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How Does Cold Weather Affect Your Flooring?

Monday, November 19 2018 2:14 PM

With its cold temperatures and dry indoor air, the winter season can affect your home’s flooring. Muddy slush and road treatment particles (salt, de-icer, sand) can stain and scratch. Let’s take a look at how cold weather affects different types of floors, and what you can do to keep them in good shape.boots on a snowy front door mat

Solid Hardwood Flooring

Wood is a natural product that responds to changing temperatures and humidity levels in much the same way we do. It even enjoys the same ideal temperature range (65–75℉) and relative humidity (35–55%) as we do.

The wooden planks in solid hardwood flooring will naturally contract (shrink) in response to colder temperatures. At the same time, running your furnace causes the humidity level in your home to plummet. Just as you experience dry skin and chapped lips from the dry winter air, your wood flooring can also dry out and shrink.

The result? Gaps (or “cracks”) open up between the boards in your hardwood flooring. This condition should resolve once temperatures and humidity levels rise again and the wood absorbs more moisture.

What can you do?

This response in your wood flooring is common and natural. It’s not a defect unless the gaps are excessive, don’t resolve, or get worse over time. If any of these are the case, or you notice cupping or crowning of the boards, consult a wood flooring expert.

You can mitigate the gapping (and make your indoor air a LOT more comfortable) with a humidifier. A built-in humidifier in your heating system can automatically maintain the proper humidity level throughout your home. Talk with your HVAC professional about options. If that’s not in the budget, you can use a stand-alone humidifier and a hygrometer (an inexpensive humidity gauge) to bring moisture to your home’s problem areas.

Also make sure to seal up any gaps around windows and doors. Use draft blockers. You’ll save money on energy bills, too!

Engineered Wood Flooring

Engineered wood flooring has a thin solid wood veneer over plywood backing. Plywood is more dimensionally stable than solid hardwood and doesn’t respond as much to temperature and humidity changes. That means the boards should contract less during cold weather.

Luxury Vinyl Flooring (LVF)

Popular vinyl flooring is made from durable synthetic plastic resin that is impervious to moisture. While it can have the look of wood planks, it doesn’t expand or contract with humidity changes like real wood does. It is flexible and slightly soft underfoot, and so warms up faster than tile.

Laminate Flooring

Laminate flooring is constructed of dense fiberboard, plywood or plastic core topped with a photo-realistic pattern and clear plastic protective layer. Cold weather and dry conditions don’t affect plastic core, and plywood responds far less than hardwood. Fiberboard is subject to warping with large amounts of moisture, so keep those tracked-in puddles of melting snow wiped up.

Carpet

When the temperatures drop, you’ll be glad for nice warm carpeting to ward off the chill. While the change in weather doesn’t affect carpeted floors, you still may want to consider a humidifier if dry air in your home is leading to discomfort and static. When the air is dry and crackly, shuffling across a carpeted floor is an easy route to static cling and static shocks!

It’s also more difficult to keep carpets clean in winter. Ice-melt particles and road salt can stain or “bleach” your carpet, so clean it up promptly. Avoid tracking dirty slush onto the carpet.

Prevent Winter Damage to Your Flooring

While not directly tied to the cold weather, the winter months bring increased chances of floor damage.

The tread of winter boots can trap small stones, ice-melt crystals, and grit that scratch floors. Melting snow, sand and salt can all damage your flooring’s finish or stain your carpets. Solid hardwood and engineered wood floors (which have a wood veneer top layer) are especially susceptible to scratches and water damage.

Use outdoor mats at all entrances, and waterproof mats inside. Ask family and guests to remove their shoes in the front entryway. Clean frequently, taking care not to accidentally rub or sweep abrasive particles into the floor.

Have questions about what flooring is best for Wichita winters, or need more tips and pointers on winter floor care? Contact our experts today!

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