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How to Repair Floors with Water Damage


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If you’ve recently had a water heater leak, then your floor may have some water damage. Once you’ve solved the leak, either by calling a plumber or using our guide to solve the problem yourself, you should check the surrounding floor for water damage.

Wood flooring is usually the most susceptible to damage, although water can affect other types of flooring as well, especially if a small leak has gone unnoticed, or you've experienced a very large leak.

Keep in mind, particularly if you didn't notice your water heater leaking right away, you may have mold in the dry wall and/or flooring. Some types of mold can be quite toxic in large amounts and should be addressed by a professional.

If you take the proper safety precautions, and you only have a small amount of mold, the situation is something that you can likely address yourself. Be sure to wear gloves, safety goggles, and a dust mask to prevent inhaling any of the mold. Mold in excess of 10 square feet is the general rule of thumb as to when a professional should be called.

Water Damage Repair

How to Tell if You Have Water Damage

All types of flooring can be damaged by water, and worse, the water can seep down to the sub floor. Identifying whether your floor has any water damage is relatively easy, as you can usually notice signs of warping, buckling, and discoloration. Although, each type of floor has different tell-tale signs of water damage. When inspecting your floor, look for the following clues:

Hardwood Symptoms

  • Cupping - Floor planks have dips and raised edges.
  • Dark Spots - This may be part of the wood's natural pattern, although it may also be mold or mildew.
  • Bulging - Floor planks bubble upwards, creating a "crown" shape.
  • Buckling - Floor planks have been completely removed from the floor underneath.

Laminate Symptoms

  • Swelling - Generally at the plank edges.
  • Warping - The planks are no longer flat and are cupping or bulging.
  • Discoloring - Could be mold or mildew.

Carpet Symptoms

  • Discoloration - Most likely mold or mildew.
  • Odor - Most likely mold or mildew.

Tile Symptoms

  • Stains - Any sort of discoloration could be water damage.
  • Hollow Sound - Tap on the tiles with a coin. An empty or hollow sound means that the tiles are loose.

Linoleum Symptoms

  • Stains - Any sort of discoloration could mean water damage.
Using a sponge to clean floor of standing water

How to Repair Water Damage

The first step, in all types of floor repair, is always to thoroughly dry out the floor. No repairs should be started until the area is completely dry. Use a wet vacuum for large pools of water, and place fans and dehumidifiers in the room for several days. In some cases, simply drying out the area will fix the damage, and no further repairs are necessary.

There are companies that specialize in drying out flooring. They often offer services such as sanitizing and deodorizing, which can be particularly helpful to prevent mold, mildew, and odor.

Hardwood Floor Repair

If only a few boards are showing signs of warping, cupping, buckling or separating, you may be able to simply nail or screw them back into place. However, if this doesn't work, you will likely need to purchase matching wood and either replace the individual floor boards, or if necessary, replace the damaged section of floor.

If the damaged section needs to be replaced, use a saw to cut into the floor, and then lift and remove the damaged floor planks with a pry bar.

There is a point where it is more cost effective to remove the entire part of the damaged floor and start over, instead of attempting to repair the area.

For solid wood floors, you will need to replace the boards, nail them to the floor. Then sand the new and old flooring so they match perfectly before staining. It's usually best to apply a couple coats of stain, then numerous coats of polyurethane finish.

It can become very time consuming to replace the damaged boards, versus quickly tearing them out and starting over. If you are hiring a contractor to do the work for you, have them write up a bid for both repairing the damage and replacement.

Watch the Video

Laminate Floor Repair

When moisture penetrates the water-resistant laminate finish, there are layers of material eager to absorb the water. The result will be swelling and separationto the layers below the laminate finish. When laminate floors become totally immersed with water, such as a basement flood, the only option is usually to replace the entire floor.

Dry the floor as quickly as possible using fans and dehumidifiers. A damaged laminate floor will begin showing signs after a few days.

If repair is necessary, start removing the boards at the closest wall. Some of the boards may be able to be reused, however, any damaged floor boards must be replaced. Again, it may be cost-effective to replace the entire floor or at least a large section.

Watch the Video

Carpet Floor Repair

Carpet, as a general rule, can handle a significant amount of water. However, it is critical that it is quickly dried to prevent mold, mildew, and in the case of wool carpets, rot.

It's a good idea to rent a carpet cleaning machine to extract the water from the carpet, as they tend to be stronger than household models. A professional floor care company is also a good alternative. They generally have powerful equipment that can remove water quickly.

Once your carpet is dry, have it professionally cleaned, sanitized and deodorized. If you find that the carpet is damaged, sometimes a small section can be replaced without being noticeable. However, it's more likely that you'll need to replace the carpet in the entire room.

Tile Floor Repair

Tile is very resistant to water, however, water can seep thru the cracks in the grout and damage the subfloor. If the subfloor is damaged, the wood will swell and eventually cause the tile and grout to crack, and even raise.

Dry the floor as quickly as possible using fans and dehumidifiers. If you are confident that your subfloor is okay but notice that you have a few loose tiles, use a standard head screw driver to lift the tiles from the floor. You may be able to reuse the tiles, so handle them with care as they can break relatively easily.

Match the grout as close as possible. If you don't have any extra tiles on hand, it is always a good idea to buy a few extra for the future. Sometimes, contractors leave a partial box of tile for homeowners.

Watch the Video

Vinyl & Linoleum Floor Repair

Both Vinyl and Linoleum handle excess water well. Remove the water by using fans, and increase the temperature on your furnace to help dry any water that may have seeped into the subfloor.

If you find that you need to replace a section, use a utility knife to cut out the damaged area, and then use a standard head screw driver to pry it off the floor.

Many times it's possible to reuse the vinyl or linoleum. As with the tile floor, your main concern is the subfloor. The wood may swell with the excess water, and it could even shrink when dried. Sometimes a damaged section of subfloor needs to be replaced.

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Subfloor Damage and Repair

If the subfloor is damaged it will likely swell and "lift" the flooring, or you may notice a "mushy" feel when you step on the floor.

Subfloors are generally made with plywood or OSB (oriented strand board), and the best choice is usually for it to be replaced. If the sub floor is concrete, it's critical that it is completely dry before re-installing the wood, laminate, etc. Pay close attention for signs (and smells) of mold. If the mold is in the subfloor, a professional should be called.

Subfloor Repair

If your subfloor needs to be replaced use a circular saw, set to 1” depth, to remove the damaged area. Then remove any protruding nails with a pry bar and vacuum up any debris. If there’s still moisture underneath the subfloor make sure it is completely dried before continuing.

Use 2x6 lumber to act as the floor frame and support the new subfloor. Then measure and cut a piece of 5/8” CDX plywood to use as the new subfloor. Make sure to leave an 1/8” gap between the plywood and the existing subfloor to allow for expansion. Finally, use galvanized 8d nails or deck screws to fasten the new plywood to the floor framing.

Watch the Video

Water Damage Managing Costs

Managing Repair and Replacement Costs

Homeowner's insurance policies often cover water damage . . . even if the cause was human error. Contact your insurance agent to evaluate the damage. Many policies will cover the expenses of water removal, flooring replacement, subfloor replacement, and even the cost of hiring a professional cleaning company to help prevent future mold.

However, keep in mind that your homeowner's insurance premium may increase. If the damage is serious, it may be well worth the future expense, but for smaller jobs, it may be in your best interest to do the job yourself or hire someone out-of-pocket.

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