6 and 8 percent.
If the moisture content in your hardwood floors is higher than 9 percent, the wood may be excessively damp, causing it to shrink or warp after installation. On the other hand, anything less than 6 percent may be too dry, making the wood brittle and prone to cracking.
Maintain proper humidity levels at 30 to 50 percent level to protect your hardwood floors from the damaging effects of temperature changes. Doing so will keep them looking lovely and in good condition.
Consider using a humidifier or dehumidifier as needed. Checking the humidity level using a hygrometer on a regular basis.
Putting in the extra effort to maintain indoor humidity saves both your home and wallet. And we hope that this post motivates you to take measures.
If you have more questions, let us know. Good luck!