Time, Temperature and Relative Humidity: The Variables of EMC
What is EMC?
Equilibrium Moisture Content, or EMC, is the point at which wood is at the same moisture level as its environment, so that it no longer releases or absorbs moisture. EMC is a balancing act between the wood and its ambient conditions–raise the relative humidity and the wood will absorb moisture from the air; lower it and the wood will release moisture into the air.
Why does it matter? Since wood has a hygroscopic (moisture-interactive) relationship with its environment, changes in the wood’s moisture content (MC) will also cause corresponding changes to the wood’s physical dimensions. When wood absorbs moisture, the wood cells expand to accommodate the extra moisture. When it releases moisture, it will decrease in dimension.
If these changes occur after a wood floor has been installed, these dimensional changes may only cause some seasonal gaps, but they may also lead to a host of more problematic symptoms like cupping, crowning, splitting, gaps and more.
Put simply (very simply), the two environmental factors that influence EMC are TEMPERATURE and the RELATIVE HUMIDITY of the surrounding air in the space where the wood flooring will be installed. (The exact EMC formula includes a number of variables developed by researching the absorption rate of non-living wood and EMC tables or EMC calculators, like the free Wagner Meters Wood App. Take these variables into account when calculating EMC.)
There are a number of recommendations for each job site, but always follow manufacturer’s guidelines for proper acclimation procedures:
- - The space where the flooring will be installed should have adequate ventilation, and HVAC systems and any humidifiers that are part of the design should be operational for 5-7 days prior to delivering the wood flooring. All other materials, like concrete or plaster, should also be dry before bringing the wood flooring on site.
- Your flooring must be exposed to these conditions in order to acclimate. Open the packaging and if possible stack the flooring boards with thin strips between them to allow air circulation to all the floorboards.
- As you stack, measure the wood flooring with a wood moisture meter (we recommend a pinless moisture meters for damage-free accuracy) and determine the EMC for your area and season using an EMC table or calculator.
It is also often a good idea to have a thermo-hygrometer on site to establish that the site conditions are also stable.
Ambient relative humidity, or the water vapor in the air surrounding the flooring, actually has the greatest impact on wood moisture content. As was mentioned, wood is a hygroscopic material that readily absorbs and releases moisture. Higher relative humidity means more water vapor to be absorbed by the wood until it reaches a stable level with the surrounding air.
However, if the air has a lower relative humidity than the wood’s moisture content, the wood will release moisture into the air. It’s helpful to know which way your wood’s MC will be moving in order to establish EMC.
Temperature is significant to wood moisture content mostly because of how it impacts the relative humidity of air. If lowering or raising the temperature significantly impacts the relative humidity on the job site, reaching EMC will take much longer to achieve.
Put Time on Your Side
From this point on, the key to successfully adapting wood flooring to each job site is actually time. Why?
If any of these moisture changes happen too quickly, wood may warp, split, twist or buckle as the different faces of the wood absorb moisture at varying rates. For example, end grains will absorb moisture more quickly because the wood has been cut across the wood cells, creating a structure that looks like bundled drinking straws.
While some manufacturers will recommend a number of days to reach EMC, the only way to be completely confident the flooring has reached EMC is with an accurate wood moisture meter. Our damage-free wood moisture meters offer a simple, easy-to-use accuracy that does not mar the flooring.
With specific gravity settings for both domestic and exotic woods, our pinless wood moisture meters have the ability to “scan” many board feet quickly for instant verification of the wood’s progress towards EMC. Once the wood’s MC has stabilized, you can install with complete confidence that the wood flooring will remain durable and beautiful for years to come.
As wood moves towards EMC on any new site, temperature and relative humidity will determine the amount of moisture that must be absorbed or released, but time becomes the critical component between finding the right moisture balance and having moisture-related flooring problems.