Hardwood floors are especially susceptible to water damage, more so than nearly any other kind of flooring. That's one of the biggest reasons why hardwood flooring is lathered in several layers of protective veneers, to keep moisture and standing water "barricaded" away from the bare wood itself. But given enough time, even the most protected hardwood floor will eventually succumb to the destructive qualities of H2O, be it an unexpected flood or broken pipe, or simply the eventual wear down caused by normal daily activities, such as mopping, getting in and out of the bathtub or even high humidity.
I like to think of repairing water damage to hardwood floors as a "preventative" process, meaning it's easier to nip water damage in the bud than it is to deal with the expensive consequences of a sustained problem. So be mindful of how much standing water you leave while mopping, and keep plenty of bath mats near the tub and shower. While you can't prevent every possibility (nobody can predict, say, a backed-up drain pipe or flash flood), taking steps to make sure your hardwood floor stays as dry as possible is your best bet to stave off expensive repairs. Think of your wood floor like a car: The more effort you put into scheduled maintenance, the less likely you'll end up with a major mechanical problem down the line.
Here are some tips for those of you who are dealing with water damaged hardwood floors:
Dry The Area Immediately
The longer the water stands, the more damage it will cause. Do whatever you can to get rid of all the water and moisture as quickly as possible. Use towels to soak up as much of it as possible. If you've got a shopvac (or any vacuum or wet/dry vac that can suck up water) use it. In fact, if the water is deeper than a thin coating, it's in your best interest to suck it up with a vacuum or pump. If you don't have anything that will do this, go rent a shopvac from your local tool rental store, or buy one at your local home improvement or department store - they aren't that expensive, a light duty one shouldn't set you back more than about $70, which is much cheaper than replacing a hardwood floor because you were trying to save a few bucks.
Fans are incredibly important at this step. Try to keep a constant airflow over the affected area; and the more powerful the fan(s), the better. After you've soaked up or vacuumed up as much standing water as possible, turn the fans on, even if it seems like you've soaked up all the water. You want to make sure you dry the entire floor out as much as possible. The fans will also draw moisture out from any cracks or holes in the protective coating, so if any water has penetrated into the wood itself or down between the hardwood and the subfloor, the moving air should help suck it back out, provided the "pool" underneath isn't excessive.
Can The Floor Be Saved?
That depends on the extent of the damage. If you soaked up the water immediately as the problem happened and dried the area out thoroughly, there's a good chance that you'll be alright.
You've probably noticed that water has misshapen the boards in your flooring. Some of them have warped, others have popped up at the corners, others have curled at the joints; these are all symptoms of water damage. The good news is that if the damage isn't severe, your flooring could return to its natural state once it's thoroughly dried and has some time to recover from the stress.
If you're sure you've removed all the moisture and your hardwood floor doesn't go back to normal, you might need to have a professional who knows is experienced with repairing water damage to hardwood floors come take a look. He or she will bring plenty of specialized materials capable of determining the extent of the damage that the average homeowner won't have access to.
Another thing to keep in mind is that wood is particularly susceptible to mold. Mold loves moist, dark spots, and the space between the hardwood floor and the subfloor is like a paradise. So it's not just physical damage to the wood itself than can cause problems, but biological growth, too. Again, a hardwood floor repair service will have equipment capable of determining the extent of the problem.
If it's determined that you'll need to completely replace your water damaged hardwood floor, be prepared to spend plenty of money. Depending on the size of the room, the quality of wood and the going rate of the installers, you could easily spend several thousands of dollars fixing the damage (now you see why preventing water damage in the first place is so important!). And that's not including the cost of demolition of the damaged flooring.
Sometimes repairing water damage to hardwood floors isn't as extreme. Refinishing the surface might be all you'll need. You'll probably still need the help of a professional hardwood floor service, but if you're handy and want to try this yourself, I'd recommend picking up a book on hardwood floor restoration and studying it thoroughly. You'll be using some pretty heavy-duty tools to strip the protective coating off the floor, sanding it back down to its bare form, leveling it out and then reapplying the protective chemical layers. It can be done; but remember, if you do something wrong you could actually do more harm than good.
Easy Ways To Prevent Water Damage To Hardwood Floors
Here are just a few ways to help reduce the likelihood of dealing with these problems in the first place. While they won't prevent everything, they will help.
- Don't use excess water when mopping.
- Clean up any spills or wet spots as soon as they happen.
- Keep bath mats near all bathtubs and showers.
- Close windows and doors when it's raining or when the lawn sprinklers are on.
- Have a professional flooring service inspect your floor every few years.
- Know and understand your homeowners insurance coverage. While flooring repair may be covered, often times water damage isn't (sneaky insurance companies often consider this "flooding" which requires its own policy).
Hopefully by now you understand that proper maintenance is the key to avoiding most problems in the first place. But even then, things can go wrong. And when/if they do, now you're prepared to take the necessary steps to repairing water damage to hardwood floors.