Q: The flooring article (“Installing Prefinished Strip Flooring”) in the November 2015 issue of Remodeling Magazine showed the boards being installed tight to the baseboards. Shouldn’t there be an expansion space around the perimeter?
A: Howard Brickman, a wood-flooring contractor and consultant based in Norwell, Mass., responds: Over many decades of installing wood flooring as well as studying the science of building materials and wood technology, I have come to realize that many of the “rules” regarding wood flooring are based on a deeply ingrained (pun intended) mythology and not necessarily on fact.
The first myth is that wood is a “living and breathing” thing, so wood flooring needs plenty of expansion space. The underlying truth to this myth is that wood shrinks and swells when it loses or gains moisture. But this movement does not define life.
The second myth, which builds on the first one, is that wood and water don’t play nicely together. But water is an integral part of all wood. (And once the use of water-based finishes became widespread, this myth lost a lot of its mojo.) Here’s a fun fact: A 10-foot-square oak floor at 8% moisture content (MC) contains 2.7 gallons of water. For a more robust explanation of the relationship between wood and moisture, read The Wood Handbook (free online from the Forest Products Laboratory) or Bruce Hoadley’s book, Understanding Wood (not free, but more fun to read).