Best wood floors in dry climate?

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I live in Colorado, and a few years ago had a bamboo floor installed in my kitchen and living room, and have been very disappointed. Despite the whole-house humidifier attached to the forced air heating system, the "planks" (is that the right word?) contract in the winter, and then kitchen debris finds its way into the cracks, and we end up with ugly black lines where the planks touch.
So now we're wanting to replace the 20-year-old carpet in the upstairs with some kind of wood floor, and are not sure which way to go.
The other complication, is that we need to live in these rooms while we're putting in new floors - we'll move all the furniture out of the unused bedroom, redo its floor, move my daughter into that bedroom, redo her floor, etc. so we whatever we use, it needs to be prefinished.
There are some nice-looking engineered wood products, but we're concerned about the odors ... the off-gassing from a lot of those kinds of products gives us headaches, which pushes us towards solid wood, but then with solid wood you can't install a floating floor, so I'm worried we would get the gap problem again. And then again, I'm wondering if it's maybe the offgassing from the prefinish that gives us the headache, in which case for the headache it wouldn't matter if we chose solid vs. engineered vs. laminate.
Was the guy at Home Depot right, that the more traditional woods (oak, for example) do better in the dry climate of Colorado?
Thanks, Chris
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On Feb 16, 7:45 pm, Chris Shearer Cooper

If a wood floor is installed without opening up packages and allow to aclimatize to the lower humidity of your home this can happen, its not a bamboo problem its a installer problem, a real pro has a moisture meter handy. For all you know the floor was stored in a very humid place before you got it, it can take weeks to aclimatize wood to a house before install. Did a store install it that sold it to you, then there was a warranty, id call the manufacturer and ask.
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On 2/16/2010 10:01 PM, ransley wrote:

Well, you start off on the wrong foot ... bamboo is NOT wood, it is a _grass_. :)
And the OP's is most definitely a "bamboo problem" (related to "climate"), and more than likely NOT an installation problem.
Bamboo is notorious for having wildly varying degrees of moisture content, some of which has not been observed to change for months no matter how long the acclimation period ... unless in an extremely dry client, like where the OP indicates his is installed.
With regard to moisture meters ... once again, bamboo is not wood, and moisture meters are calibrated to use on WOOD, and furthermore, specific species of wood.
AAMOF, I can personally attest that as of the summer of 09 there were no moisture meters currently on the retail market calibrated to accurately and consistently determine the actual moisture content of bamboo flooring .. which was the last time I was asked to have on installed.
Unless there have been very recent changes, the only way to approximate a usable MC reading of bamboo is by _comparison_ with a known sample, using the same meter, thus your "real pro" is basically at the same loss to give an accurate MC for installation as any DIY'er without a moisture meter would be.
Most important thing when contemplating using bamboo flooring is the quality of the product. This is the single most important factor on whether you will have a successful installation ...and, as with all the Pacific Rim shoe merchants and ribbon clerks looking to make a buck these days, that is a most difficult thing to do with this particular _grass_ flooring product.
The second is the climate of the locale of the intended installation.
In short, bamboo flooring, despite what the retailers will try to tell you, seems to be more suitable when building for what are classified in the trade as "Hot, Humid, Climates", and can be problematic, as the OP has discovered, when building in drier climates.
IOW, the single biggest factors in the success of the installation in drier climates is the QUALITY of the product ... a hit and miss proposition at best in this day and age, and one reason why, as a builder, even then I generally discourage my clients from using the stuff.
IME, YMMV, FWIW, etc. ....
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Moisture meters measure % of moisture they are not only "calibrated to wood" The one I use Delmhorst, has scales on the screen to use it for concrete plaster or wood. In construction you have to Know when concrete, plaster, drywall, wood are too wet to use and too wet to paint. The floor guys I have used have them, it saves them from doing bad jobs and redoing floors. Inspectors and roofers use them to pinpoint problems, Its one tool that has saved me alot of money over the years from bogus complaints and knowing a products moisture before working with it, like PT, everybody wants it stained now when its new, and it works on Bamboo.
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On 2/17/2010 8:59 AM, ransley wrote:

You're shooting yourself in the foot, Bubba ... show me were it is calibrated for GRASS!
;)
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On 2/17/2010 9:08 AM, Swingman wrote:

Here you go, Bubba ... backs up everything I said about my experiences as builder with bamboo flooring:
http://www.hardwoodinstaller.com/hardwoodinstaller/bamboomoisture.htm
If you check around further you will find ample evidence that moisture meters are notoriously inaccurate with bamboo flooring.
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Wake up, any PRO will know a higher than normal moisture content by experiance, you need a chart for grass , get one. Moisture meters check % of moisture for just about any material that absorbes it, I will bet anything one wasnt used on the bamboo, and it wasnt even attempted to be aclimatised.
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On 2/17/2010 10:39 AM, ransley wrote:

You just neatly excluded yourself from your "PRO" class, Bubba. Your basic "PRO" would know the difference between wood and grass, and would know the characteristics of the material he deals with before mouthing off.
Another shot, right in your foot!! ... hope you got more than two, you won't last long at this rate! :)
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wrote:

Moisture meters measure % of moisture they are not only "calibrated to wood" The one I use Delmhorst, has scales on the screen to use it for concrete plaster or wood. In construction you have to Know when concrete, plaster, drywall, wood are too wet to use and too wet to paint. The floor guys I have used have them, it saves them from doing bad jobs and redoing floors. Inspectors and roofers use them to pinpoint problems, Its one tool that has saved me alot of money over the years from bogus complaints and knowing a products moisture before working with it, like PT, everybody wants it stained now when its new, and it works on Bamboo.
Swingman is right.
I use a Delmhorst RDM2, a high end meter but several years old, it does not have a built in calibration for bamboo, here is a conversion table to go from doug fir to bamboo flooring:
Doug Fir reading -Actual % M/C 6- 3 7- 3.5 8 -4 9 -4.5 10- 5 11 -6 12 -6.5 13 -7 14 -7.5 15 -8 16 -8.5 17- 9 18 -9.5 19 -10 20 -11 21 -11.5 22 -12 23 -12.5 24 -13 25 13.5 26 -14 27 -14.5 28 -15.5
The important point is the equilibrium moisture content, at 72 degrees and 15% relative humidity the ECM is only 2.5%, any floor laid at a higher moisture content that this will eventually shrink and leave cracks.
It may take a year for hardwood flooring to reach ECM, no one can wait a year to lay their floor, acclimating the flooring to the house for a couple of days or a week may help a little but is for the most part worthless. Bamboo isn't hardwood and I have found no information on the drying rate, it being a closed cell glued up product I suspect Swing is right about it not drying out at any timely speed.
There is a handy ECM calculator here:
http://www.csgnetwork.com/emctablecalc.html
Most quality hardwood flooring is dried to 7-8% MC and when laid will swell slightly in most home environments making a nice tight floor that doesn't generally leave much gap even in dry periods.
Most wood shrinks and swells the most between 12% and 25% MC, with smaller changes between 0% and 12%. I have no idea about the shrinkage rate of bamboo.
I think people expect consistent perfection from wood/bamboo/cork/name your favorite cellulose based floor, from products that cannot deliver it. If you want wood/bamboo floors you kinda have to accept their builtin characteristics.
basilisk
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Both topics viz. -- expansion/contraction of wood flooring with changing humidity, -- health effects of varnishes, manufactured flooring, etc. are research topics at the US National Bureau of Standards (building research division, or whatever it is called.) I.e. you can get expert advice there, probably free (because US taxpayers paid for it in the first place.) You may find no wood is wholly free from either effect.
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Don Phillipson
Carlsbad Springs
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Chris Shearer Cooper wrote:

I have no idea whether he is correct or not but I certainly prefer it. My experience...
I laid solid maple in my wife's home office about 10-12 years ago. The planks are about 2 1/2" wide. We live in central Florida...hot and very humid in the summer, cool and much dryer - but not as dry as Colorado - in the winter.
The planks were acclimatized in the house for several weeks. They were laid in the summer and as tight to each other as I could get them. Most but not all were tight to their neighbors; any gaps were minimal - maybe 1/64 - and were due to planks not being perfectly straight. Gaps were filled with saw dust and varnish before final sanding and finishing.
In the winter, most all planks are still tight to their neighbors. Those that are not are 1/32 at the most. Oddly, the tight ones that had slight filling push up that filling in the winter...not enough to be easily visible but enough to feel with your finger. That pushing up may be year around, don't know.
Winter or summer, the floor looks good and homogenous.
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dadiOH
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On Feb 16, 6:45 pm, Chris Shearer Cooper

I live in Fort Collins.
I have over 1000sf of bamboo.
My HVAC system has a Honeywell steam humidifier that runs at 41%, year- round, BUT will dial down the RH below 32*F, to prevent window condensation.
My bamboo floor has had NO problems, whatsoever.
I would tend to agree with the notion that your product wasn't appropriately acclimatized to its new environment.
But ... what RH are you running, and ... how consistent is it??
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On Feb 16, 7:45 pm, Chris Shearer Cooper

The Forest Products Laboratory in Madison WI has long been known as the best source of info on the behavior of various wood products. Contact them for info. Not easy, but worth it. Meanwhile, if you can force yourself to consider something less faddish and fashionable, and if your family budget and health matters, there are some fine vinyl sheet flooring materials in realistic wood patterns that would eliminate all of your problems from the gitgo. Locally we have seen this in several commercial locations and even a recent remodeling job in a hospital. In a home environment it eliminates all the tedium of pet disasters and outwears the best wood finishes that suffer from doggie toenails and high traffic. At the moment it is high on my list for a forthcoming remodel. Something to think about.
Joe
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This is purely anecdotal, but something to check out before going with an engineered "Pergo"-type floor. Our cabin on Mt. Charleston was at about 8000' altitude. The flooring on both levels was a mixture of the Pergo-type flooring and carpet. During the time we owned it, there was quite a bit of foot traffic in and out of a lower level doorway, onto a deck that held our hot tub. Being in a mountainous area, there was lots of snow, rain and ice. Despite typical precautions, such as throw rugs, and wiping up, moisture was brought in onto the flooring from wet feet, fresh from the hot tub, snow and rain.
At first, the flooring held up well, but then we began to notice swelling at the joints. It was not the type of swelling seen in real wood flooring, but the particle board backing actually expanding and coming unglued.
We brought the damage to a halt by purchasing an industrial walk-off mat from Home Depot. It was 4' X 5', approximately and had a solid rubber back that was completely water resistant, with a fleece-like top surface. When there would be a known incident of water coming in, I'd even move the mat to be sure nothing was trapped beneath it, but the size essentially prevented that. It was sure not very pretty, but about the only way I could prevent the Pergo-like flooring from coming apart.
If I was installing it now, with knowledge of what happened at the cabin, at least the pieces near the doorway would get a coat of waterproofing on the tongues, grooves and back, such as Varathane.
--
Nonny

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On 2/17/2010 1:42 PM, Nonny wrote:

Real wood flooring can often recover gracefully from man made or natural disasters, like those resulting in water damage. Not always the case with alternatives.
One excellent reason, of many, to use it.
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On 02/16/2010 07:45 PM, Chris Shearer Cooper wrote:

What is the humidifier set to? What is your humidity swing from winter to summer?
Solid wood expands/contracts with humidity. No stopping it. Engineered will move much less, it's basically plywood. The amount of expansion in a solid wood floor will depend on the species. Look at the "% Tangential Shrinkage" column in the table at "http://www.woodbin.com/ref/wood/shrink_table.htm ". The lower the number, the less shrinkage you'll see as it dries.

I would expect most of the offgassing to be minimal in prefinished solid and engineered flooring. Laminate will have some offgassing from the resin in the core, though better grades will have less.

Bamboo behaves differently depending on whether it is horizontal, vertical, or strand. In the vertical orientation it's supposed to shrink less than oak--but that assumes it was properly acclimatized before installation.
Chris
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Chris: My wife and I installed about 900sf of Oak in our new home last year and so far it is great. I think we live on the other end of the humidity scale because here (extreme SE KS) it is pretty humid year- round, especially summer. However, we temper with air conditioning.
The product is a pre-finished 3/4" oak, with a micro-bevel edge that was manufactured in SW Missouri; so it never got far from its manufacturing origin. We listened to the manufacturer and his main advice was "acclimate, acclimate, acclimate" We did most of the home finish during the winter and we took delivery of the flooring a full month ahead of installation. Up until it arrived, we were letting the house cool during the night and warming it back up to 55-60 degrees during the day to save money. When the wood arrived we reprogrammed the thermostat to keep the house at 65 degrees until we moved in a couple of months later (we normally keep temp at 70 degrees during day). The boxes sat in the house closed, two deep, and criss-crossed for a week to allow air circulation among them. Then we opened them and shifted the contents around a bit. We were anticipating about a week to install, so a few days before we started we removed about 1/3 of the contents from the cartons. and blocked them off of the floor with scrap strips. We laid roofing felt on the floor and nailed the flooring on 8" centers (on joist, and one between) with a pneumatic flooring nailer. As we used material, we removed similar amounts from the cartons and spread them out, so everything had a few days of open air exposure.
I kept a pretty close eye on things for the first few months expecting to seem some activity as we headed into spring and I was disappointed - nothing really happened. We did hear an occasional night-time "creak" for the first few weeks after moving in. After a full year the floor looks great. There are a very few places where the edge gap might have opened slightly and most of these are near the wall where we had to surface nail (versus tongue nail). We also have a very few squeakers but again, most are close to walls. I am convinced the acclimation process paid off.
We too looked at engineered products but I couldn't sell myself. My concern wasn't off-gassing as much as long-term viability. A hardwood floor should last 'forever'. Granted, you have to refinish every 15-25 years (ours has a 25 year finish warranty (yeah, right!)). Many of the engineered products wouldn't allow more than one sanding, if any. That puts it into the category of expensive carpet.
Regarding off-gassing and odor of our pre-finished product, we never noticed any odor when we opened the cartons. When we built our last house we had a hardwood installer install and finish bare material. The smell during finish was truly eye-watering and lingered for some time after completion. We had none of that with pre-finished.
Hope this helps. I think the main lessons are get the material into the house early, put down a good underlay and don't skimp on nails. If you hire someone to do it make sure the installer is qualified and does it right. Living with the opened containers, for several weeks, might be a little uncomfortable but it will pay off.
RonB
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A few people asked about the relative humidity in our house, I'm afraid I really don't know. We do keep the humidifier running pretty strong in the winter (due to various allergies and other sinus issues) and turned off in the summer, so it's quite possible we have a noticeable RH swing between winter & summer.
Chris
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On Feb 19, 10:00 am, Chris Shearer Cooper

A fairly accurate gauge is fairly cheap.
Watch the amplitude of the seasonal RH swings, and ... dollars to donuts ... you'll have your answer.
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Will I have an answer, or just more questions? :-)
Let's say, for the sake of argument, that my house gets really dry in the summer, and is relatively humid in the winter. There's no way I'm going to run the humidifier in the summer, it's hot enough as is, the A/C has just enough oomph to keep the house cool without making it fight with a humidifier too. So I still need to find a flooring solution that can handle the humidity swings (which sounds like I need to avoid solid wood and also solid grass).
Or, what if my house isn't that different (humidity-wise) in winter vs. summer. Then I guess we say the problems I've seen with my bamboo are not with seasonal variations, but rather just that the bamboo wasn't fully dry when it was installed, and that installing bamboo in the future might do just fine ... except that it's difficult to say when bamboo is really fully dry (has reached equilibrium moisture content), so I run the risk of having the same problem with the new floor, so I'm still better off avoiding bamboo.
Yes?
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