Bamboo Flooring Acclimation: What You Need To Know

As we’ve laid out in many of our other articles on bamboo flooring, there are tons of benefits when choosing bamboo as your flooring option. However, as is the case with many flooring types, there are certain factors that you should be aware of in order to get the most out of your floor of choice.

One of the many questions that come up related to bamboo floors is whether or not they need to acclimate before installation. The answer is a definite yes; all bamboo floors should be given time to acclimate to the environment of the room where they will be installed before the actual installation takes place.

Taking the time to understand why acclimation of your bamboo floors is so important will certainly save you from future headaches and potentially very expensive repairs and/or replacements in the future.

If going with a professional/contractor for you flooring installation, they should be familiar with acclimation best practices, but keeping yourself informed on the matter is never a bad idea.

What is acclimation and why is it necessary?

According, acclimation is defined as “the process or result of becoming accustomed to a new climate or to new conditions”. As it relates to bamboo floors, your floors need time to go through the process of getting adjusted to the new environment.

As bamboo floors take their journey from manufacturing to your space, they are being exposed to potentially wide-ranging environments and climates along the way. Because bamboo floors are a porous and hygroscopic material, they will absorb the moisture from the environment around them.

If bamboo floors are in an environment that has lots of moisture (or has a high humidity level) relative to the planks themselves, the planks will begin to swell. On the other hand, if they are in an environment that has a lower humidity level than the planks, the planks will begin to shrink. In extreme conditions, this will cause loosening, warping, cracking, and bending.

For these reasons, and because of the nature of bamboo floors, it is important that you give your floors time to adjust to their new space.

Although this can vary dramatically based on the climate in your area, the quality of the bamboo floors, and the conditions in your space, it is generally recommended that you allow your floors to acclimate for at least 72 hours before installation for high quality floors. For lower quality bamboo floors, the time for acclimation can take as much as 2 to 3 weeks.

Because this can be a fairly foreign topic for most, we’re going to provide details related to knowing how long to acclimate, how to know when your floors are ready to be installed, and tips to help you when you’re ready to move forward with installation.

How to measure moisture & humidity levels

Before understanding the time needed to acclimate, you’ll first want to understand how far apart your floors are in terms of moisture level when compared to the room(s) where they will be installed. Generally speaking, the ideal humidity level for your floors is between 30% and 50% and temperatures should be between 60°F and 80°F.

These days, most thermostats in your home measure temperature and humidity levels. In cases where the room where you will be installing your floors does not have a thermostat with these readings or a thermostat at all, you can find relatively inexpensive temperature and humidity monitors online.

Now, in order to understand how your bamboo floors are interacting with the room where they will be installed, you must measure the moisture in your floors using a moisture meter.

Once familiar with the moisture level in your floors and the temperature and humidity levels in the space where the floors will be installed, you will allow your floors to acclimate until they have reached equilibrium (or a state of balance) with the space they will be in. This state of balance is also referred to as the equilibrium moisture content (EMC).

While this may sound difficult for a non-expert, the USDA has actually provided a table that helps determine the ideal moisture level considering the temperature and humidity in a space:

Based on the relative humidity and temperature in your space, your floors will either shrink or swell until it reaches equilibrium. Knowing this point should help you understand why it is important to allow your floors to acclimate and allow this physical reaction to take place before installation.

Four steps to acclimating your bamboo floors

To make the process smoother, these are the four tips that you should follow when attempting to acclimate your bamboo floors:

1. Set your room to the ideal temperature for several days and measure the relative humidity levels and temperature in the space where the floors will be installed.

A point that we cannot stress enough is making sure that you are measuring this in the space where the floors will ultimately be installed. Often times, these two measurements can range dramatically from room to room and you should not use the temperature and relative humidity measurements from a room that is not the final installation space.

Once again, be sure that your space is set to the measurements that you believe will remain consistent over time. Be sure to record the measurements in a safe space.

2. Using a moisture meter, measure the moisture level of your bamboo floors.

This can be done once you have placed the boxes of bamboo planks in the space where they will be installed.

3. With your bamboo planks in their original boxes or removed from their boxes, cross-stack the planks (image below).

In order to allow for airflow during acclimation, it is important to leave space for your bamboo planks to “breathe”. We find that the easiest way to do this is through cross-stacking. If you are unfamiliar with the term, here is an example:

Where possible, leave at least a couple of inches of space between stacks for the best results.

4. Using a matrix like the table provided in this article, measure the moisture level of your floors until they reach equilibrium.

As stated previously, this step will vary in time based on a number of different variables. Be sure not to take any shortcuts during this step as this is where you will ensure that your floors reach a level of balance with the room where they will ultimately be installed.

As an additional note, it is not recommended that you use the reading of just one plank to determine the moisture level for all planks. The rule of thumb is that you measure at least 40 planks for every 1,000 square feet of bamboo floor that will be installed; this will help ensure that all of your planks are acclimating at the same pace.

5. Ensure that there is less than a 3% variance in moisture level between your bamboo floor and your subfloor.

As a final check, ensure that you are not installing your bamboo floors on top of a subfloor that has a much higher moisture level. As mentioned previously, your bamboo planks will tend to absorb this moisture and swell.

Tips to guide you

  • Acclimating your bamboo floors with the space where they will be installed is completely necessary before installation.
  • Be sure to read the instructions that come with your bamboo floor. Often times, manufacturers will include notes related to acclimation that may help as you navigate the installation process.
  • If hiring a contractor/professional, be sure to bring acclimation up as a topic before installation to ensure there is alignment on the path forward.
  • Take the time to understand what the different measurements are and how each can impact your floors.
  • Understand that the time it take to acclimate can vary dramatically based on a number of different variables. Be patient and do not take any shortcuts.
  • Effectively executing the acclimation process could be the difference between a seamless installation and headaches for years to come.

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