Mind The Gap When Installing Natural Wood Floors

Kim and I have recently started a new site all about remodeling and design ideas and pictures. This article was inspired by one of the images Kim found for the new blog – you can find it here: Beautiful Workspaces {Dreamy Desks}.


The floor in the photo above is, for lack of a more boisterous term, totally crazy awesome!

I love the whitewashed finish and the grainy wood used. I also love the way the boards were not staggered and instead a few boards run the other direction separate sections of the floor.

But the thing I notice the most when I look at this floor is the gaps left between the boards. On this particular job that gap may be partially design statement (dark gaps often look good against light wood), but they also serve a practical purpose.

In fact, gaps are an essential part of any natural hardwood floor installation.

Allow For Expansion and Contraction

That’s just the way we say it, but the real truth is that you’re only allowing for expansion. The wood can contract and not cause real issues, but if it expands and you’ve left no gap, it’s a serious problem. See the photo below:


This is what happens when wood is installed too tight and/or without enough fasteners (aka Imagenails). Each plank of wood expands and the compound sum of that expansion can add-up to inches. Inches that aren’t there! The result is a floor that buckles and creates quite a mess.

Severe buckling like seen above usually only happens in the event of a serious water issue such as a flood or broken pipe, but a lesser version of it can happen just as a result of cleaning the floor and/or natural humidity issues.

The Wood Determines The Gap Needed

Wood that is drier and more naturally stable, such as white oak, requires less gap than wood that has a higher natural moisture content, such as pine.

Manufactured wood flooring products like most prefinished floors are not “solid” wood, but rather more like plywood. These don’t expand as much.

Another factor to consider is the normal humidity conditions where you live. I recently saw a forum post where an “expert” was telling a lady her whole floor should be replaced because it was installed with some gaps left in it.

ImageIn Florida, where I live, that would not at all be true. We expect floors to expand and usually allow for it by leaving plenty of space around the peremiter and by including some coin thick gaps every five or six feet on a really large room.

Shoe Molding is Your Friend

If you really don’t want any unsightly gaps left in your flooring installation, i can suggest two things.

  1. Use a ton of nails and/or glue. Really fasten the floor in-place well.
  2. Leave a good sized space around the peremiter of the room and cover that with shoe molding.

Climatize Your Wood Properly

The final bit of advice is to allow the wood to sit in your air-conditioned home for a good while before installing. A couple of weeks is ideal, but if that’s not practical at least a few days.

Happy Remodeling!

~ RG



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