Can water damaged hardwood floors be restored, or must they be replaced?

This is a commonly asked question from property owners who have experienced an unwanted water occurrence to their floors. The answer to the question is - Yes and No, dependent on the following criteria;

• Is the floor real “hardwood” or laminate?

• How long has the floor been wet?

• What type of water caused the damage?

Hardwood vs. Laminate?

Each type has advantages and disadvantages and cost can vary greatly between laminates and solid hardwood depending on species type. Laminate flooring and water simply do not mix well. It doesn’t take long before a water damaged laminate begins to swell and the manufactured layers begin to separate. Damaged areas can be removed and replaced with new laminate planks, however, it is rare to find replacement sections that will match the existing undamaged planks due to color loss and wear of the existing flooring.

(The picture of the laminate below is from the W.F.C.A. Wood Floor Covering Association)










How Laminate Flooring Is Made

Laminate flooring is comprised of 4 basic layers:

o The Balancing Layer
o The Core Layer
o The Pattern Layer
o The Wear Layer

How long has the floor been wet?










A hardwood floor exposed to water begins to slowly absorb the moisture, whereby causing a swelling effect known as cupping. As Standard Operating Procedure, I like to use the 48 rule as a baseline to determine the feasibility of successfully drying hardwood floors back to their normal EMC (Equal Moisture Content).

Microbial growth/mold begins to become a concern from 48 -72 from the time of initial exposure. If the floor has been exposed to water for more than 72 hours it is considered a high risk for mold growth, not to mention the collateral damage caused to sub flooring, floor fasteners, etc. and should be removed and replaced.

EMC are known moisture values for all types of hardwood species. For example; if White Oak has a normal value of 8-10% Moisture Content, then this is the number used as our objective as part of our managed drying plan.

The species type on this hardwood floor drying project was a light oak. As the picture illustrates the “Cupping Effect” on this floor was moderate to heavy. After installing floor panels and introducing limited heat, the floors were returned to EMC in 7 days. A normal range for drying hardwood flooring is 7 – 10 days depending on the absorption rate and exposure time.

More often than not, the floors will not require sanding and refinishing after the drying process has been completed. However, it is important to note that there may be a slight deviation with light cupping from one area to the next. The Great news is that when the floors have been allowed to acclimate through one climate season the floors return to the same condition prior to the water damage.

What type of water caused the damage?

There are 3 categories of water damage;

• Category 1- clear water (restorable in almost all cases)

• Category 2 - gray water

• Category 3 – black water (If the damage to the floor covering was that of a Category 3, like outside run off water or sewage water - the flooring MUST be replaced).