We often take it for granted, yet flooring is essential to life in our homes. Whether it is wood, vinyl, carpet or tile, it is present in every room and under near constant use. This is why flooring damage is often a secondary problem when things go wrong anywhere in the home – especially if water is involved.
Whether you are dealing with a roof leak, burst pipe, appliance overflow, drain back-up or even severe rainstorm, you may find that you are also dealing with potentially damaged flooring. The first steps to take are always the same – and don’t wait, time is of the essence when it comes to water and floors!
First things First
- Address the root cause of the water as soon as you are able.
- Remove excess water – use towels and a wet vac.
- Increase airflow in the area – open doors and windows, and if your flooring is carpet you will want to pull it back to allow air flow to reach the pad and subfloor.
- Dry out – use fans** and a dehumidifier, and plan to keep them running for multiple days
**Note – if you suspect the growth of mold at any point, stop use of the fan as it could cause the mold spores to spread and lead to further damage.
It is critical to take these steps as soon as possible. Mold and mildew can begin to grow in damp flooring materials in as little as 24-48 hours, making any initial damage worse and more complicated to address.
Assessing for Damage
Once you have allowed your flooring to dry, you can begin to assess the damage which may take a bit more time to fully show depending on severity. Hardwood floors are the most susceptible to water damage, but all flooring is ultimately vulnerable. Here are some things you may observe to alert you to a problem.
Buckling: flooring seems to peel upward or separate at the seams suggesting separation from the subflooring.
Crowning: flooring appears raised in the center of the damaged area as boards shrink after water damage.
Cupping:the edges of boards or tiles peel upward while the center remains in place
Discoloration: dark spots are especially suspicious for mold and mildew
Odor: even in the absence of visual changes and odor or mold or mildew warrants further investigation.
If you find that your floor is damaged, you then face the decision to repair or replace your flooring. Before you find yourself tackling a home repair that is more than you bargained for in time, labor or expense, there are some factors worth considering. The type of flooring you are dealing with and the extent of the damage can help you better estimate what lies ahead in repairs.
To Repair or Replace
Extent of damage: A smaller area is easier and more cost effective to repair.
Severity of Damage: Damage may simply be cosmetic, such as discoloration on the surface, that you could choose to live with or repair. In other situations, though, the damage can create a safety hazard (as in the case of loose or out of place boards) or a health hazard (as in the case of mold growth). Destructive damage like this is much more challenging to repair well.
How the damage occurred: Not all water damage is equal. There are three categories of water: clean, gray and black. Clean water is present when pipes burst or leak or when rain water leaks in. Gray water, which may contain staining agents or bacteria, comes from the overflow of appliances such as dishwashers and washing machines. Black water is certain to contain bacteria and other organisms that create a safety hazard. Black water is present when sewer lines back up or when flood waters come in. Black water damage is especially challenging to properly repair.
Duration of time over which damage occurred: If your flooring was wet for longer than 48 hours there is a high probability of mold growth which will complicate any repair.
If a large area of your floor is severely damaged, if there is evidence of subfloor damage or evidence of mold growth and/or if the damage was caused by black water, it is almost always in your best interest to replace the flooring. This is both the safest choice and likely the most cost and time effective option as well.
It is always worthwhile to get an estimate on replacing the floors for the sake of comparison before moving ahead with a repair.
As you consider the damage and your options, don’t forget to consider your own feelings – do you love this particular flooring and want to repair it or would you prefer to use this as an opportunity to start fresh and choose something new?
If the damage was sudden and unexpected rather than the result of deferred maintenance, you may find that your homeowner’s insurance will help with the cost of replacing or repairing your flooring. Do note however that this does not pertain to flood damage, which requires specific insurance for coverage.
If the damage is minimal or only cosmetic and the area was dried within 24 hours, it is likely a cost effective repair situation. If you choose to repair your flooring you may consider attempting the repair yourself.
DIY or Consult a Professional
Many homeowners can handle a simple repair particularly if the damaged area is small. Before you take on the project, though, you should consider a few things.
What is the urgency of the repair – if the damage is in a less-used area in your home it may make sense to tackle it yourself, but if it occurred in a high traffic area a professional repair can help you get things back to normal quickly.
What is your time availability/what are your other commitments?
Do you have children or pets to consider with regards to the use of any chemicals and the need to leave the area undisturbed during the repair process?
Do you suspect mold growth? It is especially important to consider professional help when dealing with mold. It can be a danger to your health during the process as well as after if it is not properly and fully addressed.
What type of flooring material are you dealing with?
If you are repairing wood flooring, plan to nail or screw the boards back into place, or possibly remove and replace the damaged boards if you are able to find matching wood. In either case, the boards will then require sanding, staining (with a matching stain), a polyurethane coat and time to dry.
When repairing laminate flooring you can remove and replace the damaged tiles or planks with matching ones, provided you have them available.
When addressing damage to carpets, be especially alert for signs of mold. You can steam clean them yourself or hire a professional. Sometimes a small section of carpet can be removed and replaced with a matching piece if available.
For vinyl flooring, damaged areas must be removed and replaced. Vinyl is particularly durable and resistant to damage – if you have damaged vinyl flooring you will likely want to contact a professional to ensure proper installation.
Tile flooring is also known for its durability in the face water. However, if a tile is loose or has a hollow sound when stepped on or tapped, the grout may need repair. Often this is as simple as scraping and removing old grout and then regrouting the tile securely in place.
A DIY repair can be your most cost effective option if you have the inclination, time and confidence to tackle it. It can also become a significant source of frustration. Your time and sanity are worth considering in the equation. A professional repair can afford you peace of mind and save you the burden of a time consuming project.
Protecting Floors Going Forward
Well maintained floors are more resistant to damage. Once a repair is complete or new flooring is installed, take steps to preserve your floors going forward.
Prevent scratches in flooring (which can make them more vulnerable to damage) by using furniture pads and area rugs. Consider making your home a shoe-less environment.
Dust and dirt particles can cause damage and make your floors more susceptible as well. Routinely clean your floors and consider a periodic deep clean by a professional.
Spot clean any spills as soon as you notice them – the longer something stays on your floor the more difficult it is to remove and the more likely it is to cause lasting damage.
We are Here to Help
Water damage is always a hassle. If you find yourself faced with it, we are here to help with a repair or a replacement. Contact us to discuss your situation and the best course of action. We want to help you put this frustration behind you as quickly as possible!