Last month, the problem reappeared in worse form. The vendor told me that if the humidity in my home is higher than 55 percent, I would have to pay for new flooring and labor. He brought a humidity meter, and in the wet weather the reading was above 70 percent.
Most of the flooring looks fine, except where there is buckling, which appears to be caused by the boards being laid too tightly. Am I justified in concluding that the floor-laying in June was faulty and that the company should fix the job?
A: Call a different wood-flooring contractor and ask for an inspection and an estimate of how much it would cost to fix the problem. Once you learn the likely cause or causes, you can decide whether to go back to the initial installer to demand a fix if the problem is indeed how the flooring was installed. Or if the problem is something else — such as a new leak — you’d know that you need to pay to have the floors fixed. Then it would be only fair to hire the company that did the inspection.
Rusty Swindoll, technical services manager for the National Wood Flooring Association (800-422-4556; nwfa.org ), looked at the pictures and said his best guess is that there is a fresh leak of some sort from the washing machine, the nearby hot-water heater, or the pipes to or from these appliances.
Humid air can indeed cause problems with wood flooring, Swindoll said, but if that were the only issue, you’d see what the flooring industry calls cupping: Edges of the boards rise and the centers sink, giving the floors a striped texture.
The boards on your floors look flat, except where they have bulged. So, besides a leak, there might be a few other issues. The boards might not have been fastened securely, or the installer might have failed to provide the required expansion gap where the flooring meets the walls. Boards should be installed to sit tightly together, but there needs to be a gap at the edges so that the wood can swell a bit in humid weather. The required gap depends on whether the flooring is solid wood or “engineered flooring,” which is made up of layers of wood or composite material. The pictures you sent show you have an engineered product, which means the gap width should equal the thickness of the boards, Swindoll said. So, if your flooring is five-eighths-inch thick, the flooring would need to stop that distance from the walls.
Installers use baseboards or a piece of molding attached to the lower edge of the baseboards to cover the gap. But if the molding is nailed to the floors, the nails defeat the purpose of the gap, which could also be the problem.
Although engineered flooring can be distorted permanently if soaked, it is more forgiving of swings in humidity than solid-wood flooring, Swindoll said. Manufacturers generally specify that a house with engineered wood floors needs to be kept at 60 to 80 degrees with relative humidity between 35 and 55 percent.
To the extent that high humidity in wet weather is a factor, you (not a flooring installer) would be responsible for addressing that through the use of a dehumidifier and a humidifier, depending on the season. But no one should assume that high humidity is the only culprit until all of the possibilities are checked out. To find a trained contractor, you can use the “find a professional” service on the flooring association’s consumer-facing website, Woodfloors.org.
If seeking help from a different contractor still leaves you feeling as if you are being taken advantage of and you want to pursue legal action, hire a flooring inspector who can testify on your behalf. The flooring association also has a “find an inspector” feature . But you will need to pay the inspector for the diagnosis; flooring contractors generally bundle their cost for doing the inspection into the cost of fixing the problem.
Regardless of the cause and who pays, there is no way to repair the flooring without removing at least the bulged boards and installing replacement pieces. Although it’s possible the existing pieces can be reused, Swindoll said that is unlikely. Because of that, address this issue promptly. Manufacturers change their product lines over time, and the longer you wait to get replacement boards, the harder it may become to find matching material.
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