Mind the Gap

Mind the Gap

4 Tips to Prevent Gapping in Hardwood Floors

Recently, one of our friends visited London, England, and spent quite a bit of time on the subway (which they call the “tube”) and riding in above ground trains to other locations. Trains are a major form of transportation in Europe. While it might take some getting used to for those of us from small town Tennessee, as it did our friend, there is certainly one thing that stands out: a polite British person reminding passengers to “Mind the Gap” every time you disembark a train.

Because our friend was not so familiar with the voice warning her to mind the gap that she ignored it like everyone else, she actually looked down as she stepped off the train. Sure enough, there was a gap between the train and the platform that, if you were particularly unlucky, you might step into or at least drop something in.

What in the world does this have to do with hardwood flooring? Well, I’m glad you ask!

While gaps on the surface you walk on may not be as extreme as those between a train and a platform, it is good to be aware of what many refer to as “gapping” in the hardwood flooring industry.

What is gapping?

Photo Credit: Quinn Dombrowski; CC BY-SA 4.0

Gapping refers to the separation of boards from one another, generally due to environmental factors. Because wood is a natural element, it expands and contracts based on the temperature and moisture levels in the atmosphere. Usually, when it is hot and humid, wooden boards will expand, sometimes resulting in what is called “cupping.” You can read more about cupping here. Conversely, when it is cold and dry, the boards contract, resulting in potential gaps between them.

While gapping in hardwood flooring is a natural occurrence and usually fixes itself during the warmer months, there are ways to prevent it. Below are our top 4 tips to prevent your hardwood floors from gapping.

How to Prevent Gapping

1. Proper Installation

There is nothing quite as preventative as making sure the boards are properly installed to begin with. This includes making sure each board is straight and that there is proper room for expansion on the perimeter of the floor. Of course, that will depend on the type of wood you’ve chosen, which we will discuss next. Even installing one board slightly crooked or with an edge that isn’t perfectly straight can result in issues down the road. This is why we always recommend that you have a professional wood flooring specialist install your hardwood floor, especially if you are in an environment with distinct changes in seasons and high humidity levels, like East Tennessee. An expert will be familiar with the atmospheric changes, the type of wood you need, and the best way to install it to prevent gapping (and cupping).

2. Choosing the Right Kind of Wood

Choosing the correct wood species for your hardwood floor is also a significant factor in preventing gapping. Choosing a harder wood like white oak is an excellent choice. Harder woods are naturally more water resistant and, consequently, less resistant to environmental changes. If you want to look at different hardwoods and how they compare to softwoods, you can check out our blog, “Hardwood vs Softwood.”

You could also consider using engineered wood flooring. Some industry professionals suggest that engineered wood flooring is the best choice if you live in a humid environment. Of course, there is a debate on the validity of this statement and some controversy around why some may want to push engineered wood on you when solid wood, when properly treated and installed, can handle humidity just as well. Interested in that debate? Check out our blog, “Solid Wood vs Engineered Wood.”

3. Choose the Right Finish

Choosing an appropriate finish is essential when it comes to preventing gaps in your wood floor. A good finish should not only add an aesthetic element to your floor; it should, first and foremost, protect your floor from external damage like dings and scratches and internal issues caused by fluctuations in moisture. There are many options to choose from, including traditional polyurethane to a more environmentally friendly natural oil. The exact type of finish that will be best for you will depend on your situation. So, you’ll once again want to talk to a specialist to decide what will work for you.

4. Control Humidity

As you may have realized, most of this conversation has revolved around moisture and humidity. While you may not be able to control the weather (don’t we wish!), you can take steps to control the atmosphere inside your home or business. Utilizing a humidifier during the winter months can help keep the humidity level in your home in the optimal range, which is between 35 and 55%. You can also use a dehumidifier in the summer months if it is a particularly wet season. You’ll also want to keep the temperature inside the building between 60-80 degrees. You can learn more about hardwood and humidity here.

By following these tips, you should be able to prevent gapping in your wood floors. However, if you did not, don’t worry! There are ways to fix gaps that may occur. If you see gaps in your floor today and want to learn your options on fixing them, give us a call or fill out the form below. We would be happy to help!


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