Howard Brickman – Hardwood Flooring from the Tree Tops to the Roots: An Intimate Fireside Chat with an Industry Trailblazer!

Air Date: 4-3-2020|Episode 580

This week the Moisture Mob returns for the 5th show in the series by delving into the Hardwood Flooring sector of the industry and exploring how moisture impacts the installation, use, warranty and life of installed hardwood flooring. The Restoration Global Watchdog says, join the Z-man and Radio Joe for an intimate ‘fireside chat” show with Howard Brickman, a pioneer and trailblazer in the hardwood flooring industry!

Howard was a charter member of the NWFA (wood flooring association) and served for years as the manger for inspections and school services for NOFMA  (oak flooring association). He has consulted on or been contracted for many high profile custom installations such as as the Great Hall in Boston’s famous tourist attraction Faneuil Hall. Howard is a self described, “Carpenter-in-Overalls” and served as a technical consultant for the well known home improvement TV show with Bob Vila called, “Home Again”.

Hardwood flooring adds significant value and beauty to a home or commercial space. True hardwood flooring (compared to manufactured wood or simulated flooring, sometimes referred to as “was wood”) can be the most common use of an oak tongue and groove to exotic imported wood varieties from the Amazon. The US Department of Agriculture Forest Products Laboratory publishes a map of the United States showing the variance in moisture content in hardwood flooring based on time of year and climate zone.

Knowing how moisture affects hardwoods based on the type of substrate used, time of year installed and acclimation time required can make the difference between the success or failure of the project. How are finishes affected by a water intrusion and what techniques are used to access the damage and decide if a floor can be restored or must be replaced?

What kind of considerations should a property owner be aware of regarding full refinishing or “screening” a blistered finish on a hardwood floor affected by flooding or simply from high humidity conditions such as an unattended vacation residence? Can severe cupping or crowning of the boards be corrected  with specialty drying techniques or “tricks of the trade” and what about those “black” marks around the nails, are they permanent? What is the useful life of a hardwood installation and how many times can it be refinished?

This week IAQradio+ listeners will hear answers to these questions and other issues addressed involving the installation, use, restoration considerations from water damage and how this high value item gives the building’s decor warmth and atheistic beauty unlike any other finished flooring!  Pete Consigli  opines, with most of the world in social isolation and getting “cabin fever”, why not call in live this week to hear Cliff and Joe banter with Howard Brickman, an icon in the hardwood flooring industry!

Z-Man’s Blog:

Hardwood flooring from treetops to roots. Howard Brickman

Howard Brickman has consulted on or been contracted for many high-profile custom installations such as the Great Hall in Boston’s famous Faneuil Hall.

Howard is knowledgeable and entertaining.

Nuggets mined from today’s episode:

In the 1960s hardwood flooring had a 96% market share. The low point for hardwood floors was 1978-1979. Since 1980 its been on a slow growth curve, currently 12%-14%.  2017  US-15% on $$ or 8% on SF

Today, what from above may appear to be wood, is actually lookalike photo reproduced graphics of wood structure are put on vinyl, laminate and even ceramic tile.

While people want real hardwood flooring in their homes; sometimes climate and high cost are prohibitive.

Hardwood floor is a lifetime of the building product. In the 1960s everything underroof of a home needed to last for life of home to be included in the mortgage loan. Home buyers chose from: hardwood, stone and battleship linoleum. Lobbyists changed that and carpeting, appliances and 20-year roof shingles were added.

Hardwood is a green product. Howard isn’t an environmental building advocate. If wood really captures carbon in the cellulose, then every piece of wood used in construction will capture carbon. The environmental impact of burning wood and wood rotting in the forest is equal. Managing forests well and then putting the wood into buildings actually extends useful life of wood.

In order to maximize the utility of wood flooring, acclimation is misunderstood . Acclimation should be focused on the moisture content of the building interior  environment. Most people don’t understand it and mistakenly try to adjust the wood flooring to a defective building interior

We cannot control the airmass outdoors. The outdoor airmass outdoors drives the RH indoors.

Structural drying during new construction can prevent 97%-98% of problems such as building material shrinkage and movement. Recommends the use of moisture meter during construction to measure and monitor moisture content.  If you don’t measure MC you cannot manage it

We use temperature to control humidity. RH has an inverse relationship to temperature. Worrying about RH isn’t effective. RH is hard to manage and measure. In humid climates with high rainfall and high RH, dehumidification is critical during the summer. Wood both picks up and releases moisture slowly, IAQ people and restoration people are critical during construction.

Finishes are a moisture barrier applied to wood. The most accurate moisture measurement is the oven test. Where a sample of wood is weighed and then oven dried at >212°F for 24-48 hours and weighed again, the difference in weight between the before drying is then compared. Moisture meters can be used to survey wood for moisture. Surface meters measure moisture at the surface of wood (using signal loss or return signal) and pin meters penetrate deeper and measure resistance. Recommends using a surface meter first to plot readings on a grid pattern.

During new construction moisture content is driven by climate. High RH is summer and low RH in winter.  The goldilocks number for moisture content of wood floors in the Northeast is 7.5%-8% MC (Moisture Content), in a perfect world 7.5%-8% MC. Changes in MC drive shrinkage and swelling with subfloor surfaces at or below ≤11% MC.

The higher the MC of the subfloor the higher the risk to the floor above.

In the Northeastern US Wood floors are made to be used at their kiln dried MC. Kiln dried wood is ready for installation and need not be acclimated. The best that can happen to a kiln dried floor is to not mess it up! Kiln dried wood absorbs moisture from the subfloor. When moisture absorption is slow it’s OK. The gold standard for subfloor is 11% MC. The gold standard for subfloors in arid parts of the country is <7% MC and in humid climates ,13% MC.

Engineered wood flooring may incorporate a lamella layer, a top layer of real prefinished hardwood glued to plywood.

During the winter the lamella layer and the backing shrink at different rates this is known as “dry cupping”. Shrinkage is proportional to width between .003”-.004. and .012”-.014” will flatten out again during the summer when interior RH increases.

Materials when bent for a long time will conform to the shape. Eastern white pine floors in historic colonial buildings rolls and changes shape. It can be sanded flat and refinished.

Black staining around nails is iron oxide caused by the effect of water  in contact with  nails. 5/16” face nailed material is prone to this problem. It is not reversible and floor replacement is indicated.

Installing hardwood floors over concrete is prone to problems due to potential concrete moisture issues . The best way to do it is to install a barrier. Be cautious of all-in-one adhesives. All adhesives of this type have disclaimers about thickness and uniformity. If not done perfectly the adhesive manufacturer will deny all claims. Prior to installation, he recommends grinding the concrete surface, and ensuring that the concrete surface is clean, dry, and porous . Howard uses BONA products and as manufacturer specified: he uses BonaR540 Moisture Barrier, applies 2 applications of R540 and then installs wood within 48 hours.

Is certification a substitute for real experience, education and competence? “Just because I’m wearing a Ferrari hat doesn’t make me a Ferrari.”  “Either you Is or you Ain’t!” A certification may give the impression of competence; and provide the confidence to speak with great certainty and confidence; it’s not a substitute for knowledge, experience and common sense.

NOFMA started in 1909. In 1978, Howard went to work for NOFMA. As the newest and youngest employee, he was tasked with learning, developing and teaching the installation training program.  The instructive, un-biased, neutrally written installation guideline became the industry standard.

The 2007-2009 financial crunch closed NOFMA and forced a merger with NWFA. The installation guidelines were changed to the BOHICA model, assigning responsibility for everything to the installer.

Howard tried and fought to effect change, and was unsuccessful. He notes in his CV that he did not renew his association membership due to a disagreement with policies.

Howard loves trade associations.

Consensus is a monster responsible for poor thinking. Everything isn’t negotiable. There’s right and there’s wrong, There’s black and there’s white. Scientific facts are not developed by consensus. Consensus does not drive facts, science or statistics. Consensus standards are the lowest common denominator.

Outcomes are what matter. How things look and perform after completion. This isn’t a volleyball game. You can’t manage what you can’t measure.

Pete Consigli, Restoration Industry Global Watchdog:

  • Hardwood flooring associations’ struggles with consensus and guidelines are applicable to every industry. Lessons learned transcend various disciplines and trades.
  • Consensus standards generally are developed to establish a “base line” or the minimum criteria of competency. They shouldn’t be touted as the “state of the art” or other terms of marketing puffery!
  • Standards are either Non-Voluntary, such as a code or statue which is a law, or Voluntary; such as industry standards developed through the ANSI consensus process.
  • Standard types are written in a prescriptive style (procedural) or characterized as being performance based. Howard prefers the later, often referred to as a “results oriented” standard.
  • People join associations to “associate” and do together what cannot be done individually.
  • When skilled and knowledgeable dues paying members are not supported by their association leadership, it kills the spirit and engagement of the “flock”. An association that loses its vibrancy, is doomed to irrelevancy!
  • Marty King started every seminar or workshop by stating, “No one of the heads knows more than all the heads”. Howard makes an analogous comment he kicks off for training events he facilitates.
  • Mickey Lee, a respected restoration industry educator likes to characterize his training style as a “Facilitator of knowledge.”.

Howard’s final comments:

Minimum standards become gold standards when the gold  standard is what works 100% of the time. Zero deviation ensures quality. Falling below the gold standard increases risk of failure and defeat.

Reference info: Howard’s courses and recommended reading:

Wood Handbook, Wood as an engineering material. Free download

Books by R. Bruce Hoadley Understanding Wood,  Identifying Wood

Z-Man signing off


Question: What is rule number 229 oh Hammurabi’s Code?

Answer: If a builder build a house for a man and do not make his construction firm, and the house which he has built collapse and cause the death of the owner of the house, that builder should be put to death.