5 Most Common Problems with Hardwood Floors

Hardwood flooring is unsurpassed for beauty, a classic material that enhances the warmth and elegance of any home. Despite its obvious strong points, there are a few hardwood flooring problems to consider before you make your decision.

Hardwood Flooring Problems and their Solution

Some of these problems with hardwood floors can be solved; others are part of the nature of hardwood, but can be offset quite easily.

  1. Buckling, Warping and Gaps

This one covers a lot of ground. Hardwood is a naturally absorbent material, so it will swell and shrink with changes in humidity. This can lead to serious results when every board in the flooring field goes through even minor changes.

The first cause of buckling, warping and similar problems is a failure to acclimate the wood to its environment before installation. For example, if the wood has been in an unheated warehouse in damp weather, it might have a high moisture content. If it is brought into a home that is heated by a forced-air furnace without humidification, the wood will dry out, shrink and separate, causing gaps. The opposite, buckling or tenting, can occur if moved from a dry location into a well-humidified home. The solution is to bring the boxes into your home at least three days ahead of installation. Open them, and let them adapt to the indoor climate before installation. It’s a good idea to keep your home reasonably humidified throughout the year – between 35 and 70 percent relative humidity is best for hardwood.

A second cause of buckling is installers not leaving an expansion space around the perimeter of the room. The flooring will slightly expand and contract with changes in humidity, and an expansion gap gives it room to do this without buckling. A gap of 1/4 to 3/8 inch is sufficient and can be covered by trim.

A third cause of this problem is installing hardwood where moisture and humidity are consistently present – namely in bathrooms and below grade. One solution is to install engineered hardwood flooring in these locations instead of solid hardwood. Engineered flooring is more stable due to its multi-layered, cross-grain construction.

  1. Noise

Walk across wood in hard shoes, and you’ll hear a familiar click-clack sound. Kids and their toys, pets and their claws and arranging furniture all make significant noise. There’s no permanent solution for this. Wearing socks or slippers in the house, putting pads on the bottom of chair feet and encouraging kids to play in carpeted areas will greatly reduce the noise, but ultimately wood is hard, and some noise is inevitable.

  1. Hardness

The hardness promotes the noise, but it also means that standing on hardwood for any length of time can produce foot and back pain. Sitting or lying on it isn’t comfortable. Homeowners employ several common solutions including:

  • Wearing a comfortable pair of walking shoes in the house, perhaps with gel inserts
  • Placing area rugs at common standing locations such as in front of the sink or food-prep island
  • Laying a larger rug where you like to lounge on the floor – and don’t forget that pets like a soft place to lie down too
  1. Squeaking

Squeaky hardwood floors are usually the fault of improper installation of the subfloor or the hardwood flooring. Squeaking also comes with age. If you have newer hardwood that squeaks, contact the installer and make it clear you expect them to remedy the problem at no cost to you. If the floors are older, a good flooring installer will have tricks to employ that will stop the squeaks.

  1. Scratches, Dents and Dings

Hardwood floor species vary quite a bit in hardness. Here are a few examples from the Janka Rating chart. The higher the number, the harder the wood:

  • Red Maple – 950
  • Red Oak – 1290
  • White Oak – 1360
  • American Hickory – 1820
  • Brazilian Cherry – 2350
  • Bamboo – 2789
  • Brazilian Rosewood – 3280
  • Brazilian Walnut/Ipe – 3684

To prevent scratches, dents and gouges, choose one of the harder wood species. Regardless of the wood type you select, a few precautions will prevent damage. Sweep the floor regularly to remove debris that can scratch the surface. Pad furniture feet, and always lift and move furniture rather than dragging it. Place a rug near the sink or between the dishwasher and cabinets to cushion the fall of dropped glasses, pots and pans.

Are you Still in Love with Hardwood?

Hardwood, like all flooring types, has its potential problems. However, the problems all have solutions. If you love the natural beauty of hardwood, its potential problems shouldn’t keep you from installing it and enjoying its rich warmth for decades to come.