For the do-it-yourself crowd, there's a difficult balance between what you want to do, getting the materials to do it, and finding time to do the work. When you buy hardwood flooring to install later, you can store the materials indefinitely. However, without a bit of preparation you could ruin the wood before it ever leaves the box.
Lewis and Rosemary Gaylord - Founders of Gaylord Hardwood Flooring
But Don’t I Need To Acclimatize The Wood?
In the past, acclimatizing your wood by leaving it for days or even weeks in its new environment was standard practice; with earlier manufacturing processes, this actually helped the wood dry out. Modern hardwood flooring is often kiln dried, however; this means that when it’s boxed it’s ready to install, and should be installed as soon as possible. Ask about the specific recommendations for your hardwood product because details can change depending on the process and type of wood. Generally speaking, if you need to store your hardwood flooring for a period of time the wood should be exposed to as little change as possible from the warehouse.
Hardwood Flooring Storage: What Could Go Wrong
The National Wood Flooring Association recommends keeping the humidity in your home between 30 and 50 percent, and the temperature between 15C and 24C (60F and 75F). These same guidelines apply to the location where you will be storing your hardwood. Most problems that you'll encounter with hardwood flooring are related to water. Keeping your your wood away from leaks or potential flooding is pretty straightforward, but keeping it away from humidity requires a bit more planning. Everything from poor ventilation (i.e. in a crawl space) to washing and cleaning activities can add humidity to the air or even prevent moisture from evaporating. Going back to the old argument for acclimatizing, working with wood that’s had time to absorb extra moisture can cause a variety of problems:
- The planks could become warped. Each individual piece will react to moisture independently, which could cause difficulty when it’s time to install; the wood could, for example, expand on one end but remain the same on the other.
- Every piece could expand slightly. Once installed, when the seasons change and the humidity drops, each plank will shrink back; this is what causes gapping.
- Other damage could occur. Staining, splitting and cracks can derail your re flooring project before you even start.
Repairing water or moisture damage of any sort can be a complicated process, when it can even be repaired. The easiest thing to do is to take steps to prevent the damage in the first place.
Only Unload When Conditions Are Good
When the weather is wet due to rain or snow, or if it’s particularly humid, avoid loading or unloading hardwood flooring. As noted above, any moisture can damage wood in different ways like changing its shape or developing cracks as it dries. However, wood that actually gets wet must be allowed to thoroughly dry out or it could also develop mold or mildew. If you manage to avoid damaging the wood outright, drying wet hardwood is a slow process that can take weeks.
Find The Right Storage Location
“Properly kiln dried lumber stored inside of a residence where temperature is controlled, will not significantly gain or loose [sic] moisture, thus there is little shrinking or swelling,” wrote Daniel L. Cassens, a professor at Perdue University, in an information sheet about storing wood. “However,” he continued, “if the lumber is stored in a damp basement, unheated garage or other storage area, it will regain moisture.” To keep your wood in good install-ready condition, here are a few factors to consider:
- Avoid the garage and the basement: As noted by Cassens, typical storage locations like the garage and basement are poor choices for your hardwood. Generally more exposed to dampness or temperature fluctuations, many basements also have ongoing moisture problems (particularly in spring) and an unexpected flood could cause severe damage to the materials.
- Good ventilation: Storing hardwood in an area with good ventilation will help prevent humidity build up and condensation.
- Consistent conditions: Particularly on a construction site, a lot of fluctuations can occur; hardwood shouldn't be stored on-site until construction is at a point where heat and humidity can be kept to the same consistent levels as when the house is eventually occupied.
- Elevate it: While this is particularly true if you must store the wood over concrete you don’t want condensation to slowly pool under your wood. Be sure to elevate the boxes off the ground using 2x4s or similar objects.
Monitor Your Storage Conditions
Before leaving your hardwood flooring in a location, and on a regular basis once it’s there, monitor both the environment and the condition of the wood. This will hopefully help you catch any problems before they can have a significant impact.
- Check the humidity in the air: A hygrometer is a device that measures the humidity in your home, and a moisture meter can measure the amount of moisture in your wood. The humidity in the air should consistently be between 30 and 50 percent.
- Check the humidity in the wood: Hardwood is generally manufactured between 6 and 9 percent moisture, so keep the wood within these levels during storage.
With some planning and ongoing attention storing your hardwood flooring has no adverse effects on your boards until you have the opportunity to install it, without running into any serious issues.