High Elevation, Dry Climate. Is Hardwood Flooring for Me?

“ Our elevation is about 7200 ft. We have pretty dry air and significant climate changes. How would solid hickory perform under those conditions? Would the tung oil or some type of finish have any impact on the relative humidity or moisture content? I was told by a buddy of mine to avoid this type of floor at this location (tahoe). You are the expert. What is your opinion? Thx- John ”



Hi John,

There are certain hardwoods that perform better than others, especially for the more trying climates. Vertical grain hardwoods (like quarter-sawn hardwoods) are also more stable than flat sawn hardwoods. Many people have had problems with engineered flooring products in high altitudes and very dry climates, with what is called “dry cupping.”Often, the plywood portion of the flooring product is too dissimilar to the top veneer layer. “Dry Cupping” is the process where the top layer of hardwood contracts faster than the plywood substrate.  The result is tension between the top layer of hardwood and the plywood sub straight. It can show up as cupping, bowing and delaminating of the top layer.

There are a considerable number of happy customers in the Tahoe area with solid hickory flooring installed in them. Those that have had problems can usually be traced back to one of three things: 1. Lack of proper acclimation at the time of installation, 2. A lack of heat in the dry winter months, 3. A lack of humidity control in the home – especially in winter. In-line humidifiers that are part of the homes heating and cooling system are affordable today. They not only greatly reduce excessive movement of your wood (excessive shrinking, expanding, cupping or checking) by keeping a more stable humidity level in your home – they also provide a much more healthy living environment for humans – less sickness and better skin. Having said that, if someone was still concerned about the stability of their wood floor, then hickory would not be my first choice. Hickory is very hard and moderately stable. The most dimensionally stable hardwoods are Walnut and Cherry. Pine is also a very stable wood, but it is soft. If you can embrace the dents, pine would be a good option too. Utilizing quarter sawn hardwoods is another way to improve the stability of your wood floor for difficult applications. The vertical grained structure of quarter sawn woods provides for less expansion and contraction than flat sawn woods and a vertical grain presentation increases the hardness of the wood surface. Currently, we have a sale on Cherry at just $3.69/sf. I believe we also have the best prices on solid walnut in the nation, at just $4.99 sq/ft! In fact, right now we also have a limited quantity of incredible savings on quarter-sawn walnut at just a 10% up-charge. Normally, you would expect to pay a 25% or more up-charge for quarter sawn products.

As for your question about Waterlox Tung Oil for a high altitude application – it would be my first choice.