Planks have gotten wider and longer in both solid and engineered flooring, and with it comes increased attention to acclimation to avoid the chance of a callback. We spoke to hardwood flooring contractors about working with these wider and longer planks, the importance of acclimation as well as tips on achieving the popular oil finished looks.

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Acclimation. John Schutt, vice president of sales and marketing, Southern Cross Building Products, works specifically on the company’s Anchor-Weld product line that includes adhesives for wood flooring. Schutt suggests board acclimation is absolutely essential to a quality installation. “Our installation instructions require the adhesive be acclimated in closed buckets for the same amount of time as the flooring. This ensures the adhesive has reached a temperature range consistent with the ambient air temperature, and will perform to the installer’s expectations. Properly trained installers know they must moisture-check the substrate and the wood flooring for internal moisture.”

Flooring manufacturers typically list a moisture content range that is acceptable for compliance with their warranty, Schutt added. “Adhesive manufacturers require the flooring manufacturer’s standards are met before installation begins.”

Avi Hadad, owner of Avi’s Hardwood Floors in San Pablo, Calif., put it simply: “Acclimation determines success or failure when it comes to wood floors. The contractor should know the wood, the geographical area in which he or she resides and the jobsite conditions. It is always a combination of education and experience.”

It’s important to remember that when installing, the entire install area must be acclimatized before, during and after installation, said John Geier, technical service manager, W.F. Taylor. “An acclimation period should be no less than 48 hours, up to 72 hours and sometimes even one week. This will allow the hardwood to be at the same equilibrium with the installation area.”

“The flooring manufacturer usually will specify the acclimation time, and the installer should follow those instructions and document what he or she is doing,” said Grete Heimerdinger, vice president of moisture meter manufacturer Lignomat. Pay attention to “moisture readings at the time of unwrapping the boards, moisture content after acclimation and the time in-between,” she recommended.

Mark Lamanno, technical market manager of Franklin International/Titebond, noted that all of the wet work must be completed and windows, doors, thresholds and weather stripping should be in place before bringing in the hardwood. “The HVAC system must be in and operating for 14 days prior to wood being delivered to the site, and the installer should take and record moisture measurements at that time, so then if material being installed is not within the proper moisture content of that environment, the material needs to be adjusted to conform to those measurements.”

He added, “Too many times, I hear of a consumer going on a vacation, turning off the HVAC to save money and returning home to flooring that has shrunk or grown due to lack of controls.” The owner needs to be apprised of these requirements, too, and once the contractor leaves the installation, it is imperative the conditions remain the same as they were for the acclimation.

Chris Zizza, president of C&R Flooring in Boston, noted while acclimation is definitely important, the better question is what the moisture content will be in the environment. Bottom line, Zizza said, is the jobsite needs to mimic the conditions of the home it will perform in. “Acclimation is directly related to the moisture content of the flooring, the moisture content of the subfloor and the environment of the job site.”

A good wood moisture meter is essential for any successful wood floor installation, mentioned Jason Spangler, flooring division sales manager for Wagner Meters. “Installers can easily use hand-held moisture meters to accurately and cost-effectively assess the moisture content of their wood. This wood moisture meter measurement can likely reveal moisture changes in the wood flooring.”

For solid hardwood flooring upon delivery, assessors need to measure the flooring’s moisture content upon delivery in order to verify it is within acceptable specifications for installation purposes, added Spangler. “The wood flooring’s moisture content will acclimate to the room’s natural environmental setting, so installers should measure the wood flooring’s baseline moisture content (MC) prior to acclimation.”

Wider, longer planks. When working with wider and longer planks, Geier noted it’s important to remember an engineered wood is typically more stable than a solid wood because the multi-ply construction does not allow the wood to expand and contract as much.

“Temperature, relative humidity in the room and moisture in the wood and the substrate will affect the movement of a wood product. In the dry winter months you will see a solid wood move more than an engineered wood. This is why you may see some gapping between the planks within a solid wood and not in an engineered wood.  The solid wood planks are shrinking and the engineered wood is not,” he said. Similarly “a wider formatted plank will move more than a thin strip plank, since a wider plank has more material that is affected by temperature, relative humidity and moisture.”

Lamanno mentioned it is still vital that wood and concrete subfloors need to be checked and brought into manufacturer’s recommendations for installation. “The belief that engineered flooring is a bit more forgiving is true, but follow all manufacturer recommendations to the letter.”

Schutt said he sees many of the extra-wide engineered woods now available coming out of the package with cupping issues. “Some installers have reported issues of dimensional instability as well, causing unacceptable wide joints. Using a premium quality adhesive is always worth the investment with wider and longer floors.”

As wider and longer boards have become an industry trend in recent years, visual appeal has helped generate a growing demand, stated Larry Scott, vice president of field technical services, DriTac. “But with wider and longer planks comes a propensity for additional moisture to pass through each board. Wider and longer boards have a tendency to expand and contract more than narrow and shorter boards because of the additional moisture. Due to fluctuating moisture levels at any given jobsite, the acclimation of wider and longer boards becomes even more essential throughout the installation.”

He added, “Acclimating solid planks is more critical than engineered planks. However, the acclimation process is a major key to any successful flooring installation, regardless of the wood flooring type utilized.”

Zizza echoed these sentiments. “Typically, engineered is your more stable floor compared to solids, but engineered flooring can still move with the seasons. Bottom line: follow manufacturing and industry guidelines regarding expansion to stay out of trouble.”

Oil finishes. John Lessick, owner and president of Apex Wood Floors in Chicago, said not only are oil finishes a growing trend in the hardwood industry but believes they will continue to be for some time. Lessick suggests installers and contractors should take specific, appropriate steps to ensure oil finishes are applied correctly.

“The two most important things to be aware of are: First, how the floor is sanded—this is a different process than when you sand a floor that is finished with a hard coat finish. Second, the finisher must be patient when applying, buffing, wiping and burnishing these types of finishes. When you try to go fast, too much product is left on the surface that isn’t properly applied and it doesn’t perform as intended.”

Oil finished floors are beautiful but they are not for all customers, Geier noted. “A higher degree of long-term maintenance has to be observed with an oil finished floor. They tend to show traffic patterns within highly walked areas of the floor. This can be resolved by using an approved revitalizing dressing, usually sourced from the manufacturer of the flooring product. This dressing will restore the finish back to its original beauty.”

Zizza and Schutt both mentioned how professional YouTube videos have become a very handy tool to use as instruction or to share new tips on applying oil finishes. “One of the most positive developments to come out of the Internet age is the huge increase in readily available instruction videos,” Schutt stated. “Whether you are looking for additional information on how to apply an adhesive or how to apply a finish, it is probably on YouTube, or imbedded in the manufacturer’s website.” He also mentioned the importance of seeing these products firsthand through live demonstrations at trade shows and distributor events.

“I cannot stress enough the importance of following the manufacturer’s instruction” when it comes to oil finishes, said Lamanno. Document all moisture readings, and take the time to properly prepare the site for the installation, as well as inform the customer of what to expect after the installer leaves the site. “The customer should think of the flooring as a fine piece of furniture you can walk on and care for accordingly.” Additionally, it is in the best interests of the installer or contractor to review the maintenance schedule and application of all maintenance products with the owner. “This will save you and the retailer time and frustration in the long run. It will also make for a happy customer.”