Wood flooring comes in a variety of shapes, sizes, colors and styles. They’re often made from sundry materials and are a common finding in school gyms, residences, offices and commercial buildings. 

Though hardwood floors certainly have their benefits, restoring them after they’ve become waterlogged can become quite a task. Because hardwood is composed of low-porosity materials, drying it will take specialized remediation efforts and creative techniques. There may even be some cases in which hardwood cannot be restored at all.

In either event, though remediation of hardwood can prove difficult, it isn’t impossible. By adhering to proper protocol and making the right assessments, a restorative technician can devise a plan for restoring hardwood back to its original condition, if it is possible.

Factors to Consider

In order to determine whether or not an affected hardwood flooring surface can be restored, there are a few factors that the remedial expert will need to first consider. 

  • Wood Type: Not all wood is created equal, especially when it comes to flooring surfaces. Traditional hardwood flooring can typically be treated, dried and refinished to restore it back to its original state. Engineered hardwood flooring, however, poses a greater challenge, as it is often only layered with multiple wood, resin and polymer components, and thus, isn’t entirely truly hardwood. This results in multiple layers of the board being affected, with very few, if any, options for getting it dry and back to its original shape. 
  • Subfloor: The subfloor is an important factor to consider when determining whether or not hardwood can be dried at all. If the subfloor itself is wooden, then restoration may take place. Other types of subfloor surfacing, however, may pose significant challenges to drying efforts.
  • Location: Depending on the location of the water event and the set up of the structure, drying techniques may take place beneath the hardwood to reach the subfloor, in addition to on the surface.
  • Time Elapsed: As with any water restoration situation, the amount of time that is allowed to pass between the actual event and remedial work is crucial. Neglecting to attend to hardwood within a specified range of time may lead to irrevocable damage.
  • Category of Loss: Category of loss refers to the type of water affecting the structure, along with its source. Heavily contaminated water or water that travels horizontally and enters a structure from a ground-level surface will play a factor in whether or not the surface will be treated with antimicrobials before drying. 

The Drying Process

As previously stated, the drying process for hardwood will flex depending on the need of the situation. Nevertheless, the following can be used as a general outline for how a remediation expert might go about the restoration process.

Inspect: During the inspection, a restoration specialist will address the source of the water, check the home or business for pre-existing damage and scope the overall environment. At this time, he or she will also take moisture readings and will begin to devise a plan for remediation. 

If, following the inspection, it is determined that the hardwood floor in question cannot be remediated for any reason, the remediation team will discuss options with the owner of the property to reach a resolution. 

Treat: If needed, the surface of the hardwood and the wall base will be treated with antimicrobial and biocide treatment sprays to prevent the growth of bacteria and fungi. This is especially important for events classified as Category 3, as they involve water that is heavily contaminated or comes from an unsanitary water source. 

Extract: Extraction involves removing the “easy” water from the affected surface by pulling it out while it is still in its liquid state. During the extraction process, there are several methods that can be employed. A popular option is to use extraction panels that lay over affected hardwood surfaces to pull out water using a truck mount. Whatever method is used, extraction is crucial as it lays the groundwork for effectual drying in the next phase. 

Dry: For the drying process, desiccant and LGR refrigerant methods will likely be utilized, along with containment methods for keeping dry and warm air as close to the affected surface as possible. This will improve the success of the restorative drying process and will cut down on time and resources, when done correctly. Negative floor drying systems, air movers and other specialized equipment may also be used to ensure a complete and effectual dry. 

Common Hindrances to Hardwood Restoration

Clients should bear in mind that there are times when drying hardwood is unfeasible. Despite the remedial team’s best efforts, there are many factors that could ultimately contribute to their inability to restore original hardwood. 

The first common factor that often hinders effectual drying of hardwood is the type of wood that makes up the floorboards. If the affected wood has been engineered, it is likely that the wood is irreparably damaged once water has invaded the pulp, or core, of the board. Traditional hardwood, however, is much more likely to dry and return to its original state.

The second factor is the size of the floor planks. While sizing does not necessarily denote whether or not a floor can be dried, it may be that hardwood planks that are larger than three inches in width may develop “squeaking” sounds when stepped on following remediation. For some owners, this doesn’t qualify as true restoration of their hardwood.

The third potential hindrance to restoration is how long the water has been in contact with the hardwood. Hardwood boards that have sat soaked for a long time might take on odd shapes, and may not be able to be rectified. While odd shaping is not always irreparable, it can be if left too long.

This leads to the next point. Many hardwood floors take on “cupping” or “crowning” shapes when the boards become wet. There are a variety of reasons that this happens, but it ultimately depends on the makeup of the wood plank, itself. Oftentimes, with proper techniques, traditional hardwood that takes on cupping or crowning shapes can be made to lie flat again. Engineered hardwood, however, may need to be replaced.

When it comes to refinishing, the general rule of thumb is that hardwood, especially of the traditional sort, can be expected to need refinishing after undergoing a water event.

This isn’t to say that it is needed in all cases, but should be treated as a general rule. Moreover, hardwood that is engineered is typically composed of only a hardwood surface. Therefore, sanding and refinishing a floor of this nature might prove unsuccessful. Owners should defer to their technician for information regarding the refinishing of their hardwood following a water loss event.

The next and biggest hindrance to restoring a hardwood floor is the flooring beneath it. Subflooring that is made of wood is ideal for drying and restoration techniques, but subfloors composed of other materials, especially concrete, may prove difficult to dry. 

The last hindrance to effectual drying and restoration of hardwood flooring relates to improper moisture readings. While there is much debate in the world of restoration as to which techniques are best when measuring for moisture in hardwood, one thing remains the same: moisture readings that are improperly taken often lead to extra expense and resources lost for both the remedial specialist and the customer, alike. As such, it is imperative that moisture readings be taken correctly, and are ongoing, for successful restoration of a hardwood surface.

Hardwood Restoration Will Require Patience and Skill

No matter what the situation may be, most water loss events involving hardwood will require a great deal of patience and skill when it comes to the restoration process. Clients should expect a variety of techniques to be employed by their restorers and should plan to be flexible throughout the process.

As always, owners of a property affected by water damage should always seek the help of a water remediation expert and should never assume that their hardwood has been unaffected based on the appearance of their hardwood flooring, alone.