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Ask the Architect

We don’t want our floor to expand

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Q. We read your column about flooring (“Our floor is expanding,” Feb. 25-March 3) and are concerned because our new floors were done last summer and show little rises at the edges. We chose the floor because we have allergies and felt it was easier to clean. The floors were coated with urethane, and we’ve been cleaning with a Swiffer and a Roomba, which uses water. Will this be a problem, since we don’t want to see the floor start swelling? Covid has us thinking we need to clean more often, so please let us know what you think.

A. As with most wood maintenance, follow two basic rules: 1) consult experts to confirm the best practice and 2) don’t do anything you have doubts about. Water causes wood to react by swelling, mainly because the nature of exposed wood is to draw in water. Remember, the flooring used to be the center of a tree, and is composed of millions of straw-like fibers that drew water from the roots of the tree high up to the leaves in order for the tree to survive. Ask any tree, and it wood sway toward telling you it couldn’t imagine giving up its innards to be a floor, but it happens every day.

Because the fibers have such a strong tendency to pull moisture in, any moisture beyond the stabilized room humidity level is going to make the planks swell. Coating the fiber of the wood is a good start, but I often see the edges begin to turn color because the seal coating urethane or other materials can develop gaps. For this reason, it’s best not to saturate the finished planks with water. If you’re able to use liquid cleaners that combine less water with other ingredients that increase evaporation, such as alcohol, and damp mop with furniture-grade cleaners more, it will help to avoid some of the swelling.

I recently came to a conclusion, thinking about the current pandemic, about the last pandemic, the influenza of 100 years ago. It was around that time that the modern architecture movement began, and I realize that part of the influence was a reaction to the need to create healthier living environments in our homes and workplaces. Even though most of us remember all the knickknacks and tchotchkes our grandparents had on their shelves, window sills and mantels, not to mention the coveted corner glass cabinets containing show pieces of crystal and figurines, the stark departure to the modern architecture movement was slowly taking hold.

It was based on the need to eliminate dust-catchers. The Persian rugs disappeared and tile, marble and wood floors became more common. The first home I remember living in had hard, granite-like terrazzo floors and a projecting flat roof held up at one corner by two angled columns forming a V. Now we’re returning to hard, washable surfaces, so we just need to understand where the materials come from and how to treat them. Good luck!

© 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.