We would appreciate your advice regarding the installation of Birch or Maple 3/4″ flooring in our newly constructed cottage. I am having difficulty in locating someone who has experience with this type of concern.
The cottage in question is capable of being a four-season dwelling. The majority of use will be from April to Sept. and the occasional use during the winter months, weekends, Xmas, etc. We hope to use the heat only while it is occupied. By heating only while occupied will this affect the flooring or the newly installed Hickory kitchen cupboards?
Here are a few facts and concerns. The cottage is approx. 1800 sq. ft. and of that we would have approx. 900 sq. ft. of hardwood. It is a pad & post design but a foundation around most of the perimeter has been added. This is made up of a concrete pony wall & 2 X 6 studding. It will be all insulated. All the pads are located on solid rock and all dirt has been removed inside the perimeter walls.
Moisture is a problem in the crawl space after a heavy rain and a sump pump has been installed to remove the water as required. Mother nature has beaten me in every endeavour to redirect the water, so far. An oil furnace is installed in the crawl space and a wood-burning fireplace will be in the living room.
Can we install the flooring we desire without serious adverse results such as warping? If possible, what would be the desired board size, length, finish required, etc?
The problems associated with seasonal heating of cottages is familiar to anyone who has opened their building in the spring to find buckled panelling and ceilings or other damage. These problems may be due to fluctuations in temperature, humidity, or shifting due to settlement or frost heaving. This may vary, depending on the type of building materials used, with manufactured wood fibre materials often damaged more severely.
The use of natural hardwood flooring in a seasonally heated cottage may be one of the best decisions you can make. Wood is normally less affected by shrinkage and expansion related to moisture and temperature than composite material such as fibreboard and particleboard or vinyl. This is somewhat due to the structural makeup of natural wood products that often shrink and expand in width and thickness, but much less in length. This is one reason that successive layers of plywood or OSB sheathing are glued perpendicular to each other’s length and grain, to allow for maximum strength.
Many cottages that were constructed in the first half of the twentieth century were built primarily of wood and have withstood year after year of seasonal heating, with minimal damage to the interior components. Hardwood flooring was not as common as deciduous softwoods such as fir or pine, but was also used. There should be little concern with excess buckling or warping of the flooring if several precautions are taken.
The first and most important consideration is the moisture content of the wood flooring prior to installation. There are optimum moisture contents levels of the natural wood product, which may vary slightly with the particular species. If the wood is too moist, it may shrink and leave gaps between the boards. If the wood is too dry, it may swell in humid summer weather and buckle. Consultation with flooring suppliers and/or the installation contractor as to ideal moisture content is imperative.
Even if the wood flooring is properly seasoned and dried to the proper moisture level, there is no guarantee that it will retain this level after transportation to the site, prior to installation. The material may have been sitting in a dry warehouse or wet lumberyard for a long time, which may have a markedly different relative humidity than the cottage environment. For this reason, delivery of the flooring and storage of the material inside the cottage for a matter or weeks, or even longer, is critical. This will allow the wood to acclimatize and adjust to the normal humidity level at the cottage, which is often much higher than in the city or town, where the material is likely to be stored.
Wood finish is also an important consideration and should be chosen based on a combination of aesthetic appeal and durability. There are numerous finishes available with some being solvent-based and others water-based. Finishes may range from satin, with little shine, to high gloss. You would be well advised to research different options prior to selection of flooring and installation.
Due to the complexity and variance in the environment that the flooring will have to adapt to, professional help should be sought for proper installation. As always, estimates from two or three flooring contractors are recommended for selection of the best materials and installation criteria.