Water Damaged Floor -All You Need to Know

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Like fire, water can be your best friend, but it can quickly damage your home and belongings when things go wrong. The floor is one of the most common areas often affected by excessive amounts of water. Several factors can lead to water damaged floors, such as a leaky heater or air conditioner, broken pipes,  a  leaky roof, or a natural disaster such as a hurricane, windstorm, or flooding. 

How to Spot Water Damage on Your Floors

It’s always important  to spot any kind of water damage in the early stage so that you can repair it as soon as possible to minimize the damage and any possible mold. However, each type of floor tells a different story. Usually, the damage to a wood floor is the easiest to spot. You can try an easy trick by putting a stick on your wood floor; if there is a gap between the two, it can be an indicator that your wood floor has water damage and is warping. 

Here are some common signs of water damage that are usually found on wood floors, hardwood floors, vinyl floors, or laminate floors: 

  • Odors: Unusual smells could indicate mold and mildew, both in the flooring or in the subflooring.
  • Discoloration: Any color change, either stains or dark spots, may indicate mold or mildew from water.
  • Damaged baseboards: A crack, flaking paint, and swelling of baseboards are all signs of water damage.
  • Warping: Any bubbling, peeling, cracking in the flooring could indicate damage as well.
  • Buckling: This happens when the finished flooring detaches from the subflooring beneath it. 
  • Crowning: This is when the wood floor shrinks on the underside if it loses its moisture. Usually, it leaves planks rounded with a high point in the middle and low points on the edges.
  • Cupping: This is when the plank edges curl upward due to the moisture they have absorbed.

Meanwhile, a ceramic tile floor tells its own story of damage with signs such as loose tiles, cracked grout, stains, mold, or hollow sounds when tapped.

How to Deal with Water Damage to Your Wood Floors 

There are several ways to deal with water damaged wood floors, but first, you need to inspect to understand how severe and extensive the damage is, then decide which treatment is the most effective for your floor. If the floor is only slightly damaged, you may be able to manage the treatment by yourself. 

Here are some initial steps required to deal with water damage to your wood floors:

Water mitigation:  

Damage Buddy Tip:  Safety first!! If there is any chance that the water is coming in contact with electrical wiring or appliances, turn off the electricity if you can safely do so. Otherwise, call a water damage expert. Be sure all lighting and electrical equipment are turned off. 

First things first! You must mitigate the situation. Which means you must identify and stop the source of the leak, and then remove any excess water before you begin repair. Remove the water on the surface of the floor and remove any wet or damaged property as well. 

Fix the leaks: Once you have found the water source, be sure you completely eliminate any water leaks that have soaked your floors. 

Remove excess moisture as soon as possible.  Quickly and completely dry the affected area using a water vacuum, a fan (or a few fans), and use a dehumidifier to remove the excess moisture. If the damage is extensive, you may need to call in a water damage expert. They have commercial equipment that can handle the job efficiently and safely. If you see signs of mold, which can form as quickly as 24 to 48 hours, call a professional mold remediation company.

Fully inspect  the damaged area. Determine whether it’s only partially damaged or if the entire room is impacted. Some parts may need only minor repair, while others need more serious repair including structural work or sub floor replacement.

Clean and sanitize the floor, using detergent and disinfectant, and scrub the floor with a stiff brush to remove dirt and any visible mold. Open windows and doors to allow the floor to dry naturally. Be sure to wear protective gear including a mask, gloves and eyewear.

We suggest you consult with a water damage specialist to assess the situation before deciding what kind of remediation and repair is needed. 

Can water damaged hardwood floors be repaired?

Sure they can!

Hardwood floors are sturdy and also a visually appealing feature to any home. But they can become discolored, uneven,  and even dangerous when water-damaged. Although it’s discouraging to experience water damage, it doesn’t necessarily mean you need to replace everything.

Repair or replacement does depend on what kind of water damage happens to your hardwood floors and whether they are buckling, cupping, warping, etc. You may need to do only a minor repair on the affected area, but surely any damaged hardwood floors need attention and should be repaired before it gets worse. It can be difficult to seamlessly repair just parts of a floor, and for severe water damage covering the entire floor, it is better to have your hardwood floors replaced. 

Keep an open eye for any signs of water damage, such as warped floors, discoloration, or mold and bacteria growth. If you’re vigilant and quickly notice when there has been water damage to your floors, you’ll be in a much better position to handle repairs.

Water damage can become pretty costly, especially when it affects your hardwood flooring, but your hardwood floor is an investment you should protect. When your floor doesn’t seem to be taking well to at-home quick fixes, please do what you can to mitigate the situation, and it’s usually best to call experienced professionals so you can get the best result.

When to Consider Repairing Water Damaged Floors Vs. Replacing Them

Don’t Ignore water damage signs, it will only get worse. The longer you wait, the more expensive and time consuming it will become. You also run a greater risk of developing dangerous mold or mildew. Simultaneously, water damaged floor repairs will vary depending on the type of flooring you have. Each type requires different treatment. 

  • Hardwood: On a small-scale wood floor water damage, you may need to remove the damaged floorboards using a pry bar and then cut them with a saw. Replace them with new boards and screw or nail them to the floor. Sand the old and the new boards until their color matches and then apply wood stain product and finish with polyurethane. 
  • Laminate: Laminate floor water damage may cause swelling and separation beneath the finish. To overcome it, dry the floor and allow the laminate several days to show water damage signs. To repair, remove, and replace the damaged boards individually afterward, keeping the undamaged ones.
  • Vinyl: Many homeowners like to use vinyl in areas like bathrooms and kitchens which are prone to water. When installed correctly, vinyl is relatively waterproof. Though it handles moisture well, you may see potential damage due to excess water coverage. Thus, when the flooring is dry, remove damaged areas and replace them with new vinyl. Since vinyl is typically laid in layers, repairing these areas may be challenging to do alone at home. Consider calling an experienced professional to ensure installation is done correctly.
  • Tile: Just like vinyl, tile is quite water-resistant. However, excess water can sometimes cause them to loosen apart. When the floor is dry, spot ones that have come loose and carefully pry them up from the floor with a screwdriver. If you are doing it yourself, find a grout that matches the flooring, then add the tiles back to their original locations. To keep your flooring water-tight and ensure proper installation, an experienced professional can come in handy.

Should I Repair or Replace Water Damaged Floors?

Obviously, there’s no clear winner when it comes to replacing versus repairing floors due to water damage — it is all up to you. There are some factors to consider, though, to avoid a burdensome home project or expensive repair bill.

1. The extent of water damage. To start, you need to understand the extent of the water damage. Is the damage minor and cosmetic, or significant and severe? Did it damage the floor partially or did it impact the entire floor? Did it cause a damaged subfloor as well? The chances are that you can repair the damages yourself and not have to replace the hardwood floors if the damaged area is small. The challenge can be in matching the flooring.

2. Type of water. You can safely clean water from leaking or burst pipes, like rain water, but gray water and black water that comes from leaky toilets may have serious contaminants and cause health problems. These types of water damage almost always require professional replacement help. 

3. DIY or professional. The extent of damage may dictate whether you can tackle the repairs yourself or if you should leave  it to the pros. If you want to DIY, take into consideration whether the task is something you can accomplish. Replacing damaged floors may require a significant amount of effort to do it on your own, compared to having them done by professionals.

4. Time allocation. How much time will you allocate to fix the damaged flooring? If you’re working or taking care of a family, an in-depth DIY repair or replacement may not be an option. If you have available time, you may want to save money by taking on the task. Even so, consider your availability before deciding to repair or replace your flooring.

5. Urgency. Are the damaged areas in a high-traffic area of your home? Do you have young children or pets wandering around the decayed spots? If yes, then the decision to repair or replace it will depend on how fast you need them fixed. 

water damage floor

How to Dry Your Water-Damaged Wood Floor Before It’s Too Late 

It comes as no surprise that standing water and hardwood flooring do not mix for anyone who lives in hurricane- and flood-prone areas with historic homes. If significant amounts of water—flood-related or not—have come into contact with your wood floor, your floors will never be the same again, but indeed you can take steps toward saving them from the junkyard. Yes, it is possible to salvage a flooded or water-damaged wood floor if you act quickly. 

Here are what you need to do:

1. Remove surface water using a wet vacuum and clear the premises of all wet materials.

2. Scrub the floor using a mix of mild detergent and a compatible disinfectant with clean water in a bucket. 

3. Treat moldy areas that show signs of mold with TSP (trisodium phosphate) or TSP substitute mixed with water.  Try it in a hidden area to be sure it does not damage your floor.

4. Dry the floor using natural airflow with fans and opening windows or doors to allow fresh air in. You can also use a dehumidifier for at least 24-hours.

It’s crucial to thoroughly dry your hardwood floor as soon as possible following a water emergency. Even waxed and sealed floors can absorb water into the wood’s grain if the flooding is excessive enough. Once the cupping process is underway, when the sides of the floorboards swell and rise higher than the center, there’s only one thing left to do: rip out the damaged materials and replace it.

How to Tell When It’s Time to Replace Your Subfloor

A subfloor is the solid material attached to the floor joists, and it acts as a base for your flooring, such as carpet, hardwood, laminate, tile, etc. The subfloor material is usually plywood or oriented strand board (OSB) panels.

Subfloor damage is often caused by overexposure to moisture due to excessive humidity, a leak in the pipe, or a crack in the exterior. Even though it is upsetting, knowing it’s time to replace it will allow you to head off more serious problems.

Here are several signs of when your subfloor is acting strange and makes you wonder, “Is this the time to replace my subfloor?”

1. Your floor is mushy or seems to have a soft spot when you step on it.

2. Your floorboards are squeaking louder than usual.

3. The carpet or wood floors smell musty due to mold. This is definitely a sign of subfloor damage.

4. You feel a bounce or shift on the floors.

5. Your tile flooring cracked.

6. Your toilet is rocking or loose – bad sign!

7. The hardwood floor is cupping.

8. When your linoleum floor is bubbling up, look closely for signs of water damage.

9. A leaking ceiling is not your subfloor’s fault, but it may be an indication that your home has a hidden slow leak.

How Long Does a Subfloor Last?  

A subfloor’s lifespan mostly depends on the original materials used and the amount of moisture they have been exposed to. Typically, they can be expected to stand together with the house. However, if it is consistently exposed to moisture, you may need to consider replacing it after 20-30 years or even sooner, depending on the factual condition. Even if subfloor damage caused by water can be reversed with advanced professional tools, it’s still essential to catch the signs of rot early to prevent it from spreading to the rest of the subflooring materials in your home.

It does take quite an amount of time and effort to do a DIY approach on your water damaged floors, and as a non-pro, there is always a chance that it won’t be “as good as new.” Using a pro and getting a  professional clean and floor drying process can actually be less expensive than replacing wood flooring, plus you’ll rest assured the job is done right.