Help! how to fix gaps in newly installed reclaimed flooring that

chaparralFebruary 2, 2012


We have a bit of a nightmare on our hands. I purchased about 1,000 sq ft of reclaimed wood (mix of red and white oak, about 4 1/2" wide) flooring and had our regular flooring installer (provided by GC) install it. The manufacturer said the wood should acclimate for a couple weeks--I mentioned this to the installer--but didn't hold him to it. He installed it the next day (after delivery) and it looked great--very tight. 3 weeks later and gaps really developed. Some of them are the width of 2 quarters. At this point I'm not in the blame game--there is partial culpability all around. Manufacturer should have been sterner in warning, flooring guy should have tested the moisture content and compared with our old flooring, and I should have not been so naive.

Anyways... how to fix it?

We want to finish it with an Osmo hardwax oil or similar product.

I have had a few ideas suggested to me.

1) another installer who was recommended to me by a competing (more expensive--should have gone with them--flooring manufacturerer) as someone familiar with reclaimed wood took a look yesterday and measured the moisture content. 12% in this flooring currently versus 9% in other flooring in our house. So he says it still might shrink more. He said the only way to fix it is to remove it, dry it some more (either at our house or in his kiln) and re-install it. Luckily the flooring wasn't glued down--it was nailed down over a vapor barrier. Certainly some of the flooring will get trashed in the removal and de-nailing process. I am waiting for a quote on this. Sounds expensive; I am guessing on the order of $5,000.

2) architect had suggested having the installer make a filler by mixing sawdust from the wood with some sort of glue or epoxy. However some have said this may crumble in time, and there is some question as to how well it will take the hardwax oil finish.

3) cabinet maker friend suggested cutting slivers of wood--possibly a different species of wood, and glueing in place. The flooring installer who came out said this is dangerous because it will splinter easily.

Any thoughts on this? Has anyone else ever dealt with something like this? I haven't had much luck in finding before and after pictures.


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Sophie Wheeler

Total removal is the only real solution. Everything else is just half-assed flipper patchwork that might last until you sold the house and moved before the summer humidity season. And you don't want winter laid wood to be "tight". You want a bit of a gap,(NOT the size gaps you have!) or you'll get cupping in the summer and edge crush that will create even bigger gaps in the next heating season. Wood expands and contracts with the humidity level and you have to work with that and expect that.

    Bookmark   February 2, 2012 at 7:52PM
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Thanks, hollysprings.

FWIW quote came in at $6K to remove and re-install.

    Bookmark   February 2, 2012 at 9:48PM
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You do have to remove and re-install to get it right, but your installer should eat the cost for redoing it. The manufacturer told you it must be acclimated, and in any case no installer worth his salt lays a floor the day after delivery without carefully checking the moisture of the flooring and the subfloor appropriately.

    Bookmark   February 3, 2012 at 5:00PM
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Unfortunately installer is not taking responsibility since I provided the material. That's what I'm dealing with and GC is on the sub's side.

While there are some big gaps, there is also a lot of reasonably tight gaps. Then maybe once I do this I might find that really only one section should be re-done, in conjunction with some fill...

There are some boards that are quite tight and then get narrower and then tight again; often when the grain of the wood changes. GC called it "waning" but I've never heard that expression before.

There is some concern that removing the flooring will really damage it; then who knows if it's too tight (and now it's pretty dry) once it gets to summer it might cup.

I think what I'm going to do is vacuum the floor like crazy, and then try to identify the sort of distribution of gaps. Sort of like checking gum recession.

Where there is sawdust in the smaller gaps (workers using the room to cut wood for rest of house) it actually looks fine. So maybe some filler would create this sort of look.

    Bookmark   February 3, 2012 at 6:36PM
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Filler will just get pushed out with the summer humidity when the wood swells. Filler is never the solution on a bad install. It's for small knots and other small imperfections, not for wholesale smearing across the floor like grout.

It sounds as though you have some defective milling here if the gaps are wider and narrower with the same board. Those boards should not have been installed, and if there were a large number of them, the installer should have informed you before installation so you could approach the retailer for exchange. The issue is complicated by the fact that you ordered the materials. Whomever orders the materials needs to inspect them upon delivery and certify that they are as ordered and free of defects. And then your installer skipped the acclimation period. There's enough blame here in spades to heap on everyone's heads.

    Bookmark   February 3, 2012 at 8:46PM
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I agree with Green. If the wood was 12% moisture after shrinking, it wasn't sufficiently dried in the first place. (Manufacturer's mistake) The GC didn't assure that the installer acclimated it (GC's mistake) and the installer didn't moisture meter it (installer's mistake). It is unconscionable that all three would screw this up and lay it at your feet.

If you have to shell out more money, don't use this installer again. Find an installer who knows what he's doing who will meter the wood, check the quality, etc. Also, pulling up this floor and redrying it could result in floor that's more out-of-square.

    Bookmark   February 4, 2012 at 2:36PM
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FWIW I made detailed measurements with a micrometer of the gaps and used a Delmhorst PIN-LED J-Lite meter to measure the wood, and this helpful article to back-calculate the original moisture content.

Right now the MC is around 9%. The original boards were 4" wide and now the average gap is about 1/16". Therefore the original MC at time of install was around 15-16%.

The re-install will have to take care to use boards the same width along individual runs, because the shrinkage is not 100% uniform.

    Bookmark   February 10, 2012 at 12:29PM
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You may want to consider increasing the moisture level in your house. This may bring the boards back to width.
A furnace installed humidifier will help and save some on heating bills too.

    Bookmark   February 11, 2012 at 2:25PM
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Representatives from the mill that made the flooring and their wood supplier came out and agreed that the floor was unacceptable. The wood used for my particular batch of flooring was too wet when they milled it; it was wetter than all their previous wood supplies. They have agreed to pay for the original install, pay for it to be removed, and provide us with a new batch of flooring that will be made from kiln-dried beams. They will take this flooring back and re-mill it to be used in other sorts of products.

    Bookmark   February 11, 2012 at 4:22PM
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Greiter brings up a good point. Homes that use forced air heat can be bone dry in the winter. Sometimes below 5%. If you have a lot of static, you probably have issues with the lack of humidity. You want your year round humidity to be around 30%. That means using AC in the summer and a humidifier in the winter. Even properly laid non defective flooring will experience shrinking and swelling when you have wide humidity swings. Be sure you provide it with it's desired comfort zone in your home.

    Bookmark   February 11, 2012 at 11:17PM
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Sounds like the manufacturer is a good responsible one. They still could have asked that the installer share a little of the blame. I'm impressed that they are swallowing the whole blame. . Since I'm looking for reclaimed wood flooring now, would you share the name of the company?

    Bookmark   February 12, 2012 at 10:10AM
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Hi --

Once the matter is fully resolved and the new floors are in I will certainly post some pics and give credit where credit is due.

In the meantime I'll email you privately.

Good luck!

    Bookmark   February 12, 2012 at 5:02PM
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Wow, they stood behind their product!

Everyone is human, so when it is all said and done, it could have turned out worse.

    Bookmark   February 13, 2012 at 7:39PM
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I am so happy the manufacturer stood behind their product! I suggest using a different installer, the same way the manufacturer will be putting this thru his insurance company as a loss I feel your installer could have done same. What is the use of using an installer who is insured if they won't admit any fault if you ordered the product.

Can't wait to see pictures when your floors are in!

    Bookmark   February 14, 2012 at 8:06AM
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Well, regarding the installer, they put in 700 sq ft of hw flooring for us 14 years ago-- no problems. They also put in another 300 or so using materials they supplied--no problems. I supplied the (faulty) material that they installed--problems. Yes they **should** have checked the moisture content, but I guess the reality is that here n southern california and with suppliers they have used for the last 20 years this is not an issue. Reclaimed wood flooring, freshly-milled by boutique shops is perhaps something of a brave new world.

I will of course check the new lot of wood's MC as well as that of the sub-floor before this next install, but I would rather stick with our GC's installer and give him a second chance with this material.

    Bookmark   February 14, 2012 at 11:54PM
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All wood expands/contracts, but installing over concrete slab (wasn't sure if that was the case for you), and wider planks increase instability.. Make sure they leave enough of an expansion gap at walls. Good luck!

    Bookmark   February 16, 2012 at 9:24PM
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