How to Deal with Gaps in Hardwood Floors After Installation
- Step 1: Understand What Is Causing the Problem
- When You Should Take Action
- Step 2: Address Gaps Caused by Seasonal Cycles
- Step 3: Tackle the Moisture Causing Non-Seasonal Gaps
- Step 4: Decide How You Will Fill the Gaps
- Step 5: Prepare for Future Weather Changes
- Step 6: Talk to a Hardwood Floor Professional
- Don’t Wait to Fix Gaps in Your Hardwood Floors
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Unfortunately, gaps in hardwood floors are all too common – especially during the winter months. Even if your floors were pristine and tightly placed at installment, the boards can separate, leaving unsightly gaps.
This is frustrating for a number of reasons, including the fact that installing beautiful hardwood floors was a significant investment in your home. What can you do about these gaps? How can you restore your hardwood floors to their original condition?
Today on the Floors by the Shore blog, we’re talking about how the average homeowner can deal with new gaps in their hardwood floors. Although we’ll touch on prevention tactics, we understand that most of our readers want to learn about fixing gaps after installation.
Step 1: Understand What Is Causing the Problem
You can’t find a solution to a problem without understanding the issue in the first place, right?
The first thing you need to remember is that wood is first and foremost a natural product. Therefore, it is imperfect – spacing and size can change over time, especially as weather or humidity levels change. As temperatures rise, the wood boards expand and contract. This causes those ugly gaps in your floor.
Typically, we hear reports of gaps appearing in areas of the home that experience the most humidity (and therefore more contraction and expansion in the floors). If you’re dealing with hardwood floor gaps, they’re probably in the kitchen or bathroom areas, or perhaps an entryway.
Of course, properly installed floors shouldn’t experience gaps, regardless of humidity levels or seasonal changes. A reliable installer will properly acclimate the hardwoods prior to placing them in your home, as well as install them in a straight, consistent fashion. If the planks aren’t uniform, it leaves room for moisture, movement, and eventually, gaps.
If your new hardwood floors weren’t properly installed, you’re probably noticing the gaps for the first time this winter. That’s because the low levels of humidity have drawn out moisture in the wood, causing the planks to contract and leave gaps behind.
When You Should Take Action
Our professional recommendation is to take serious action at the first sight of gaps in hardwood floors. It doesn’t matter how recent the flooring installation was – repairs should be conducted as soon as possible to ensure the safe future of your hardwoods.
As soon as you spot a crack or space between planks, take note of the size, then keep an eye on them as humidity levels and temperatures change. If they start small and immediately close up, you might not have a reason to worry. On the other hand, if they stay the same size or grow larger, you need to take action.
Step 2: Address Gaps Caused by Seasonal Cycles
As we just explained, seasonal/temperature-related changes can certainly contribute to the appearance of gaps in your hardwood floors. If you think this is the case with your floors, you’ll need to learn to counteract the effects of seasonal cycles.
The best way to prevent the gaps from growing is to maintain a steady level of humidity in the house. This can be challenging during the winter – consider looking into a humidifier if you live in a place that gets especially dry and cold.
During the summer, you’ll need to run your air conditioner to draw humidity out of the air and prevent the floors from becoming too saturated with moisture.
At any point in the year, you don’t want the weather to cause your humidity levels to fluctuate lower than 40 percent or higher than 50 percent. The more constant your humidity levels are, the lower the risk of seasonal gapping becomes.
Step 3: Tackle the Moisture Causing Non-Seasonal Gaps
If you live in a place with mild seasons, and you don’t think that external weather factors are causing the problem, then you’ll need to find other ways to prevent the gaps from growing.
When gaps are present in your floors year-round, you’ll need to fill them in immediately to prevent future issues. We recommend doing so during the summer when humidity causes the gaps to shrink to their smallest size.
Not sure how to fill in gaps? Move on to step four.
Step 4: Decide How You Will Fill the Gaps
Once you know that you need to fill in the gaps in your floors, you’ll need to determine how you want to do so. There are different methods heralded by flooring specialists. Take a look to see which one seems to be the right choice for you.
Option 1 – Wood Strips
Your first choice is to use rip-cut narrow strips from leftover hardwood floorboards. If you don’t already have spare ones on hand, look for salvaged or new boards that look similar to the ones already in your house.
You’ll measure the length and breadth of each gap you see, then rip-cut the strips of wood according to those measurements. These strips of wood will be applied to the gap with wood glue and the use of a hammer/mallet.
After you apply the strips, you’ll want to sand and stain them until they are level with the rest of your hardwood flooring. Your goal is to achieve a smooth, cohesive finish.
Option 2 – Wood Putty
Secondly, you’ll want to consider using wood putty. This is arguably the simplest way to deal with gaps, and it works quite well as long as the gaps don’t continue to expand.
You can purchase wood putty at your local hardware store. Make sure to pick a product that’s the same color as your floorboards, otherwise, you’ll ruin the aesthetic. Clean your floors, then apply the wood putty in a circular motion throughout each gap.
Afterward, you’ll want to remove the excess wood putty with a blunt knife. Apply a damp cloth to the gap and wipe away any residue that has gathered on nearby boards. Then, leave the wood putty to dry.
Option 3 – Natural Rope
The last tactic for filling in hardwood floor gaps is to use natural fiber rope. Yes – this won’t look quite as harmonious with the rest of your floorboards, but it’s certainly a more appealing option than leaving gaps in your floors.
Clean up the gaps by removing any old wood putty, moisture, and dirt that has accumulated. You’ll likely want to use a vacuum to pull up any debris stuck in the gaps. Then, pick the kind of natural rope you’d like to use (cotton, jute, etc.) Remember: synthetic ropes won’t work because they don’t absorb the wood stain.
Pour your preferred wood stain into a bucket, then dip your bits of rope into it until they are fully saturated. Let the excess stain drip off, then dry out the ropes.
Once it’s dry, you’ll stretch the rope along the length of the gap, then shove it into the open space until your floors are filled in and level. You may need to use a knife to trim parts of the rope as needed.
Although all three of these gap-filling techniques can be done on your own, it’s always a good idea to reach out to professionals for help – especially if you’ve ever worked with hardwood floors and staining before.
Step 5: Prepare for Future Weather Changes
As with most problems in your home, prevention is the best course of action. You can avoid future problems with gaping by:
- Properly acclimating your floors
- Ensuring all boards are properly placed and straightened
- Installing new floors when humidity is moderate (not in the summer/winter)
Step 6: Talk to a Hardwood Floor Professional
At the end of the day, it’s always a smart idea to pull in some expertise before you make any dramatic changes to your floors. Check your manufacturer to ensure you’re using the right products and taking the proper precautions to avoid gaps. If there is extensive damage or gaping, get a professional’s opinion before deciding to re-install your floors.
You might be surprised by what a professional has to say. They may tell you that the gap will go away as humidity levels return to normal – and that will save you a great deal of pain and money. Avoid jumping straight into a repair project if it’s not necessary.
Don’t Wait to Fix Gaps in Your Hardwood Floors
If your hardwood floors have gaps between the boards, don’t hesitate to seek guidance quickly. The sooner you act, the better. Waiting only allows the problem to worsen and more moisture and debris to seep into the open spaces – especially if the gaps are already pretty large.
Need a professional opinion? That’s what we’re here for.
At Floors by the Shore, we’re more than happy to schedule an evaluation at your house. Allow us to survey the problem and make recommendations based on years of experience working with hardwood floors in the Jersey Shore area.
We’ll tell you if you need to fix or replace your floors, but we’ll also assure you if we think the problem will remedy itself.