Water damage on floors is a pesky problem not only when the floors are really immersed in water as in a flood, but even when the water content in the air is high enough to cause water damage. This article tackles both problems, starting with an explanation as to why floors are susceptible to water damage, working down to specific problems, providing informative solutions to the problems, and stating preventive measures.
Water and Wood
We all know that water is essential to the growth and survival of trees. Naturally, a tree's make-up is one that facilitates the intake of the former. Water gets to the top of trees through either capillary action or by the assistance of atmospheric pressure. These two processes are possible because the tree's fibers allow for such physiological characteristics.
It is through and in between these fibers that water accumulates and move upward. When the trees are cut down, processed into wood and then finally into floors, the fibrous make-up is retained. Hence, its main characteristic, that of storing water, is also retained.
Therefore, when the moisture content of the air that permeates a floor increases, so does the amount absorbed by the fibers of the floor. The absorbing characteristic of the floor fibers are so potent that even water in vapor form will be readily absorbed by the floor.
The amount of moisture absorbed by wood depends on the humidity and temperature of its surroundings. The absorption only stops when the humidity and temperature of the wood is in equilibrium with its immediate surroundings.
It is worthwhile to note that protective coatings only serve to slow down the process of moisture absorption, and not to totally prevent it from happening.
Water Damage due to High Humidity
When the water content in the fibers increase, the floor swells. When the water content decreases, the floor shrinks. It is either this swelling or shrinking that destroys the floor. As a matter of fact, when the humidity of the surroundings is too low, the moisture in the floor decreases, the floor shrinks, and cracks appear. Hence, moisture, either the excess or lack of it, is destructive to floors.
Cupping and Crowning
One common complaint associated with the swelling of wooden floor boards due to high humidity is the problem called cupping. It is described as the problem when the edges of the boards are higher and its centers are lower. Although this sometimes happens when water is spilled on the surface and absorbed by the wood, high humidity is usually the main culprit. The result: deformed edges of the boards.
Another problem due to high humidity, which has the exact opposite description to cupping is crowning. Crowning occurs when the center of the boards is higher and the edges, lower.
First, find the source of moisture. It can be a plumbing problem, a leak in the kitchen, or even the terrain outside your house, when rain and runoff cannot move away from the foundation.
Once the source is eliminated, the floor may repair by itself. Remember that while wood swells due to increase in moisture, it also shrinks due to lack of it. To speed up the process, fans may be used. Once sure that the moisture content has already dropped considerably, the floor can be sanded if some unevenness still persists.
A comparatively rare problem due to moisture is the buckling of water damaged wooden floors. This is when the flooring really pulls away from the subfloor. This can happen after a flood but can also be due to insufficient nailing, incorrect nails, or incorrect subfloor construction.
In very extreme cases, as one due to flood damage, the stress due to buckling is sufficient to push out walls.
In this extreme but rare water damage to floors, buckled floors usually have to be replaced.
Aside from identifying and eliminating sources of excess moisture that might cause water damage, here are some preventive maintenance routines that can help avoid the problems stated above:
l Sweep floors daily.
l Implement a regular schedule for vacuuming the floor.
l Use minimal amount of water when mopping.
l Never let spilled water dry on the floor.
l Control humidity by using dehumidifiers or humidifiers.
l When using water to clean floors, clean only on the soiled portions. Never clean the entire floor using water unless absolutely necessary.
The above discussion focused on water damage on floors wherein the main cause was a high degree of humidity or when excessive moisture was absorbed by the floors. The succeeding discussion will concentrate on water damage caused by flooding. In this case, the floor might not have been only immersed in water but in mud and silt as well.
The first objective is to take out the dirt. A hose, or in extreme cases, a shovel might be needed to perform the clean up.
Before the floor dries up, scrub it with a stiff brush, applying detergent, lots of water, and a disinfectant as you do so. The disinfectant is necessary to prevent the growth of mildew. A recommended disinfectant is a solution made up of 1/4-cup liquid chlorine bleach in one gallon of water. The disinfectant can be applied using a three gallon garden sprayer. Brush out the mud and silt from the corners, cracks and crevices.
To speed up the drying process, one may use heaters, fans, or air conditioners.
As soon as it dries, vacuum the floor.
After vacuuming, wash it again with a non-sudsing cleaning product. Repeat the drying cycle one more time. After drying, vacuum it another time.
Flood damaged floors will usually have a musty smell, which can be treated by the following procedure. However, one must bear in mind that this will not totally eradicate the smell; only reduce it.
l Sprinkle baking soda over the floor using a broom or a sponge mop.
l Let the baking soda stay for 12 hours.
l Thoroughly vacuum the baking soda out.
In the event that mildew does develop, make sure to brush of the infected portions outdoors to prevent the spores from spreading unto other parts of the house. A vacuum cleaner might have to be used on infected regions. For the more stubborn ones, use a sponge to apply thick suds. In as much as possible, use a clean cloth to wipe it off.
To make sure that the mildew is totally eradicated, wipe the infected area with alcohol or better yet, spray with a fungicide.
Finally, make sure that the infected area is completely dry.
When present, floor coverings are reached and affected by water damage first. Knowing how to treat them is therefore equally important.
Carpet and Rugs
Lay the wet carpet, rugs, and pads on a flat, preferably concrete, surface. Hose off the dirt, applying detergent when necessary. A broom may be used to work the detergent into the carpet. When all the dirt has been removed, dry it quickly with fans.
Once again, to prevent mildew from developing, apply a solution of 1/4-cup chlorine bleach w/ 1-gallon of water. Do not apply this on a carpet made of wool.
It is very important to make sure that the carpet is dried thoroughly. Failure to do so will allow it to mildew and shrink.
All paddings have to be discarded.
It is highly possible that submerged plywood subfloors will separate. Those that do must be replaced to prevent floor from buckling. As soon as the floor coverings are removed, the subfloors must be allowed to dry thoroughly.
Since wet boards are sure to swell, individual boards have to be removed every few feet to make room for the swelling. Before returning the boards, the floor has to be dried and cleaned.
Tile and sheet-vinyl floors
In the event of a flood, wherein the subfloor can be immersed in water, and especially if the subfloor is made of wood, the floor covering should be removed. This should be done to allow for the replacement of the subfloor.
Tiles that have been loosened by the flood have to be removed and re-cemented. This should be done only after the floor is completely dry.
It might be necessary to remove and entire sheet flooring if it is suspected that water has seeped in. Try to research regarding the appropriate solvent when ready to return the dry sheet flooring. Similarly, it might also be possible to research on methods for adhesive removal that are suitable to your type of floor.
As mentioned earlier, it does not take a flood to render a floor water damaged. It is therefore important to know where the usual sources of water are and to monitor them regularly. Kitchens, bathrooms, laundry rooms are easily identified as the usual locations where water damage can start. Never underestimate a drop or drops of water. You'll never know when underneath your wooden floor, costly water damage might slowly be taking place.