Everyone that has lived in Michigan for any period of time knows that there is a LOT of humidity here. When it comes to hardwood floors, humidity is a big issue.

When you hire us to install and/or sand and refinish your hardwood floors, you will notice that we put a lot of effort into getting the humidity and moisture content in your home just right, before we start working. This allows us to create the best environment possible so we can do a professional job of restoring your floors.

But… one of the first things we notice people do right after we finish restoring their floors is to turn off the air conditioning or dehumidifier in the summer or crank up the heat without using a humidifier in the winter.

We would like to explain why this isn’t a good idea.

First – Why Humidity is an Issue

During the humid summer months, your floors draw in moisture from the outside air causing them to expand. When they expand excessively it causes major problems like buckling and crowning.

In the winter the opposite is true. As cold outside winter air enters your home and you warm it up, which dries it out, the relative humidity of that air will drop considerably. This will draw the moisture out your hardwood floors and they will shrink. This can cause large unsightly gaps, loose boards and sometimes annoying squeaks.

Neither option is good for the aesthetics or health of your floor.

The solution in preventing both issues is to balance the range of humidity in your home throughout the year.

In Detroit, a range of 35 to 50 percent relative humidity in your home is ideal.

How to Maintain Proper Humidity Levels

Below are four suggestions to help you maintain balanced humidity levels in your home so you can avoid these issues…

1. Suggestion 1: Buy a Hygrometer

A hygrometer is a device that measures the amount of relative humidity (RH) in the atmosphere. We strongly suggest investing in one. You should be able to pick one up on Amazon.com for under $25.00. It will make looking after your floors so much easier as you will always know the exact RH level in your home just by looking at the reading.

Suggestion 2: Control Ventilation

For an older house with lots of drafts, the inside air is replaced by outside air in roughly 1 to 2 hours. Newer houses are usually much more efficient and take about 5 hours to replace the air.

The technical term for this is ACH – or air changes per hour.

The higher your ACH level the harder it is and the more expensive it is to keep control of the RH level inside your home.

The biggest ventilation culprits in an old house are leaky drafty windows and doors. Recessed lights and holes and gaps in ceilings and floors are also big perpetrators. It makes sense that if you can close up these drafty areas effectively, then you can get your home’s ACH down to more normal levels.

This can be as simple and affordable as using insulation strips and some caulking, or as complicated and expensive as replacing all your doors and windows and re-insulating the entire house.

Suggestion 3: In the Winter ADD Moisture

In the winter months, outside air that makes its way into your home and is dried by your heaters, requires added moisture in order to bring the humidity in the air up to our balanced levels (between 35 – 50%). By adding moisture to the air it will stop your floors from excessively drying out and shrinking.

The easiest way to do this is with a humidifier. There are two kinds of humidifiers. You can use either a free standing unit or a permanent installed one that is attached to a central forced air furnace. Both work well and the one you choose will depend on the size of your house and area of wood flooring.

Suggestion 4: In the Summer REMOVE Moisture

In the summer the problem is too much humidity. So in order to stop your floors from taking on too much moisture you will need to reduce the moisture in the air. This means using either an air conditioner or dehumidifier.

Which one is better?

An air conditioner is very similar to a dehumidifier. The BIG difference is that with a dehumidifier, the evaporator coil and condenser coil are both in the same room. So while it does remove moisture from the air, the unit also acts as a heater by releasing the warm dry air back into the room.

With an air conditioner, the evaporator coil is in the room and the condenser coil is on the outside of the house. So like the dehumidifier, it removes moisture from the air to bring the humidity down, but it also removes heat from the room which is much better in the summer.

Below is a chart to help you see the difference between humidifiers, air conditioners and dehumidifiers and when to use each one…

Air ConditionerDehumidifierHumidifier
FunctionTo reduce the moisture content in the surrounding area and to cool air.To reduce the moisture content in the surrounding area.To increase the moisture content in the surrounding area.
When to UseDuring warm and humid months where humidity is greater than 50%.During warm and humid months where humidity is greater than 50%.During cold and dry months when humidity is less than 35%.
DifferencesCools room as it lowers humidity.Heats up room as it lowers humidity.

The Bottom Line on Humidity 

In the end, wood is wood, and physics are physics. But… there are certain things that can be done to try and control them so your floor has a fighting chance of looking good and staying healthy throughout the year. That’s why we are passionate about educating people on how to properly maintain a balanced RH level in their home.

So after we leave, please, don’t forget to keep using your air conditioners or dehumidifiers in the hot humid summer months. And when the weather turns cold and you crank up that heater, please also turn on your humidifier.

If you do you will be rewarded with a beautiful looking floor year round!

Oh and don’t forget to invest in a hygrometer.