Moisture and Wood Floors

There are many factors that affect how wood floors react to moisture.  No wood flooring system will tolerate high levels of moisture over an extended period of time, but some do better than others when it comes to surviving water damage.

Solid wood floors have the highest salvage potential because you’re dealing with 100% real, solid wood planks.  There are no resins, veneers or composite materials to deal with.  In general, a solid wood floor can be sanded and refinished several times in its lifetime.  So if you can control the moisture and stabilize the flooring system, refinishing can restore even badly damaged floors.

The harder the wood, the more slowly it will react to moisture.  Oak flooring will react to moisture within a day or two whereas a hard maple floor may not cup for three, four or more days.  The harder the material, the slower it absorbs moisture and the slower it will release it.  Some softer wood floors (such as southern yellow pine) can be exposed to significant moisture yet only slightly cup, increasing the potential to underestimate the damage.

Another variable to how water damage affects solid wood flooring is whether it was finished on-site or pre-finished.  Floors that are sanded in-place usually have a fairly continuous finish on them, reducing the rate at which they can absorb (and release) moisture.  Pre-finished, solid wood flooring has the finish applied at the factory.  To account for slight variances in the product thickness, manufacturers bevel (or “kiss”) the edges for a uniform look.  Factory finishing produces a high quality finish, but the bevels will allow surface moisture to absorb into the wood at a higher rate. As a result, pre-finished wood floors tend to suffer more from flood damage than traditional hardwood flooring.

Laminate floors have a low tolerance for moisture.  The high-density fiber core permanently swells when it absorbs water and cannot be saved.  You can identify water damage to a laminate floor by inspecting the edges of the planks for swelling.  Like solid wood flooring, it is possible to spot repair laminate floors but it’s often difficult, even with spare material.  Since water can remain trapped beneath the laminate floor padding, it’s important to thoroughly test for moisture at the substrate level.  Laminate floors are not restorable after swelling from moisture.  If the laminate floor has a significant amount of water beneath the padding but the flooring has not yet swollen, drying may be possible but is unlikely.