The Effects of Heat on Architectural Woodwork

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The effects of heat on architectural woodwork are largely a result of the relative humidity levels. With proper design, care and storage, the effects of temperature and humidity can be avoided, or at least lessened. Adhering to the AWI’s section 200 will guide and support you in the care and storage of your architectural woodwork.


What are the Effects of Heat on Architectural Woodwork?

Temperature alone doesn’t affect wood greatly – but relative humidity does. All wood products contain some moisture and exchange this moisture with water vapor in the atmosphere according to the relative humidity. If humidity is high, wood absorbs more moisture and swells. If it’s low, wood releases moisture and shrinks.

AWI QCP - The Effects of Heat on Architectural Woodwork

Just a 1% change in moisture content can result in a 0.5% to 1% change in the size of the wood. This moisture content change occurs when relative humidity changes by just 5%. Therefore, dimensional problems such as movement, shrinkage, expansion, and warpage are the most common effects of humidity on architectural woodwork.

These problems can be the result of faulty design and unsuitable or uncontrolled amounts of humidity during storage, installation, or use. Indeed, if controls aren’t in place for sustaining a constant, suitable relative humidity in a building, the woodwork could possibly fail.

With this in mind, it’s clear to see how heat could affect architectural woodwork. It’s worth noting, however, that the effect of heat on wood will differ depending on your region; in dry regions, hotter weather means lower humidity, whereas, in coastal damp regions, hot weather typically means higher humidity. Both extremes negatively affect the wood with either excessive shrinkage for dry regions, or swelling in damp regions. But it’s worth pointing out that the effects of heat on architectural woodwork aren’t as pronounced as they are on materials like steel or aluminum


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How to Avoid the Negative Effects of Heat & Humidity on Architectural Woodwork

There are various ways to ensure that your architectural woodwork isn’t negatively impacted by heat and humidity. Correct design, construction, and installation will all contribute to the overall quality of the woodwork, but humidity control is the important aspect of preventing dimensional problems.

  • Maintain Relative Humidity: Relative humidity must be consistently controlled; as we’ve seen, extremes in humidity or sudden, repetitive changes are likely to cause issues with the woodwork.
  • Avoid Localized Heat: Try not to expose the woodwork to high, localized heat sources such as hot plates. Even direct sunlight will change the look of your woodwork over time.
  • Maintain the Woodwork’s Finish: Don’t use abrasives, chemical or ammonia cleaners to clean architectural woodwork. Instead, use a damp, lint-free cloth to dust the surfaces, and a mild flax soap to remove oil or grease.
  • Avoid Direct Contact with Moisture: When correctly finished, the effects of transient moisture is minimized to some extent. However, if moisture accumulates on any wood product, it will eventually cause damage. Make sure you wipe surfaces clear of accumulated moisture. This will also prevent stains on the wood as a result of oxidation.


AWI’s Temperature and Humidity Standards

The AWI 200 – Care & Storage Standard guides all woodworking and design professionals on how to protect architectural woodwork from the negative effects of heat and humidity.  

You’ll find a lot of handy information and guidance about the care and storage of your architectural woodwork, including the important features of installation, storage, site conditions, and relative humidity requirements. 

The key requirements of this standard include:

  • Dimensional Change: When temperature and humidity are properly maintained,The effects of humidity and dimensional change in wood products should be insignificant when the products have been constructed properly. According to the AWI 200 Standard, woodworkers must use wood that has been kiln-dried to a suitable moisture content. Additionally, at all stages, from storage to installation, the proper relative humidity levels must be maintained.
  • Responsibilities: The design professional is responsible for any dimensional change in the woodwork caused by design choices. Meanwhile, if dimensional change occurs because of inappropriate relative humidity levels during storage and installation, it’s the general contractor’s responsibility. Lastly, if humidity levels cause dimensional change after occupancy, it’s the responsibility of the owner.

For a more in-depth explanation of the effects of heat on architectural woodwork, and the AWI 200 Standard, you can read our blog about AWI’s temperature and humidity standards.

Give your clients peace of mind by ensuring all your work meets the architectural woodworking standards and/or specifications. Contact us to find out more.