Striking the balance with home humidity levels

I am discovering that life is about balance and moisture!

Hydration is a fundamental key to survival and longevity, especially for those of us living in the parched prairies.

I grew up in Medicine Hat which is an arid climate and when I go back to visit I am always shocked at how dry it is! I remember the years I spent designing there and the constant issues we had with hardwood installations due to the dry air.

Central Alberta is a bit better as far as humidity goes but it can still cause issues for flooring if humidity isn’t maintained.

As I was washing my floors recently I noticed that gaps had appeared between the boards which had not been there before. Checking my humidifier I found that it was turned off and the humidity was below 20% – turn on the humidifier and problem solved! Solid hardwood (like I have) is more prone to shrinking and expanding than engineered wood so keeping a faithful eye on your humidity is very important.

Thirty per cent of a tree’s weight is due to the moisture content (or water) present in the wood. All the cells are full and tight with water, much like a water balloon.

Cut that tree down and water ceases to flow to and fill the cells of the wood resulting in shrinkage. Wood that has been cut and processed will still absorb and release moisture and will have a fluctuating moisture content of between 7-11%.

As wood responds to changes in humidity it will change dimension resulting in gapping or ‘tenting’. With my house being dry the hardwood reacted and lost moisture, the cells in the wood shrunk and as a result my hardwood is showing gaps.

It’s hard to believe that the wood under our feet is shrinking and expanding every single day, it’s almost like it is still a living product.

That is the beauty and the maintenance of hardwood that homeowners can come to expect, it is a small price to pay for having such a beautiful product in our homes. If we work at keeping our moisture levels at the recommended percentage not only will we have happy hardwood but many other things in our lives will benefit.

The proper balance of humidity is just that – balanced. Too much humidity encourages the growth of certain moulds and dust mites while not enough humidity may cause respiratory irritation and dry itchy skin.

Our skin flakes and our lips tend to crack and separate when it is too dry, much like our hardwood will pull apart if it gets too dry – something to think about.

I can tell that I have been in ‘the business too long’ when I am sweating out at hot yoga in a steamy damp room and my first thought is – good thing there isn’t hardwood in this room! Why that would come to my mind is beyond me but I have to confess the shot of humidity felt great on my skin after the class even though the profuse sweating was very uncomfortable at the time.

Even though spring is coming and our humidity levels will start to rise, keep a check on the levels in your home. Like Goldilocks and the three bears, 0-30% is too low, 50% or higher is too high and 30-50% is just right.

Kim Lewis is an interior designer in Red Deer with Carpet Colour Centre.

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