Why solid wood needs to be fixed to sub floors
Posted on 17th July 2012
Try floating solid wood and you’ll be sunk’
Consultant Sid Bourne repeats his caution against floating wood floors: I have written previously about the risks of trying to float solid wood flooring and I still say – regardless of what the manufacturer tells you – that I advise against doing it:
MY opinions may be a bit controversial, but after many years working in the industry I think I have the required knowledge and expertise to contradict manufacturers who say differently.
I have conducted numerous site inspections and written many reports on failed floors, and I am still convinced that floating solid wood flooring can lead to major problems.
For example, the other month I went to look at a floating solid wood floor installed into a large lounge area. The floor had lifted so much that I found squatters living underneath.
During my site visit I met the installer and home owner who both insisted that the flooring had been installed correctly by the book, according to the manufacturer’s instructions. And, yes, they had left adequate provision for expansion and so on.
The home owner even told me he had read out the instructions to the installer and measured the provision for expansion after the installer made his cuts and all were fine. I asked about moisture and humidity readings and to my surprise the installer whipped out his Tramex. He even gave me documented readings which was a first.
Of course, the problem with the floor had been reported back to the manufacturer who sent a representative to the site. And guess what? Yes, he blamed the installer. Surprise, surprise!
I contacted the supplier and asked for a report on their findings as they had not sent one to the consumer. They told me they did not do reports as there was nothing wrong with their product. I replied that although I could not fault their product, their method of installation set out in their instructions was incorrect. They then quoted to me that their use of a specialist kiln drying process stops the floor from expanding. This made it suitable for floating.
I asked the supplier to tell me about their special kiln drying process and how it was carried out. But then, after a pause, he admitted he didn’t know exactly what the kiln drying involved, but he had been told that it worked. I then asked for a letter telling me exactly what was done. Of course, I never received it.
The good news in this case was the supplier eventually backed down and re-supplied all the materials free of charge, once they realised this problem would not go away. That was after they had been made aware that the home owner, in this instance, was a solicitor.
Let me repeat my caution, do not float solid wood flooring. Why? Firstly wood is hygroscopic, which means it takes in moisture and loses moisture. For a layman I can compare it to a sponge. If I install solid wood flooring in a room in equilibrium with its surroundings and keep it in this exact condition forever then, of course, the solid wood floor can be floated as it remains stable. But in reality that is an impossible situation.
Did you know that there are multiple sources of moisture in any house. For example, a family of four produces approximately 240ml of moisture an hour, just from breathing. Having a bath releases the same amount of moisture and don’t forget natural or forced air movement. So how do you keep a room in perfect equilibrium?
The answer is that you cannot. When you float a solid wood floor it will move and expand to its full potential. That is why you need to nail, screw or glue down the flooring or use a special clip system which allows for field expansion depending on the expected range of humidity changes in use.
So when a manufacturer says you can float their solid wood flooring because they have magic fairy dust put into the kiln drying process, just ask to see the magic fairy. I guarantee they will not produce it.
The other thing is to ask the manufacturer to put it in writing that if you float their floor exactly to their instructions, and if anything goes wrong, will they replace all the materials and pay for your labour? Let me assure you they will never give you that guarantee.
It is with some sadness that I say this, because I love wood. I carry out my own tests on wood floors and personally experience the issues about wood. So I do fully understand how wood works and can advise on the best method of installation, taking into account the environment and the species.
It won’t surprise you to hear that I am not very popular with some manufacturers. That is because I say what I mean and what I know which sometimes causes, let’s say, differences of opinion.
But it is also a fact that other manufacturers and suppliers do request my advice and ask me to test for certain things.
They know my findings will be honest, and they also understand that you can only make confident claims that something works if it has been tested in a real working, living environment, not based on an A4 test sample in perfect laboratory test conditions.
Used with permission from trade magazine CFJ contract flooring journal
Written by Sid Bourne
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