Hardwood Floor Buckling? (How To Fix It and Save Your Foor)

Hardwood Floor Buckling

Hardwood floors can be a beautiful sight. Whether it is natural wood or a laminate, they can provide that beautiful aesthetic that so many homeowners desire. Unfortunately, they are also susceptible to potential damage.

So, it can be a real nightmare when there is damage to that flooring. The more money that went into the flooring, the worse it feels. Unfortunately, there are a few issues that can result in buckling. Excessive humidity or water, improper installation, and a failure to acclimate the wood to the home are all common reasons for this issue.

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What Does it Mean When Floors Buckle?

If you aren’t familiar with the different types of damage that hardwood floors can incur, it may be difficult to know where to begin when implementing a fix. That said, when your wood floors buckle, they rise unevenly. The result is humps and uneven surfaces across your flooring.

Wood will naturally contract and expand while reacting to environmental conditions. When those contractions and expansions get severe enough, it can prevent the flooring from being able to get back to its original shape. That severe expansion and retraction is what leads to buckling.

What Can Cause Wood Floors to Buckle?

Depending on the kind of wood that you have, there are a wide range of factors that can lead to buckling. The most common reasons are faulty installation and environmental factors of a wide variety.

Troubleshooting the issue is relatively simple but may not be that easy. You may have to pry up a good deal of the flooring to find the underlying issue. When the issue is severe enough, you may have to replace the flooring entirely.

Water

Meet the most likely reason for buckling in your wood floors. The source could be several things. You could have moisture from a concrete subfloor. It could be due to damaged or leaking appliances that have sprung a leak. It can even be water damage that has permeated from another area of the home.

When the flooring gets moisturized and wet enough, the wood has no choice but to accommodate that extra moisture. The flooring has to move up and needs to expand to accommodate the water. When that happens, the hardwood planks begin to swell up, causing buckling and inconsistent, uneven areas.

It is imperative to locate the source of the excess water. Leaks rarely resolve themselves and will likely complicate the issue if left unchecked. Moreover, you don’t want to implement repairs that will be quickly undone by more leaking.

High Levels of Humidity

Depending on the climate that you live in, humidity can play havoc on several things. Humidity is where there is excess moisture trapped in the air. That moisture can then get trapped in the nooks and crannies of the home, leading to the issue of buckling.

When the area has particularly hot and humid weather, try to avoid installing hardwood floors as it can become a consistent issue. In areas where there are no windows, like the kitchen and bathroom, the problem can become especially difficult. If you have wood flooring in a high humidity area, try to ensure that fans and ventilation are strong enough to accommodate.

Lack of or Improper Acclimation

It is essential to acclimate the wood planks to the room that they will be installed in. It is one of those things that may not seem important but it can literally make the difference when installing your new wood tile flooring.

Acclimation needs to be done prior to the installation. The reason being that the wood may contract or expand in ways that could potentially lead to deformation of the wood. Acclimation is easy. All that needs to be done is to allow the planks to sit in the room where they will be installed for a minimum of two weeks. This process allows the planks to adjust to the humidity and temperature of that room.

Improper Installation

No matter how many precautions you take and even if you acclimate the planks, improper installation can ruin the whole thing. Not only can improper installation cause the floors to buckle but it can also cause serious issues with the wood over their lifespan.

The most secure course of action is to have a professional perform the installation. If you plan on doing it yourself, just make sure that you are extra careful to perform the best installation possible. A proper installation is one of the best ways to combat buckling in those beautiful (and probably expensive) wood plank floors.

How Do I Fix Buckling in Wood Flooring?

When you notice buckling in your wood flooring, there is good news and bad news. The good news is that it is possible to implement a fix. The bad news is that, depending on the severity, it may not be the easiest fix in the world.

  1. Dry the area. If there is minimal buckling, you can presume that the moisture issue is limited to that area. That means ruling out a leak. It also means that you can potentially dry the area to see if the planks return back to their normal shape. If the wet area is too large or the buckling too far gone, this may not be a viable solution.
  2. Pressure. Again, so long as the damage is not extensive, you may be able to apply pressure to the planks in question. Try putting a little bit of pressure or even a heavy object (nothing too heavy) on top of the buckled section. If the moisture damage is not too extensive, the wood can possibly settle back into place once again.
  3. Pull up the flooring. Depending on the condition of the flooring around the problem area, it is possible to pull up some of the planks and replace them. If the water damage is extensive, you will need to locate the leak first. Otherwise, you will only be delaying the inevitable. When you have the location of the leak, you can pull up flooring and replace it accordingly.

What are the Most Common Signs of Buckling?

Generally speaking, most issues related to moisture are pretty visible if you look hard enough. The most obvious sign of buckling is the expansion and contraction of the individual planks. That wood movement can happen fairly naturally depending on the humidity in your home.

Separations and Cracks Between Planks

While we generally think about humidity being an issue, common problems can occur heading into the winter. When homes get heated during the winter, RH levels can drop steeply. When that happens, boards start to shrink and spaces become more noticeable between the boards.

Keep an eye on the room temperature, making some changes if you notice that there are larger gaps and cracks between the wood planks. You can even try adding some moisture into the air during dryer, colder months through the installation of a humidifier in the home’s furnace.

Cupping

When the edges of the board are higher than the center point due to excess moisture, that is known as cupping. When there is cupping, the wood expands as water is absorbed into the wood. The more the wood expands, the compression can crush the boards together, creating a deformation at the edges of the planks.

That cupping is the result of an imbalance of moisture throughout the wood’s thickness. So, if wood is wetter at the bottom of the plank than at the top, there will likely be cupping. That is because the planks dry quicker at the top than the bottom. Cupping can be seen after installation and can be difficult to correct without replacing the section of flooring that has been damaged.

Crowning

Crowning in your wood flooring is the opposite of cupping. This happens when the center point of the plank is higher than the edges. This is also the cause of an imbalance in moisture exposure. When the surface has been exposed to high humidity or water for long enough, the moisture saturates into the planks, causing crowning.

You might also see crowning because of cupping. Perhaps the planks were cupping before and were sanded down to remove the imperfections. This is fine, just make sure that the floor is allowed to properly dry before doing any sanding. Sanding while there is too much moisture can lead to the edges of the board flattening while the center is still cupped.

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Preventing Buckling

  1. Acclimate. Acclimation is essential before installing hardwood flooring. Without it, the boards can expand and retract too much, causing damage.
  2. Use moisture retarder. You can also prevent moisture issues by using a moisture retarder over the subfloor before installing a nail-down wood flooring.
  3. Use fasteners. Make sure that you follow the recommended number and type of fasteners when you install the individual planks to the subflooring. Too few fasteners can allow the planks to shift too much. Too many can lead to cracking in the planks.
  4. Examine the subfloors. Be sure to check the condition of the subfloors before installing. Any excess moisture should be resolved before installing the flooring to save yourself some trouble.

Ryan Womeldorf

Ryan Womeldorf has more than a decade of experience writing. He loves to blog about construction, plumbing, and other home topics. Ryan also loves hockey and a lifelong Buffalo sports fan.

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