Trained Eye

 
 
 

Seasonal Floor Movement

Question:

I have a problem that has me stumped. I purchased my home, built in 1971, in South Winnipeg 10 years ago. It is a bungalow. The main floor, which is parquet, cracks and heaves in the winter, especially in the deep cold, like we have been experiencing this last while. Also, in the summer, when it is really hot and the air conditioner is operating a lot, the heaving also occurs. Right now it is so deep that several of the parquetry pieces have lifted completely.

It became extremely, and more progressively noticeable since the flood in 1997. I live approximately 15 blocks from the Red River, just inside the perimeter.

If you can offer any insight, or recommend any solutions, I would greatly appreciate it.

Answer:

The parquet floor in your home is a natural wood product that will be subject to expansion and contraction with changes in temperature and humidity. I suspect that the loose pieces and heaving you describe are actually shrinkage due to dry air in the winter and from the dehumidification of the air conditioning in the summer. I doubt the flood had anything to do with your problem, other than to show that many years have passed since the floor had been originally installed. There may not be much you can do other than repairing the floor, but I will try to offer some explanation and suggestions.

The problem with parquet flooring, as apposed to other types of hardwood flooring, is that it is many small pieces glued down. Most strip hardwood flooring has a tongue and groove integral to the planks that are nailed down. The tongue and groove allow for some expansion and contraction, without the boards separating. Parquet does not have this type of system. The benefit of parquet is that the boards and squares are very small, so there is normally less movement that larger plank flooring.

When wood flooring is installed, it is very important that the moisture content of the wood is at optimum level and that the material is left in the home for a period of time to acclimatize to the humidity in the home. This was a long time ago, for your home, and may have been successfully done. Now, after many years, the wood may have further dried and more likely, the adhesive for the flooring has dried out. The seasonal expansion and contraction of the wood has caused the old adhesive to finally let go of the flooring and the pieces have become loose. Also, the old finish on the wood is likely deteriorated and will allow moisture from the wood to easily flow to and from the air in the home.

Most parquet flooring, if in good condition, should be repairable. All the loose pieces should be removed and can be reattached to the subfloor with new adhesive. This may leave the surface somewhat uneven, so sanding and refinishing may be required. Having a professional flooring contractor repair and refinish the flooring is recommended. Once the loose pieces are fixed, small gaps between the boards can be filled, the floor sanded smooth and the surface refinished. Often, the new floor finish will seal in the remaining moisture in the wood, minimizing further problems in the future.

Most building materials in a home have a limited life expectancy, but wood flooring and trim may be one of the most durable items, if well maintained. Moisture is the main enemy of wood in a home, and refinishing older floors will prevent moisture damage. I have seen many older wood floors, including parquet, beautifully refinished. If the boards are slightly damaged or discoloured they can even be stained, prior to final finishing, to help hide imperfections.

Many new finishes have been developed in the last couple of decades, and many are water-based and environmentally friendly. These are not all appropriate for use on floors and care must be taken in selecting the proper material. The wrong type of finish may not seal the wood effectively, or may cause the grain to raise and the floor to be rough. Some finishes may not protect the wood from water or grease spills and may not last long without deterioration. Choosing a proper finish should be done with consultation by a professional hardwood flooring contractor, to avoid problems.

You may be able to do minor repairs, yourself, but if larger areas are affected this won’t be possible. Refinishing the floor will not only improve the appearance, but may help minimize the seasonal movement in wood floor itself.

 

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