The first thing a homeowner must do when a wood floor is damaged is to fully dry out the floor surface as well as the subfloor. This ensures that the wood boards don’t continue to warp overtime. If you have a plywood subfloor, it will be more difficult to dry the underside of the boards because of the waterproof feature of this type of wood. Dry the floor as quickly as possible, not just to stop the warp, but also to stop any mold from developing. Mold spores can be left even after the floor has completely dried and can cause health problems.
The easiest way to dry out the top portion of a floor is to buy or even rent large fans and point them directly at the part of the floor that needs to be dried. Also keep the AC on if you have it in your home, but open any windows in the area slightly. This allows the moisture to go somewhere. You will also need industrial-size fans pointed to where the water has come through (to a basement or crawl space). If you have a finished ceiling beneath your floor, you might also need to repair the drywall. This makes it easier to dry the underside of this subfloor. Another handy tip is to drill a few holes where the subfloor is to make sure no water is pooled in between leading to lasting damages. Ventilate the basement slightly unless you are experiencing humid weather, then you will need a dehumidifier in the basement.
During this process, you can expect the wood to swell continuously. If the floor becomes so swollen that you cannot walk on it, relieve this stress by removing 2 boards across the room. This also allows for more ventilation of the subfloor, making drying it fully an easier job. A home contractor would be handy with this project as they have an electronic moisture meter, which can test the wood to determine its equilibrium moisture content as a means to measure the drying out process.
If the wood floor water damage repair is due to flooding, an insurance company may pay for the damages. In this case, all of the damaged floor will be removed, which helps prevent mold problems. If your damage is insured, keep all receipts for fan rentals as this should be covered in your policy too. Despite removing the entire damaged floor, the subfloor should still be monitored to get it back to the proper moisture content level.
When to Refinish
Even if the water has been drained out well, it’s still important to wait a minimum of 4 months before sanding the floor flat again. If you sand the wood floor before it has fully dried, the cupping that you see will straighten itself out after the sanding process leading to a convex floor instead. This will cause you to have to sand the whole floor again. This can removes more than a third of the total life of the floor.
Importance of Drying Water Damaged Wood
Ultimately there are two major things that can occur if wood floor is water damaged. The first is permanent structure damage, and the second, mold growth. Normal moisture content in a wood floor varies from 6-12%. A flooded and/or water-damaged wood floor can have up to 40% moisture content. According to the EPA, in as less as 2 to 3 days, mold can grow on most materials that have a moisture level over 16%. Ultimately, the sooner that this moisture can be removed, the better the end result and less damage that can occur. Leaving wet floors to naturally air dry is potentially dangerous and industrial-size fans are the best options for drying floors thoroughly.
Solid plank floors have the best potential for salvaging after water damage. This is because it is 100% solid real wood. There are no composite materials or veneers to worry about. This type of wood floor can be sanded and refinished countless time. This means if the moisture is control and the flooring system is stable, refinishing this to its original content isn’t difficult.
Ultimately the harder the wood is, the more slowly it will react to moisture overall. Oak flooring especially will react to moisture quicker than a hard maple floor. The harder the material, the slower it absorbs moisture and also releases it. The main factor in how it absorbs and releases moisture is whether or not it was finished on-site or the wood is pre-finished. Any floor that is sanded in place has less of a chance of absorbing and releasing moisture.
Laminate flooring has a very low tolerance for moisture. The fiber core will swell permanently when it absorbs water and it cannot be saved. Inspect the edges of the planks for any swelling. While it can be spotted repair, it is typically easier and more cost-effective to just replace the entire flooring.
Restoring a Wood Floor Checklist
- Dry the floor quickly and remove moisture.
- Check and recheck EMC of wood and subfloor
- Remove boards to relieve stress (if needed)
- Install wood floor vacuum panels, which pull warm dry air from under the wood floor to move moisture away from the structure.
- Determine if floor is salvageable.
- Start repairs after heating season has already begun and when floor is fully dry
- Watch for black mold
- Keep good records (if insurance is covering damages)
Drying water-damaged wood flooring is an important process. The more care you take in drying the floor, the better chance you have of restoring it to a full functioning and pre-loss condition floor once more. Water-damaged wood floor drying can be challenging and a home inspector can work with you to determine solutions that will work best for your floor type. They are well versed in knowing if a floor is stable, the proper way to dry and measuring moisture content. They also can look for mold growth on, beneath and inside the wood flooring.
Wood moisture content is a big indicator of decay in a home. This is the weight of the water that a piece of wood as a percentage of dry weight of wood contains moisture. Most interior wood is below 12%. Wood subfloors are especially important to check. Depending on when the damage and repairs are occurring, the solution may be different. For instance during the winter, a moist subfloor can be dried out by running the heat for several weeks while air conditioning in the summer can do the same thing too.
Avoiding Wood Floor Damage
A new wood floor will develop buckling, cupping and cracks. However by notifying and being aware of the moisture content of your floor, you can ensure its look for a lifetime. Careless maintenance by a homeowner can lead to a problematic floor. It’s important for all wood floor owners to understand how a floor can be damaged and the costly repairs that can result. To help minimize this, stabilize the environment of your home with proper humidity and temperature control and clean all water messes as quickly as possible to ensure the integrity of your structure.