Condos & Hardwood: A Tricky Pairing

As you know, Calgary is very, very dry. Situated in the southern Alberta “steppes,” it has a semi-arid climate with very low humidity levels. While this softens temperature extremes during summer and winter, it makes maintaining hardwood floors tricky, especially for Condo dwellers.

The badlands of Alberta, near Drumheller.

Hardwood is like a sponge: it absorbs moisture and changes shape accordingly. Generally these changes are subtle, but subtle changes can become substantial when transferred throughout an entire floor. If hardwood flooring absorbs too much moisture, (it can expand and “cup” (raising at the shoulders). If it dries out too much, it can contract and crack.

Water glass stain and drop of water on wooden table background

Suffice it to say that homes with hardwood need to be kept at a consistent moderate relative humidity level, between 35% and 55%. In Calgary, where summer months are around 40% and winter months can reach as low as 10-15%, you can’t depend on the environment to keep humidity levels consistent. You need an effective humidifier and it needs to remain on at all times.

In stand-alone houses, this isn’t generally a problem. Furnaces using a forced air system are equipped with humidifiers that if properly maintained, will keep the humidity of your home consistent and your hardwood in good shape. Unfortunately, condos are heated with perimeter heating, and therefore don’t have furnaces. This makes maintaining a relative humidity level between 35% and 55% quite difficult.

Skyline shot of the Calgary downtown core, from across the Bow River.

Hardwood installation problems in condos are not uncommon. When the humidity levels fall too low, gaps between boards grow quite large and in the worst case, boards begin to crack or pull up from the subfloor. As you can imagine, the result is unfortunate and costly for the homeowner.

There are of course hardwood solutions for condos, but it is not my intention with this blog to sell you on them. That’s a secondary reason :) I am moreso drawing attention to the fact that installing hardwood in condos can be precarious, because simply put, condos are sometimes unfit for hardwood floors. Many people decide to use space humidifiers, but these need to be kept on and constantly refilled, which is especially difficult if you vacation frequently.

High Rise Apartment Interior with View of Sprawling City

Hardwood has a prestige to it. It is highly sought after for its beauty and the uniqueness of its grain patterns. It is also one of the more expensive floor coverings. Because of this, it has become part and parcel of the prestigious look, which is very popular among some Condo dwellers. In a way this has compounded the problem for Calgary condo-owners because it can set up unrealistic expectations. None other than the Globe and Mail in an article called “Five Condo Renos that Add Value,” say that hardwood used to be an absolute must in a nice condo. Thankfully, with the improvement of manufacturing technologies, higher-end Laminates and especially Luxury Vinyls are coming to be seen as prestigious themselves.

Hand scraped natural hickory wood grain

If however, your heart is set on real wood, than there are certain engineered hardwoods (real wood lamella (top layer) and composite core), that are especially well-suited for condos. Engineered hardwoods can stay stable in lower humidity levels than solid-core hardwood. The thinner the wood lamella, the more stable the product. Add to that products with HDF cores, which are constructed to hold up to especially low humidity levels. This way, you can still have the prestige of hardwood without fretting too much over humidity levels. These specialty hardwood types broaden the acceptable RH range, but they still do require maintaining a minimum level to ensure the warranty.

If you have any further questions about putting hardwood in your condo, come to our showroom and we’d be happy to answer your questions. We carry several engineered hardwood products as well as quality Laminate and Luxury Vinyl alternatives that we’d be happy to show you.

Written by guest author Eric Osborne

Floorscapes Inc.
a creative voice in the world of Calgary flooring
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Floorscapes Inc.
525 58 Ave SE, Calgary, AB, T2H 0P7, Canada
Phone: 403-296-0985