A homeowner’s guide to flooring gaps

A homeowner’s guide to flooring gaps


As the seasons change, you might notice changes in different aspects of your home.  During the winter, some fine lines and cracks start to appear in your furniture.  You may even see this in your kitchen cabinets.  During rainy or humid months, your windows and doors stick a bit more than usual.  Like the rest of your home, your wood flooring is vulnerable to these weather changes.  But fear not—it’s perfectly normal for wood to react to these seasonal shifts.

The biggest difference you’ve likely noticed is gapping.  Gapping occurs when the edges of individual flooring pieces start to separate.  This means the boards are shrinking, and it’s likely due to a humidity imbalance indoors.  The aforementioned seasonal shifts can cause wood to shrink or expand.  Even with wood flooring that was properly crafted and installed, you can still expect gaps in the driest months of the year.  These gaps should close once the humidity returns.  But until then, it’s important to know what kind of gapping you’re dealing with and how to fix it (if necessary).

First, it’s crucial to know the basics about humidity.  For the best air quality indoors, you should maintain a temperature between 60-80 degrees and a humidity level between 30-50 percent.  This will help preserve the health of your wood flooring and prevent any serious gapping.

Next, it’s time to observe your flooring and determine the kind of gaps you’re dealing with.

The word “normal” is relative in this situation.  Many factors define a normal gap—the type of wood used, the measurements of the room in which the wood was installed, how long the humidity imbalance has occurred, and even the width of your wood flooring.  Additionally, a normal gap can vary greatly in width, from a minor hairline separation as thin as a sheet of paper to a gap that’s closer to the width of a quarter.

At times, your gaps could result from issues with the wood itself.  Almost always, this happens because the lumber isn’t dried appropriately before being milled.  You’ll also need an inspection for this.

There could be other structural movements in your house (i.e. a center beam moves or walls settle) that cause flooring gaps.  Also, your subfloor may not hold nails or there could be excessive drying around heating vents and ducts.

In most scenarios, your flooring won’t need to be replaced to repair the gaps.  Let your normal gaps close on their own.  If you fill them, you could cause your flooring to buckle.  Plus, the filler would be pushed out anyway once humidity expands the wood.  If your gaps are abnormal, don’t attempt to repair them on your own.  Enlist the services of a professional, and make sure you start the work in the middle of the seasonal extremes.  This is likely April or October, if you live in a state with a typical 4-season weather pattern.

Flooring gaps can be unsettling, but with a little bit of knowledge and examination, little to no action is required.