This article was published more than 2 years ago
Q: We had USFloors natural cork floor installed in our kitchen seven years ago. The floating planks are shrinking. How can we fix this?
A: Cork flooring from USFloors that was sold seven years ago had the same interlocking edge system that the company’s current flooring does, according to a customer service representative for Shaw Industries, which bought USFloors in 2016.
Just as with many styles of plank hardwood flooring, there is a top layer (cork, in your case) over a base of high-density fiberboard, often called HDF. This is a wood-fiber product that is harder and denser than the medium-density fiberboard (MDF) you might be more familiar with. All four edges of each piece are molded to a shape designed so pieces snap together, without requiring glue.
Dealing with gunk in the gaps in old hardwood floors
The result should be a floating floor that expands and contracts as one big piece over the subfloor as temperature and humidity shift. Around the edges of the room, there should be a gap (USFloors specifies ⅜ inch) to provide space for the flooring to expand and contract. Shoe molding or baseboard typically covers the gap.
You don’t say whether the gaps are new or have been there all along, although your statement that they “are” shrinking implies they are newish. In that case, the most probable cause is drier air than you used to have, said Guy Hunter, manager of Universal Floors in Washington (202-537-8900; universalfloors.com). If you added a dehumidifier or made another change to keep the relative humidity low, adjust the setting to keep it at 40 to 50 percent, he suggested. “Within a few weeks, it should go back” to looking like it used to, he said. His recommended range for relative humidity is narrower than the range of 35 to 55 percent called for in USFloors’s installation guidelines.
If tweaking the relative humidity doesn’t fix the problem, or if the gaps have been there from the beginning, you might want to call the company and ask for someone to assess the problem in person. Universal Floors makes free house calls, Hunter said.
When there are a lot of gaps on click-together flooring, “something’s not right,” he said. The picture you sent shows gaps especially between the ends of adjoining planks. That could happen if the installer cut pieces to make them fit and then butted short pieces together, rather than cutting only the last piece on each row and then using the cutoff as the starter piece for the next row, so all connections from one plank to the next still interlock. Sometimes when this happens, it’s possible to dab a bit of glue into a gap and scoot the planks closer together. If a gap is near an edge, you could remove the shoe molding or baseboard to uncover the perimeter gap and then push against the outside edge of the last flooring piece. If the gap is in the middle, you would need to work your way, piece by piece, to an edge. Use a tool made for installing laminate flooring, such as the Roberts Pro Pull Bar ($14.28 at Home Depot).
Or it might be possible to move the planks with a device that grips to a piece of flooring and allows you to tap them closer together. Two possibilities are a tool called the Floor Gap Fixer ($49.99 at floorgapfixer.com), which consists of an aluminum bar with a temporary adhesive, and suction cups, such as the FCHO Floor Gap Fixer Tool and mallet ($18.99 on Amazon). But cork, by its very nature, has air pockets and a slightly uneven surface, so you would need to experiment to see whether they would work. And you would need to make sure the suction cups are small enough to span only a single plank at a time.
But if adjusting the humidity doesn’t solve the problem, it makes sense to get a pro to take a look before you start fiddling with the gaps. Sometimes the best option is to take up the old pieces and reinstall them. And sometimes the only good option is to live with the gaps or start over, Hunter said.
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