Rain, wind, snow, hail — we all deal with water all the time. Whether it’s coming in from outside or from a fridge or dishwasher, it’s inevitable that some water will wind up in places it shouldn’t be, like on your hardwood floors.
About 71 percent of earth is covered in water, and we all need it in our homes for daily functions. Also, appliance failure is much more common than you might think, with appliance failures accounting for 30% of residential flood claims. It’s impossible to completely avoid it, so what do you do when it damages your floors? Hardwood flooring and puddles don’t mix — short exposures can result in staining and warping, while long exposures may require significant repair work. There are things you can do to minimize risk and damage, though.
But sometimes there may be situations out of your control, like hurricanes, flooding, burst pipes or an upstairs neighbor’s bathtub leaking. So even if you know you are minimizing your risk, it’s important to know what to do in case you come home to find your floors underwater.
Act as fast as you can! Even a small amount of time can help reduce damage and potentially cost. As soon as you see the water, use a towel or mop to dry it up. Try to get as much of the water as you can — the more you can remove, the less the wood can absorb. Use a bucket to collect the water, wringing out the cloth or mop as you go.
If you have a shop vacuum available, set it to “wet” mode and vacuum the affected area thoroughly. Not only will you get more of the water, but you’ll get the wet dirt and dust hiding between the planks. That wet dirt can lead to mold and mildew later if it stays embedded between planks, so it’s important to get as much of it as you can.
Finally, a squeegee will help collect the droplets left on the wet area. It can also help herd the moisture into a particular area for the shop vacuum to take up.
Open windows and set up fans to make sure the area has good airflow to dry. It’s important to let the area dry thoroughly and naturally, which may take longer in more humid places and times of year. Do not apply heat to dry the area more quickly — it could make the damage worse! If you spot the wood starting to buckle as it dries, remove a board or two to relieve the pressure and help with drying. It will also help to dry the sub-floor, which is even more important if you have a level below the area with the water damage.
Assess the damage
Depending on how long the floor was wet and the type of wood, damage can vary. Discoloration is common, as is cupping, but situations vary. At the very least, you’ll likely have to sand and refinish the damaged area.
If you see cracking and peeling as the floor dries, the damage is actually fairly superficial and can be repaired with just a sanding and refinishing. If the damage is in a room with an open floor plan, the whole room will have to be sanded and refinished, though — matching the stain exactly won’t be possible on just the one spot.
If you see cupping, it means the damage was deeper. Depending on how severe it is, cupping might be able to be sanded out, but it may also need to be replaced.
Crowning and buckling are signs of more severe damage and that the wood will most likely have to be replaced. If the damage is confined, it may not have to be the entire floor, but if it’s a broader area, you may have to redo the room.
Before beginning any sanding or replacement process, though, use a moisture meter to check the moisture content of the floor. It may take weeks for the wood to completely dry and return to its normal humidity level and sanding a floor that is still wet can make the damage worse.
Plans of action
Calling in a professional can save you time and headaches. They have the equipment and expertise, and will likely be able to counsel you on the best course of action based on your situation.
Depending on the circumstance of the damage, your insurance policy may be able to help with the repair costs, too. For example, in the case of appliance failure or storm-based water damage, insurance policies may cover some of the replacement costs. However, flood insurance is typically sold separately from standard home insurance policies. If you live in a flood-prone area, you may want to consult your insurance agent on which policy is best for you.
As soon as you’ve cleaned up the water on the floor and started the drying process, reach out to a flooring company you trust. They’ll be able to walk you through the process and work on which solution works best for your home.
Though water damage on your wood floors may seem like a disaster, with some quick action and professional help, it’s possible to restore your home to pristine conditions. Visitors may not even be able to tell there was any damage at all!