The Surfaces 2002 Trade Show and Convention in Las Vegas was host to many discussions relating to wood flooring problems, and as usual, moisture vapor and topical water led the way. As one distributor pointed out, it is because the repair or replacement of wood flooring is so costly that moisture is talked about more than other subjects. And most of those conversations revolve around cracks.

According to The Wood Flooring Manufacturers Association, cracks are the most common cause of complaints with wood floors. Cracks in most cases are normal, a result of heating in the winter season. When the humidity increases in the other seasons, the cracks tend to disappear. If this is the case, no repairs are necessary. And if a repair is attempted and fillers are used, don't be surprised when they pop out as the wood picks up seasonal moisture.

The Importance of Meters

Surfaces saw a bevy of products, both new and old, designed to assist the installation professional in combating moisture problems. One company introduced a non-invasive, pinless meter designed for measuring moisture and identifying potential problems in hardwood, tile and resilient floors. When discussing moisture meters, one frequently asked question is "how far does the signal penetrate?" With this particular instrument, the signal can achieve 3/4-inch penetration.

The show allowed attendees to examine another moisture meter currently in wide use, another pinless, non-invasive instrument that is already specified by one wood manufacturer. This same meter is being used by a few ceramic tile inspectors, even though there is a lack of hard data on methodology.

At a recent installation clinic, 35 mechanics were asked if they currently had a moisture meter in their tool inventory. My unofficial count tallied 12. I found this quite encouraging; initial moisture testing and documentation is the installer's "Get out of Jail Free" card.

The Sounds of Silence

Surfaces attendees also saw a number of attachments designed specifically for suspended wood floors and claiming to solve subfloor problems such as sagging and squeaking. We all know that there are many reasons for squeaky floors, including flexing subfloors, but problems also stem from using incorrect substrates such as particleboard; improper or inadequate nailing techniques; and poor adhesion from inadequate gluing. Squeaks can also originate from poor humidity control that results in dry-out, even in properly installed floors. A few corrective measures might include injection, face-nailing, counter-sinking and filling and re-introducing a proper humidity level.

Ceramic tiles are subject to expansion. This results in tiles placing pressure against each other, which can lead to a loss of bond. Wood floors subjected to excessive moisture will also expand; this may result in "edge crush" and, in some cases, the plank may literally become attached to an adjacent piece, resulting in more shrinkage cracks at the weak points when they dry out.

Solid wood floors are hygroscopic in nature, i.e. they absorb and release moisture as conditions change around them. That is why acclimation is so important; wood flooring should be acclimated to the job site before, during and, most importantly, after installation. It's the best way to get a head start on alleviating or even eliminating shrinkage and cracks.