Water Damaged Floors Guide

Water Damaged Floors Guide

In our video “Can You Save Water Damaged Flooring?”, our Technical Director Daniel Elbrecht will walk through how to spot and address water damage in your hardwood floor.

Can you save water damaged wood flooring after a leak or flood?

If you come home to a water spill, a leaky appliance, or have to deal with the aftermath of a flood, here is what you need to know to determine if your water damaged wood floor can be saved.

Water can cause damage in three different ways to a floor. You’ll want to pay attention to these areas to determine how much damage there is, and what can be done to fix or replace your wood floor.

Look for water damage at:

  • The top of your flooring, including the surface and finish of your wood floors.
  • The body of the floor, which would be the structure and shape of the boards beneath the finish coating.
  • The fastening system and subfloor level. This would include the glue or nails that hold your floor to the subfloor and the subfloor itself, which could be concrete or wood.

How to determine if you have water damaged floors

These frequently asked questions and answers about water and wood will help you determine how much damage you have and what you can do about it.

What are the signs of a wet or water damaged wood floor?

If your floor is wet to the touch or has visible moisture on the surface, or you notice water seeping through the seams of the boards when you step on them, you may have further water damage. Other symptoms and problems to look for are:

  • Dark or discolored areas
  • Warped boards
  • Blistered or peeling finish
  • Loose or uneven boards
  • Boards that are buckling or coming up off the subfloor
  • Squeaky spots or areas of the floor that move when stepped on
  • Cupping or rippling between boards
  • Delaminating layers of engineered flooring boards
  • Elevated moisture readings using a digital wood floor moisture meter

What do water damaged wood floors look like?

The most common symptoms you may see in water damaged floors are surface or structural issues.

You may notice areas of discoloration in the wood, including dark or light patches, or finish that is blistering or peeling off the floorboards.

Structural issues will likely be changes to the shape of the board, including cupping, rippling, or warping.

How long does it take for water to damage wood floors?

A simple spill or splash from a sink or water glass is not likely to damage your floors if it mopped up as soon as it is noticed. Many small spills are likely to evaporate before they cause significant damage.

However, large water leaks, floods due to storms, or slow leaks or drips that go unnoticed for a long period of time can cause damage. The longer the wood is exposed to elevated moisture, the higher the chance it will be damaged.

Whenever a floor is flooded due to a storm, you should always assume that you have water damage that will need to be addressed.

What you should do after finding a leak or flood affecting your floor

Once you have an idea of where the water is coming from, you?ll need to stop the water from coming in as quickly as possible. Then, begin to dry out your flooring to have a full understanding of what damage may have occurred.

What should I do if I suspect a water leak?

If you suspect or see a water leak, you should shut off the water to the appliance or the whole home as quickly as possible. You may have to call a plumber if you do not know where your water shut off valve is.

Your first goal should be to remove any visible water from your flooring either with towels or a dry mop, and then bring in fans or air movers to help dry things out further. You should call a flooring professional who can test the moisture content of your wood flooring to determine if water has soaked into the floorboards themselves. This is an important step if you had a major leak, or suspect a hidden leak that has gone on for an unknown amount of time.

Just because the visible water has been removed from the surface of your flooring doesn?t mean that your flooring boards are fully dried out. Once you know the moisture content of the wood flooring itself, you?ll be able to determine the next steps to take.

If your floor experiences a leak or flood, follow these four easy steps as soon as possible.

What should I do if my floor is completely flooded?

If your flooring has been covered in water from a burst pipe, you will need to shut off the water supply as quickly as possible, or wait until the source of the water is stopped. The next thing is to remove the water from the floor. A wet/dry vacuum is a great tool to use in addition to a squeegee, mop & bucket, towels, etc.

You should remove and clean any other damaged materials like furniture, rugs, or drywall that has been exposed to water and put fans and air movers in the area to begin drying things out as much as possible.

It is safe to assume anytime you have had a flood, there is likely water damage present in your flooring, or underneath your floor. You?ll want to have a flooring professional or restoration company test the moisture content of your floorboards and look for hidden damage within or underneath your flooring. Most times a full replacement is necessary for a flooded floor, even if it is advertised as a waterproof floor.

How long does a wood floor take to dry out after a flood?

Once the source of the water has stopped and the excess water is cleaned up, the floor will start drying immediately. How quickly the floor will dry back to normal depends on the conditions surrounding the floor, the type of flooring, and the extent of water damage.

Most wood floors flooded with water will take weeks or more to fully dry out. In some circumstances, especially with a wooden subfloor, removing the wood flooring is necessary to fully dry out the subfloor. Total replacement of all the flooring is necessary in these cases.

How do I check to make sure my wood floor is dry?

A moisture meter measures the moisture content of wood. Depending on the climate you live in, most wood flooring will have a moisture content between 5-10%. You should have a flooring professional measure the moisture content of your floor to determine if it has dried out to the appropriate level for your area of the country.

What happens when water gets underneath your wood flooring

Water always travels to the lowest spot it can. This means, even if you have removed excess or standing water from the top of your flooring, there may still be water that has seeped underneath your floorboards into your subfloor.

Water underneath your flooring does not dry out as quickly compared to surface moisture. All floors have a protective top coating that keeps water from immediately soaking into the boards, however, there usually is not this protective coating on the underneath or sides of the boards.

Even if boards are considered water-tight in the middle of a floor, water that reaches the walls can travel in-between the wall and the floor and begin to soak into the subfloor beneath your wood flooring. This water can take a long time to dry out and end up causing extensive damage or mold, which must be addressed.

Does water affect the subfloor underneath my wood floor?

There are two main types of subfloors that flooring is installed over: concrete and wood.

Although in some cases concrete subfloors can be damaged by a severe flood, it is unlikely water will impact the structural integrity of a concrete slab.

Wooden subfloors, typically made from plywood, OSB, or other types of wooden boards, are likely to be affected whenever water soaks into them. If a leak or flood sits on your floor for 24 hours or more and/or reaches the edges of your floor and seeps underneath your flooring, it likely will need to be dried out completely. Usually, this will mean removing the flooring on-top of your subfloor.

Sometimes wooden subfloors can be dried out and returned to their previous condition, but in severe floods or cases with extensive water damage they will likely need to be replaced as well.

Does a wet or water-damaged subfloor need to be replaced?

There are three things you should consider when making this decision:

  1. Is there structural damage to your subfloor?
  2. Will you be able to dry out your subfloor?
  3. Is there a chance of contamination from the type of flood or water damage to your subfloor?

If you see or suspect structural damage to your subfloor, it should always be replaced or repaired back to new condition. Signs may include loose flooring pieces or a floor that is undulating and uneven in areas. Wet or water-damaged subfloors that are structurally unstable can cause long-term problems with your home, and simply replacing the wood floor on top will not fix the problem. Loud squeaks and creaks are likely with an unstable subfloor.

You should have a flooring or restoration professional test the subfloor for moisture content to determine if it is possible to dry the floor out. Sometimes, subfloors can be dried out from below, either from a lower level or a crawlspace. But if the water damage was too significant and there is no easy way to allow airflow to dry out your subfloor, it should be replaced.

In the case of a flood, you should consider any contamination that may have come into your home. If sewage or chemicals were a part of the liquid that flooded your floor, there will likely be a residue left over even if the floor has dried out. This can be a potential source of bacteria and odors, and it is best to remove and replace the flooring and subfloor material completely.

Waterproof flooring typical refers to floors that are unlikely to swell or warp due to water damage (usually as long as it is dried up within 24 hours.

What about “waterproof”, laminate, and LVP floors?

Many synthetic vinyl and composite wood-look flooring is advertised as 100% waterproof. What this means is that the boards are unlikely to swell or warp due to water damage (usually as long as it is dried up within 24 hours).

These floors are known to handle surface moisture and light water leaks well because as long as the water is dried up quickly, the floor is typically fine.

However, if water is left on the floor too long, or there is a flood across the entire floor, it is likely that water is seeped through the seams or around the edges of the floor and into the subfloor. In these cases, regardless if the boards themselves are waterproof, the floor must be removed and likely replaced, so the subfloor can be dried out and mold kept from growing.

An easy way to determine if there is water underneath your laminate or LVP plank floor is to dry the surface moisture with a towel and then step on different areas of the floor. If you see water coming up through the seams, or hear a squishing sound, you can know for sure that water is underneath your floor and it needs to be removed.

You can also choose to remove a small section of flooring to visibly check your subfloor and have a professional measure it with a moisture meter to see if it is wet.

Water and wood are not a good sign

In summary, water damage is often the cause of many floor replacements. Wood floors can withstand light spills and leaks if they are dried up quickly, but even floors that are marketed as “waterproof” must usually be replaced when too much water sits for too long and seeps underneath into your subfloor.

If you are dealing with a water-damaged floors and need to choose a new floor, or find a qualified flooring professional to replace your flooring, contact us today or visit one of our Design Showrooms.