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Ask the Architect

Our floor is expanding


Q. Last fall we had the walls removed between our living room, dining room and kitchen. We had a new kitchen installed with an island plus a wall of cabinets. Now the new flooring is rising at the seams, everywhere. We have a heated floor, and the flooring was specially chosen because it clicks together and “floats.” We were told that with the floor being able to move, it would be better with the heated floor. What caused this, and what can we do?

A. Your floor is expanding, and the ridges at the seams are rising, because the floor has nowhere else to expand to. This problem is common, and was caused by the floor being limited from expanding because the cabinets and island, along with heavy furniture placed over the finished floor, keep the floor from expanding when the heat is on. Wetting the floor to clean it also causes expansion, and should be limited or not done with water at all.

Solving this problem is easier said than done. Basically, anywhere the floor is unable to move defeats the purpose, and only by freeing up the floor will the problem work itself out. There’s a simple wall molding that our ancestors used that seems to be generally forgotten. Even though I include this detail in most of the drawings I prepare, I rarely see this last little strip of molding being installed. What the molding does is act like a gap cover, since properly installed flooring has a quarter- to half-inch gap at the edges of the floor, including around a fixed island and around the room’s perimeter. The whole perimeter will need to be cut so the trim molding will need to be added, unless the vertical trim board has been installed with a space, in which case the flooring has to be able to float (slide back and forth) under the vertical wallboard trim.

Our ancestors were very observant of nature, and skilled finish carpenters passed along their knowledge of the way materials behave. I worked for a finish carpenter while in high school, and learned that molding and trim weren’t just a finishing touch, but also a necessity to hide the places where materials needed room to expand and contract, at ceilings, floors, stairs and doors. Miracle materials have come along since then that were supposed to change the industry, like plastic moldings that are more temperature stable, but nature never disappoints. Natural or not, materials all have to work together, whether it’s the way they react to moisture, sunlight, heat or cold.

You’re going to need to get the contractor to organize the flooring installer and the finish carpenter to coordinate cutting the floor, and either install the shoe molding or space the vertical trim baseboard so the floor moves and adjusts underneath, even at the island and kitchen cabinet bases. Hopefully, the flooring was installed over a moisture-proof expansion membrane. Then enjoy your floor.

© 2021 Monte Leeper. Readers are encouraged to send questions to yourhousedr@aol.com, with “Herald question” in the subject line, or to Herald Homes, 2 Endo Blvd., Garden City, NY 11530, Attn: Monte Leeper, architect.