Cleaning & Care

Ways Outdoor Moisture Can Damage Your Flooring

Even under the best conditions, few things can be more aggravating to a new homeowner than moisture problems in the home.

Most homeowners never really think about this until a problem arises. Your realtor would likely not be the one to point out issues with improper grade of property or existing drainage issues. For on-slab constructed homes, ground moisture can negatively affect flooring inside.

Problems such as pooling ground water near the home’s foundation, improper drainage from your neighbor’s property, or from a clogged drainage ditch could mean the difference in a dry, undamaged home.

When building or remodeling a home, ask questions about drainage issues. Make no assumptions about the level of expertise or knowledge of the contractors who work for you.

Having a basic understanding of the negative effects water can have on your home can help avoid costly mistakes. If something doesn’t look right, ask about it and if the answer isn’t satisfactory, consult an expert. Let’s look at some causes and fixes for moisture problems in your home.

How Can Outside Moisture Conditions Affect My Flooring?

Aside from the comfort and satisfaction a home brings your family, one of its most important functions is to provide a dry place out of the elements. We spend a lot of time, energy, and money keeping our homes nice and clean, making it easy to overlook this important role.

Moisture can be destructive depending on its source, volume, and force. A seemingly small problem can compound and result in damage if left unattended.

Common Causes Include:

  • Improperly routed drainage ditches or trenches that direct runoff toward?the foundation, instead of away from it.
  • Rain gutters clogged with leaves and debris.
  • Downspouts not properly extending at least 4 feet away from the home’s foundation.
  • Misdirected automatic lawn sprinklers can saturate walls and foundation.
  • In-slab plumbing breaks or leaks due to settling or earthquakes.
  • Hydro-Entrapment – Concrete slabs that have not been allowed to properly dry and cure.
Sprinkler spraying in a yard
Improper drainage around your house from water sources like sprinklers can affect your home’s moisture levels.

What Should I Do About Outdoor Moisture Problems?

Most sources for moisture can be easily remedied with guidance from a specialist in moisture mitigation and remediation. An easy fix is to pay attention to routine seasonal home maintenance. This can eliminate many problems from ever occurring.

When the seasons change, add these to your to-do list:

  • Clean gutters during the spring, autumn, and winter months. Observe water flow and drainage from your gutters to help identify potential ground water runoff problems before they cause damage.
  • Inspect sprinkler heads in the spring before turning on the lawn sprinklers. Confirm that the trajectory and coverage zone is correctly set. Make sure that those located near the house are not directed at the walls, windows, or foundation of your home.
  • Inspect the outside perimeter of the house, yard, and flower beds. You may find some surprises that might have caused a problem down the road.
Rain pouring out of gutters
Clogged gutters can lead to problems with water flow and drainage, potentially causing foundational problems that affect your floor.

How Do I Know if Moisture is Affecting My Floor?

Moisture issues show several obvious and some not so obvious signs. If you observe any of these signs you will need to test for the presence of moisture.

Some common signs of moisture-related problems in flooring include:

  • Cupped or raised edges of the floor boards (usually an early sign of a moisture problem)
  • Discoloration between boards or under the top coat
  • Bubbles in or peeling of finish coat

Some of the more serious effects caused from subfloor moisture is a spongy feeling or squishiness when walking across the floor. In extreme cases, you may observe the presence of water coming from between boards or slopping sounds when stepping on the floor. In these examples, it is safe to assume that a significant amount of water is present and likely due to a more serious leak.

Leaks can occur from the plumbing in the slab or from a hidden leak under a sink or behind the wall near a bathroom. For these types of leaks, a home inspector specializing in slab leak detection should be consulted to investigate.

For most other moisture-related issues in flooring, a qualified flooring specialist or NWFA certified flooring inspector can assess the cause in most cases by conducting a moisture inspection.

What is A Moisture Inspection?

A moisture inspection takes moisture readings inside and outside the home as well as in the concrete slab and/or subfloor. Several methods exist that can be used :

  • Relative humidity or RH test is the most accurate method for measuring the actual amount % RH (or humidity) inside a concrete slab.
  • Electronic pin-less surface meters can also help pinpoint problem areas of a concrete slab or exposed wood floors and subfloors.
  • Pin-type electronic meters are more accurate for providing moisture content in wood floors and subfloors as the pins penetrate into the wood structure.
  • Older methods such as a Calcium Chloride Vapor Emission Test can be used for concrete slabs. Since this test does not actually test the moisture contained within the slab but only what moisture vapor is emitting from the surface, the Maple Flooring Manufacturer’s Association has stopped accepting it as an authoritative method.
  • Read more about choosing the right moisture meter here.
Person testing moisture on concrete wall
Moisture inspections are crucial to ensure you’re home’s moisture problems are in check.

How to Prevent Moisture Issues Before They Start

A qualified flooring professional will do proper testing on the slab, subfloor, and hardwood. When taking this extra time up front, homeowners can be assured that their floors have a solid foundation to last a lifetime.

If you have a professional installing your flooring and they don’t moisture test before installing the floor, you should demand it! Ask questions and do your homework – not all contractors are created equal.

What if Excess Moisture is Present in the Slab?

Your installer will work with you to determine the best method to install your new flooring. There are ways to mitigate excessive moisture, as in applying a moisture barrier and or installing with a moisture mitigating adhesive. In some cases, the best option may be to float the floor over a chemically sealed slab with an underlayment for added protection from ground moisture.