How Long Should Hardwood Flooring Acclimate? Can That Be In The Box?

You've been waiting forever for your beautiful new hardwood flooring to arrive. Now it is finally here, and you just can't wait to install it. But you keep reading about how you have to prepare the wood first—ugh! Just how long should hardwood flooring acclimate? We've checked with multiple flooring professionals to cover everything you need to know.

Don't rush the installation of hardwood floors. Hardwood floors can take at least three days to properly acclimate, and there's no official maximum time. Instead, monitor the moisture level of the wood to know when you're ready for installation.

But don't give up hope—there's still a chance that you might be ready to install sooner than you thought. We'll cover how to tell when your flooring reaches the ideal moisture content and what that magic number is—for the subfloor too. We'll explain why sometimes, your floors don't need extra time to acclimate and why acclimating wood in the box is not a good idea. And finally, we'll let you know how to tell when your wood floor is ready for use—stay with us!

Brown hardwood floor tiles photographed up close, How Long Should Hardwood Flooring Acclimate? Can That Be In The Box?

Why Does Wood Flooring Need To Acclimate?

Wood is naturally porous, and as a result, it constantly expands and contracts due to changes in humidity. Even once installed, wood flooring leaves small gaps to allow for this expansion as necessary.

New wood flooring, however, is particularly susceptible to this. The primary reason is because of shipping. Flooring that's spent two days in the back of a semi-truck in the winter is likely to be quite cold, for example. As a result, once it arrives at your house in Louisiana, it's entered a very different climate. For this reason, you need to allow time for the wood to adjust.

Hardwood flooring releases moisture when the air is dry and humidity is low. It absorbs moisture during times of high humidity. Because of this characteristic, always make sure that your wood flooring is properly acclimated before you install it. Not waiting for the wood to reach equilibrium with the air around it is a recipe for disaster.

Do I Need To Acclimate Hardwood Flooring?

When you're trying to acclimate hardwood flooring, the goal is to reach a point where the moisture of the floor and the moisture of the area around the floor are the same. In other words, moisture is no longer traveling back and forth into (or out of) the wood flooring.

Start by checking the moisture content of the subfloor with a moisture meter like this one:

Click here to see this moisture meter on Amazon.

Check the levels in a variety of places across the floor, making sure to get a good average reading. If the reading is 12% or higher, let the subfloor air out longer before installation. The ideal reading is between 7-9%.

Then, check the moisture content of your hardwood flooring. Again, check multiple boar

ds from all your boxes, making sure you get a good average. You want the flooring to be within 2-4% of the subfloor reading and less than 10%. If your boards are in this range, you won't need to acclimate them first.

My House Is Too Humid To Reach These Levels

If you're in an area with high humidity, it will affect your wood flooring. But wood should still be able to achieve a moisture reading of less than 10%.

Even homes with as high as 52% relative humidity can expect readings of only 9% moisture in their wood flooring. Homes that are kept at 19-25% relative humidity tend to see readings of about 5% moisture.

If your home exceeds 52% relative humidity, then it's important to address the underlying issue there. Look into methods for controlling humidity, like a dehumidifier.

High humidity levels can cause health problems, the spread of mold, and damage to drywall and floors. Ideally, your home should always be somewhere between 30%-50% relative humidity.

Light brown hardwood flooring inside a living room

How Do You Acclimate Hardwood Flooring?

The best way to do this is to let the flooring sit out. Leave it where it will eventually be installed - you can't acclimate it in a garage, for example. Variability between the humidity and temperature of different rooms matters.

It typically takes about three days for wood flooring to acclimate. It can be as much as 10, depending on the wood and how well the air circulates.

Does Hardwood Acclimate In The Box?

While it's possible that eventually, hardwood could acclimate in the box, it's not recommended.

If possible, you should try to open every box of flooring. Spread the flooring out into smaller lots - this increases airflow and makes acclimation easier.

Another way to increase airflow is to cross-stack the planks. Use spacers to help keep the planks level and increase space between each plank.

A stock pile of wooden blocks

Doesn't The Type Of Wood Flooring Matter?

You might hear people talk about acclimating wood flooring based on the type of wood. They'll suggest that there's a difference between bamboo and oak, for example. This, at one time, was true, but the kind of flooring is no longer a relevant issue in the modern home.

This idea comes from back before wood flooring was made out of already kiln-dried wood. In those days, the time it took to wait for wood planks to dry did vary based on the wood type. But nowadays, all wood flooring is released from the manufacturer with a moisture content between 6-9%. This is thanks to the ability to kiln-dry the wood.

This is also why your wood flooring may not need extra time to acclimate. It just depends on whether the wood has picked up additional moisture between leaving the manufacturer and arriving at your house. That's why it's best to check the wood with a moisture meter to be safe.

It doesn't matter if it's oak, pine, bamboo, or engineered hardwood for current wood flooring. As long as the wood has less than 10% moisture content, it's ready to be installed. The ideal moisture level doesn't vary between wood, just the amount of time it may take to reach it.

What Happens If I Don't Acclimate Hardwood Flooring?

It might seem tempting to just skip acclimating your hardwood flooring. It's long and tedious, and who wants to wait a week for the moisture levels to come down?

But it's an important step in the process, and having to replace damaged hardwood floors isn't worth the risk. Floors that aren't properly acclimated might:

  • Void the manufacturer's warranty.
  • Buckle, warp, or cup over time.
  • Settle with excessive gaps between planks.
  • Compromise the expansion joints in the flooring.

Does Engineered Hardwood Have To Acclimate?

While engineered hardwood is less susceptible to humidity changes, it does still need to be properly acclimated. Since engineered hardwood tends to take in less moisture, there's a better chance that you'll find ideal moisture readings right off the bat. And if you do need to acclimate, the process is generally quicker.

But you still need to check before installation. Follow the same guidelines as other hardwoods, waiting for readings that are less than 10% moisture. And, once again, make sure that the subfloor moisture readings are appropriate before you begin laying the floor.

Hardwood floor tiles for display at a tile center

How Long Before You Can Put Furniture On New Hardwood Floors?

If your hardwood flooring comes "pre-finished," you won't have the long wait time of waiting for it to cure. But that doesn't mean you can start using it right away.

Let the floor settle for a while first. Give it about 6 hours before walking across the floor in socks. Wait 24 hours before crossing the floor with your shoes on. After 48 hours, it's safe to put furniture down on your new hardwood floors.

Don't let pets on the new floor for about two days as well. And if you'll be using a carpet or rug, wait a full week before laying it down.

In Summary

There isn't a magic number of days to acclimate hardwood flooring. It's more important to use a moisture meter to ensure that the subfloor is at 12% and the flooring is less than 10%. If your flooring has elevated readings, then acclimate for as long as you need until you reach the proper moisture level. Take flooring out of the box and divide it into smaller stacks, as increasing airflow is vital for acclimating wood flooring.

If you enjoyed this article, learn more about installing hardwood floors here:

Does Hardwood Flooring Need Underlayment?

Should You Glue Down Engineered Hardwood Flooring?

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