What is Wood Acclimation and Do I Really Need to Do It?

In this post, you’re going to learn exactly what you need to know about wood acclimation in order to keep your projects and floors safe from moisture-related failure.

This guide will answer questions like:

Acclimation is a key process for almost any wood project, so whether you’ve been woodworking your whole life or you’re just getting started, this article is for you.

Let’s start by answering an important foundational question.

What is Wood Acclimation?

Dock of wooden planks in a foggy weather, before sunrise as discuss wood’s moisture content during acclimation process.Acclimation is when you allow wood to adjust to its new environment.

Many of the things that can go wrong when you work with wood are due to moisture, and usually, acclimating wood to the environment where it’s going to be used or installed is a great way to prevent moisture-related failures.

During the acclimation process, the goal is for the wood’s moisture content (MC) to match the equilibrium moisture content of the surrounding air. This is a calculated number based on the relative humidity and temperature of the wood’s new location.

For example, if the equilibrium moisture content is 6% for your geographic location, then, ideally, the MC of the wood planks would also be 6%.

But why does this even matter? Let’s find out!

Why is Wood Acclimation Important?

Cross-section of wood log as we learn that wood absorbs or releases moisture depending on its surroundings.Forgetting or ignoring the acclimation process can really set you up for a moisture-related failure in the future.

Wood is actually a living, breathing material. It’s porous and hygroscopic, which means that it will absorb or release moisture depending on its surroundings. The absorption and release of moisture also mean that the wood will expand or contract depending on how much moisture is in the air and what the temperature is.

If wood isn’t acclimated to the ambient relative humidity and temperature, it will expand or contract, which may cause problems.

Especially in the case of hardwood flooring, acclimation is crucial. Issues caused by excess moisture and the expansion and contraction of wood planks like buckling, cupping, crowning, warping, and gapping, can compromise the integrity of your hardwood floor and also ruin the look of your beautiful floor.

So, when you acclimate, you are essentially creating stability between the air and wood that will ensure that your floors stay pristine.

The process of acclimation can take some time, but it’s totally worth it for the long-term quality and aesthetics of the wood.

What Are the Dangers of Not Having Acclimated Wood?

Blue wooden planks with gaps as we discuss dangers of not having acclimated wood and importance of checking moisture contentAnother reason why acclimation is important is that not having acclimated wood can cause some serious headaches.

Even if the wood flooring that you purchase has been kiln-dried or falls within a certain MC, not acclimating the wood means that issues such as buckling, cupping, crowning, warping, and gapping are more likely to occur.

That’s why it’s always important to check the MC of your wood with a reliable moisture meter upon delivery and before installing it.

Furthermore, following your manufacturer’s instructions for acclimation are crucial. The time you should allow for acclimation will partly depend on the type of wood and the type of product (more on that later).

Above all, if your manufacturer does require acclimation and especially if the MC of your planks do not line up with the EMC, you should follow acclimation best practices per the National Wood Flooring Association. You can read more about those in detail at our Acclimation Best Practices page.

But in brief:

  • Make sure the building is at normal living conditions
  • Install permanent heating and HVAC if possible
  • Check MC with a moisture meter at delivery
  • Check MC with a moisture meter prior to installation

The process of acclimation can take some time, but it’s totally worth it for the long-term quality and aesthetics of the wood.

When Do You Acclimate and How Long Does Hardwood Acclimation Take?

Space heater for maintaining a stable temperature in order for wood to acclimate over time, depending on the species of wood.When you acclimate your wood definitely makes a difference. There are many factors that go into acclimating wood, so understanding the necessary conditions and timeline for acclimation is important.

Ideally, you want to allow wood to acclimate after the HVAC is installed so that a stable temperature can be maintained. If this isn’t possible, renting a space heater or portable air conditioner is a necessary step.

The time needed for hardwood to acclimate varies. Some thick beams can take 6-9 months depending on the species. Some can even take years. For hardwood floor planks, some say that 3 days is a good rule of thumb, but this can change depending on the manufacturer’s instructions. Also, if the HVAC isn’t installed or isn’t running properly, acclimation can take even longer.

Some factors that impact acclimation time are uncontrollable like the weather. A rainy week can certainly set back any wood installation project.

And since acclimation is so important, it can be risky to just guess if your hardwood is acclimated to the environment.

That’s why it’s important to invest in a pinless moisture meter so that you can know the moisture content of your wood.

A pinless moisture meter like the Bessemeter DS500 can help you determine if your hardwood is acclimated and if there are any moisture pockets in the wood. By having the capability of taking both shallow and deep readings, the Bessemeter DS500 will set you up for success for all your wood projects.

How Do Different Wood Materials Acclimate?

The process of acclimation and how long it takes also depends on the kind of material you are working with.

Materials like vinyl, laminate, engineered, and prefinished wood are different from hardwood, and, therefore, might need more or less time to acclimate.

Let’s look at each of these in detail to discuss how acclimation changes depending on the material.

Vinyl Planks

You might think that because vinyl flooring is made completely from synthetic materials printed to look like hardwood that it doesn’t need to acclimate. Interestingly, however, vinyl planks do have to acclimate for at least 48 hours. Though the effects of ignoring acclimation might not be as dramatic or as expensive to fix as with hardwood floors, vinyl floors can still expand or contract if not acclimated properly.

Laminate Planks

Laminate plank must be unboxed at the site for 48 to 72 hours prior to installation, in order to acclimate.Like vinyl, laminate is made of synthetic materials. Despite this, laminate also has to acclimate. Most manufacturers would suggest that laminate sit, unboxed, at the site for 48-72 hours prior to installation. If not, laminate planks may buckle or gap as they adjust to the ambient relative humidity and temperature.

Engineered Wood

Yes, engineered wood has to acclimate to the installation site. An acclimation time of 48 hours is usually safe, but because engineered wood is made up of both plywood and a thin layer of hardwood on the surface, it’s important to make sure it is at proper MC before installation. A Bessemeter pinless moisture meter can help you determine this.

Prefinished Hardwood

Prefinished hardwood, similar to regular solid hardwood, must acclimate for at least 3 days before installation.Prefinished hardwood is like regular solid hardwood. The difference is that it is factory finished rather than stained and sealed on site. Even then, prefinished hardwood must acclimate for at least 3 days before installation. Again, to avoid taking risks that might cost you time and money, using a moisture meter to confirm the proper MC prior to installation is essential.

Now What?

Now you know that acclimation is an essential part of installing or working with most any wood product. Even if you’re working with synthetic flooring, acclimation is still important!

The key takeaway is that even though many sources instruct that 48-72 hours is a good timeline for acclimation, you can never be 100% sure unless you measure the moisture content of the material yourself.

Invest in a good pinless moisture meter to eliminate the guesswork from your wood projects.