Hardwood Floor Cupping & Tenting

Written by patrick gleeson, ph. d., registered investment adv
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Hardwood Floor Cupping & Tenting
New hardwood floor. (hardwood floor texture image by GoodMood Photo from Fotolia.com)

Hardwood flooring cups when the edges of the board rise above the centre. Hardwood flooring tents, or crowns, when the centre of the board rises above the edges. Both conditions usually result from an avoidable moisture problem.

One Common Cause of Cupping

Cupping or tenting often occurs shortly after the installation of new flooring. It results from an uneven distribution of moisture in the boards. One side gains or loses more moisture than the other. If the bottom of the board contains more moisture than the top, cupping occurs. If the top of the board contains more moisture than the bottom, tenting or crowning occurs. You can often avoid these problems by giving new flooring a few days to acclimate to the humidity level of the room before installing it. Be sure to turn the furnace on to the level you will usually set it and leave it that way while the new flooring acclimates.

Time Heals Some Wounds

It doesn't pay to rush to solve cupping and tenting problems in new floors. Sometimes the problems will solve themselves in time. If you sand flat a floor that would have stabilised and flattened eventually, you will have a new problem when stabilisation occurs. The previously cupped floor will now have crowns; the previously crowned flooring will begin cupping. This caution also applies to water-spills. Simply let the wood dry.

The Problem May Be Your Basement

Often, basements have higher humidity levels than the rest of the house. If you install flooring on the first floor over a basement, moisture may seep up through the subfloor and cupping will occur. You can reduce the moisture in the basement by installing a dehumidifying system with a permanent drain to the exterior or into the wastewater system.

From Cupping to Tenting

If dehumidifying a basement doesn't gradually flatten the cupped flooring, you will have to sand it flat. First, however, give the sub-flooring time to dry out, at least a couple of weeks and sometimes months. Don't rush to sand it flat after dehumidifying. If excessive basement humidity caused the problem, the floor will flatten by itself in time. Similarly, wait a similar length of time after dehumidifying a basement before installing new flooring; it will take time for the sub-flooring to dry out.

Cupping and Tenting May Not Be as Bad as You Think

One installer made a wise observation about flooring problems in new houses. When you enter a new house with strong sunlight pouring through undraped windows onto shiny new floors, you may see cupping and tenting problems that don't need fixing. Real wood floors, even if properly installed, will change their moisture content in the course of time, and minor cupping and tenting will occur. However, in a normal environment with filtered lighting, furniture and possibly rugs, the visual effect diminishes and the apparent problem goes away.

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