Kitchen cabinets are usually wood or some type of wood product and this is a good thing in general. Wood is readily available, lightweight, durable, affordable, and attractive. However, kitchens are often hot and humid, and this can have serious consequences for anything made of wood. You have to take steps to control the environment in the kitchen to protect your kitchen cabinets on a daily and seasonal basis. Below are some of the effects of humidity and heat on kitchen cabinets.
The biggest issue with kitchen cabinets when it comes to humidity in the kitchen is its effect on the wood fibers. High humidity means more moisture in the air, and this bloats the fibers in the wood, causing it to expand. Low humidity means less moisture, and this causes the fibers in the wood to deflate, causing it to shrink.
This effect is particularly dramatic in exposed or unfinished wood, although modern kitchen cabinets typically have some type of finish or veneer. The finish or veneer helps minimize radical swings in moisture absorption and evaporation, although it does not stop it completely.
Surprisingly, solid wood is also more vulnerable to the effects of humidity than engineered wood. It is more likely to crack and split in very dry and very humid conditions.
This is good news for many homeowners as the more affordable cabinets are of plywood, particleboard, and medium density fiberboard (MDF). That said, direct exposure to water would cause considerable damage to particleboard and MDF very quickly, so it is important to make sure leaking pipes are nowhere near your kitchen cabinets.
Kitchens have many sources of heat, not the least of which is the cooking appliances. As with humidity, variations in the temperature can result in many of the same issues. Specifically, high heat can cause the wood fibers to expand, and low temperatures can cause them to contract.
When the change in temperature is sudden, the effects are much more dramatic. It can cause solid wood to crack or split, and cause engineered wood to cup, bow, or warp. High humidity and heat can also encourage the growth of mold and mildew.
Tips for remediation
The good news is many of the issues associated with wildly fluctuating humidity levels and temperatures will disappear if you keep them on an even keel for an extended period. You can avoid having to replace your kitchen cabinets if you catch it before they sustain any permanent damage.
The ideal humidity level is between 35% and 50%. You have a bit of wiggle room here. But, anything higher than 80% or lower than 20% is going to give you problems with your kitchen cabinets.
If your humidity levels are too high, you can bring it down by turning up the air conditioner during the warm months or a dehumidifier during the cold months. If the levels are too low, bring in some moisture into the room using a humidifier.
The ideal temperature range is from 68°F and 72°F. Adjusting your thermostat will keep the ambient temperature in that sweet spot. If you must adjust the temperature up or down, do it gradually.
Well-built cabinets can handle this swelling and shrinking of the wood as cabinetmakers allow for it by putting in floating panels. This gives the
wood some give to avoid cracking. You should check if your cabinet panels are floating and not glued. Glued panels will most likely crack, especially with prolonged exposure to fluctuating humidity levels. If you are getting new cabinets, make sure glue is not present in any of the panels.
If you are installing new cabinets, it might be a good idea to acclimatize them by storing them in the kitchen or a room with similar humidity and temperature conditions for a few days. On no account should you store your new cabinets in the garage or basement, which tend to be too cold or too humid.
You should also check if you have enough insulation and ventilation in your home to control the conditions in your kitchen. The drainage outside the home can also affect the humidity and heat, so check if this is working properly.
Kitchen cabinets are highly desirable and functional. However, since most of them are of some type of wood, humidity and heat levels can cause some serious issues. You can alleviate the effects of humidity and heat on kitchen cabinets by following these basic tips.
It helps to get good quality kitchen cabinets in the first place. They are more likely to be stable under less than ideal conditions than poorly built ones. If you are in the market for new kitchen cabinets, consult with a reputable cabinet supplier to make sure you get the best value for your money.
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