We have had quite a rough winter this year, I know most of the country has. Snow, ice, and persistently lower than normal temperatures have been incredibly prevalent this year. I have been fortunate enough to spend this unusual season inside, warm and content as I hope you have as well. And while we don’t normally think of the outside elements affecting the furnishings on the interior of our homes, it can actually take a great toll on your wood furniture. We have experienced this first hand at English Classics both with our own inventory and through calls of people looking for information on their own furniture.
Humidity, The Bane Of Solid Wood
Although you cannot see it with the naked eye, wood is constantly moving. I like to call it “breathing”. The wood expands and contracts based on its changing moisture content. This is true of new wood and old wood. To quote Carl A. Eckelman (from this article);
“With time, the moisture content of wood will always come into equilibrium with the relative humidity of the air surrounding it. This moisture content is referred to as the equilibrium moisture content (emc) of the wood. It follows that for each level of relative humidity of the air, there is a corresponding equilibrium moisture content of the wood.”
While certain finishing techniques can slow the transfer of moisture from the air to the wood, none will actually prevent it. Problems in solid wood furniture occur the most often with quick changes in humidity. Going from humid to dry is the worst as it leads to shrinkage cracks. The reason we have heard of some many problems this winter is because of the lower temperatures. This has caused our heating systems to work longer and harder to provide the same level of temperature within the home. A longer running heating system will dry out the air more severely than a system that can run more intermittently. And remember we are not talking about temperature. A home that has a thermostat set to 68 degrees is not necessarily more humid than a home set to 70. The main factor is how long and how often the heating system has to run to achieve your set temperature which is affected by your home’s energy efficiency and the outside temperature.
Manufactured woods such as plywood and particle board are not immune to this affect either. Their moisture content varies as well, although not as severely. You will see few problems with manufactured woods though as, by design, their interior make up usually allows some room for expansion and contraction without compromising the structural integrity of the material.
How To Prevent Problems
There are a few steps you can take to help minimize the affects of the outdoor temperature (and your heating system).
- Use a humidifier in the winter. Ideally your home should maintain a humidity level of 50-55%, but the main idea is not to let it fluctuate too much too quickly.
- Keep you furniture away from heat sources such as radiators and vents.
- Use vent shields to direct the flow of air away from furniture.
- Use a dehumidifier during especially wet or rainy seasons.