Fix Your Water Damaged Hardwood Floors Like a Pro

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Water damage to hardwood floors is easy to detect, and with the right steps and prompt repair, your damaged hardwood floors can be as good as new again. Hardwood floors are porous and can quickly suffer from permanent moisture damage if the problem is not handled urgently. Water damage can bring on hidden mold, and will only worsen, so time is of the essence. 

Depending on the extent of your damage, you may want to call a water damage restoration specialist. They have the specialized equipment and training needed to be sure they dry out and restore your floors promptly and adequately. If you are doing the repairs yourself, read our tips below before you get started. 

What damage can water do to hardwood floors?

Hardwood floors are treated with polyurethane that will keep water and dirt from harming the wood. It is not totally waterproof but is an excellent first defense against the damage that water can do to floors. Longterm moisture exposure can breach this barrier and cause various types of water damage.

Depending on the type of wood you have, you will see various forms of water damage.

In hardwood, you may spot “cupping,” which means the planks have dips and raised edges. Dark spots are a sign of saturation and sometimes mold growth. Floors may bulge, meaning they bubble up and create a crown shape, or they may buckle if they have pulled away from the floor below. 

water damaged hardwood floor

How to identify damage to your hardwood floors from water

Water damage to hardwood floors usually takes place over time. By the time you notice, it may be too late! The first sign of damage is when planks begin to crown or cup, causing a hump in the floor. The wood absorbs moisture and then expands, which causes the boards to turn or buckle. 

You may notice staining, which makes the wood darker in damaged spots. The staining comes from the tannins in the wood color and sometimes from mold growth. Another tip-off is the formation of rust, which comes from the nails in the floor.

The water presence must be consistent over time to cause this kind of damage.

Finding the source of the water damaging your hardwood floors

As with any kind of water damage, the first step is to find and repair the water source. It takes sustained moisture or leaks to do significant damage to your hardwood floors, and a simple spill will not do it. 

The water could come from external or internal sources. Some examples of outside sources would be leaking windows or doors. If the damaged floor is near a door or window, this is an excellent place to start. Look for signs of leaks in the nearby drywall. 

Some familiar internal sources of water damage are hot water radiators or other sources hidden behind the walls or cabinets. Water damage from appliances is also typical. A leaky filter in your fridge can cause damage, as can a cracked or loose drain hose in your washing machine. Do a complete inspection, find the problem and repair it before you start your hardwood floor repairs, 

water damaged hardwood floor

How to repair your hardwood floor

The type of flooring you have will dictate the repair options you have available. If you have solid, hardwood planks, you can sand and remove up to ¼ inch of the wood to hide the cupping or stains. It is also easier to replace the new planks more seamlessly.

If you have engineered wood, you will have less to work with and more challenges. It is difficult to sand prefinished flooring and matching the factory finish can be close to impossible. On the other hand, if you are replacing the boards, you are more likely to get a good match

Damage Buddy Tip:When putting in hardwood floors, always keep a little stock stored for repairs later on. 

Be realistic about your expectations when refinishing a hardwood floor. Remember that wood flooring changes color with time, and it may be challenging to get a perfect match. Also, when you apply polyurethane, the brush strokes will be visible to some degree. 

When you replace planks, you can camouflage the repair to some degree by weaving in the new planks at varying lengths. You may sometimes have to replace boards in a larger area than the damaged spots, or even the entire area. Or you may replace the damaged planks but refinish the whole floor to get a seamless match. 

Here are some tips to refinishing your hardwood floor:

  • As with any repair involving water damage, use protective gloves, eyewear, and a mask.
  • Your first step is to identify and repair the source of the water damage, whether it is a burst pipe, slow leak, or faulty appliance. If you don’t fix it correctly now, you will be facing the same problem down the road. Do it right today! You may need to rent a wet vac or commercial dryer to make sure the area dries out completely before starting repairs. There are companies that specialize in this. Call a water damage specialist to handle this if it is more than you want to take on. 
  • If the leak is significant, turn off the power for safety reasons. 
  • Document the damage before your start for your insurance company
  • Call your insurance company to advise them of the damage and to discuss your coverage.
  • Remove and wet carpets, rugs or other items and open windows. 
  • Dry the entire area using a wet-vac, fans, dehumidifiers, or whatever is necessary. 
  • Dry the hardwood. A specialist would force air beneath the surface. This process can take several days and subject you to mold growth. 
  • Decide which planks will be replaced. You want to take out all the damaged boards, but it is wise to take a few more for several reasons. It is easier to blend in the new planks in a larger area, and it ensures that you are not missing hidden damage like mold in the nearby planks. Use a saw to cut out the damaged boars, and then lift it out using a pry bar. 
  • Hardwood floors sit on a plywood subfloor. If that subfloor has been damaged or warped by water, it must be repaired or replaced too. You must also be sure the concrete below is completely dry so it does not seep up. 
  • Replace the subfloor. A flooring contractor will install a moisture barrier and any sound absorbent materials such as cork if you are in a condo. This will avoid inconsistencies in the sound and look of your floor.
  • Your flooring contractor will weave in the new planks creating a less visible pattern. He will now size and cut the planks to replace the damaged wood that has been removed. It takes some artistry to weave this in seamlessly, covering any gaps. 
  • The final step is the sanding and refinishing of the entire floor. Refinishing the whole floor will help mask color and finish inconsistencies and provide the best and most uniform results. Use several coats of stain before the polyurethane for the best results. It is possible to “spot finish,” but the result will not be as good and likely to show the lap lines and color differences. 

Should you repair or replace your water damaged hardwood floors?

You should determine whether to replace or repair based on numerous factors. 

  • What is the extent of the damage? If the floor was not thoroughly dried out within 24- 48 hours, you likely have mold growth, which complicated this project.
  • Was the water “clean” or contaminated, such as from sewer or flooding?
  • Is the subfloor severely damaged?
  • Can you find the matching wood to repair the floor? 
  • How big is the area? It is sometimes more cost-effective to lay an entirely new floor rather than piece in numerous new planks. It is very time-consuming to replace boards correctly.
  • Is it time for a change in floor materials or color?

How to prevent any type of damage to your hardwood floor?

Proper maintenance of hardwood floors is critical. Be sure to maintain the polyurethane finish by cleaning with a cleaner that is explicitly meant for wood floors and a microfiber mop. This will make the protective finish last longer. 

  • Even the smallest leak over time can penetrate and damage our hardwood floor. Be vigilant in watching for small leaks or drips and addressing them immediately. 
  • Use felt floor protector pads on the feet of all of your furniture. It is easy for a chair to “creep” out of place over time, or a well-meaning friend to “pull up a chair. If you have a home office, choose a desk chair with rubber casters and put a plastic floor protector under your chair. They can be purchased at any office supply store and well worth the money for that peace of mind. 
  • Use area rugs in the heavily trafficked areas such as by the doors or under coffee tables.
  • Use rubber mats in the kitsch in front of the stove, sink, or refrigerator. 
  • Check your shoes for treads that carry sand or pebbles that can scratch your floor into the house. 
  • Powerful UV rays can cause your floor to fade, Close your blinds when that is practical. 
  • Keep your pet’s nails trimmed and save the roughhousing for outside. Their nails can do a job on your floor. 
  • Wipe up water or grit immediately using non-abrasive cleaners meant for hardwood. Use soft cloths or paper towels. 
  • Vacuum with a wood floor attachment and don’t use the motorized carpet head.

Will my homeowner’s insurance cover the costs?

All policies are different, but most homeowners’ policies will cover at least part of the cost of repair or replacement if the incident results from a sudden and accidental cause such as a bathroom leak, burst pipe, toilet overflow, or sudden roof leak. If the damage is the result of deferred maintenance, they usually will not cover it.  

Most homeowners’ policies exclude flooding, which is covered under a special flood policy. 

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