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Flooding and Hardwood Floors

flooded house

Cleaning up after a flood can be a long and extensive ordeal. Nothing about it is fun and many things in your home may or may not be saved. Even though engineered hardwood flooring stands a better chance of withstanding the regular fluctuations of humidity changes within the home during normal living environments, solid hardwood floors stand a better chance at being saved after a flood than engineered hardwood floors do.

The longer the water has sat on the hardwood flooring, the more extensive the damage will likely be. The wood species you have will also play a factor in this. Harder species will absorb water at a much slower rate compared to softer hardwood. More porous or loose grained woods will absorb water and contaminants faster than tight grained or less porous woods will.

Solid wood flooring can be resanded and refinished without issue if it does not have to be replaced. If you have engineered wood, if you were able to dry it out all the way and you were successful at eradicating any mold issues, you still not may be able to “save it.” The individual thickness of your engineered hardwood floors and how many times in the past, if any, you’ve already sanded it and refinished it will determine if it’s a possibility to re-sand and refinish the floor again.

After a flood, you’ll have to dry out the wood so that the moisture levels in the planks return to normal moisture levels, regardless if it’s solid or engineered, and eradicate any mold if you can. Determining the moisture levels in the planks is done through moisture testing. A professional hardwood flooring installer can help you determine if you only need to dry the floor out further, if you’ll need to refinish it or replace parts or all of it.

First, you’ll need to contact your homeowner insurance agent to discuss what damages are covered and what isn’t. Second, you’ll need to carefully follow any safety precautions given to you by local authorities. Third, everything affected by the flood will need to be removed. Depending on the extent of the damage you may not be able turn on your heaters, furnace, central air unit or appliances until your walls and electrical components have been properly inspected and cleared to safely do so.  

In the meantime, what you can do is:

  • Open all the windows and doors to the home to allow airflow into the house, to safely start the drying process.
  • Remove any mud, debris or silt that still may be on the hardwood floor. You may need to wear protective gear such as a dust mask, eye shields and rubber gloves during this process to protect yourself from bacteria and containments that exist in flood paths.
  • Carefully use shovels to remove the top layer of mud and then use plastic dust pans to help remove the lower layers of mud. The edges of a plastic dust pan will reduce the likelihood of more scratches being introduced into the floor. 
  • Use a non-abrasive brush and detergent that doesn’t suds up and scrub the cracks and surfaces of the hardwood floor.
  • Rinse with clear water.
  • Once you’ve been given the “OK” to turn back on your power, turn on the furnace, heaters, air units etc….until the temperature of the home reaches between 75 degrees and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. If you have a basement, the National Wood Flooring Association recommends drying the floor from below. If you have a crawl space, the National Wood Flooring Association recommends you use exhaust fans. If you’re working with a professional hardwood flooring installer or a flood restoration company, large heaters or special fans and dehumidifiers might be brought in and hooked up to a safe external power, like a generator, to help dry out your home.
  • Leave things this way until the flooring flattens out back to its normal state.
  • Determine the extent of the damage. You may find some boards cupped or crowned, separated completely from the finish, warping or buckling. You may also find mold beginning to grow or mold that has found its way in under some of the finish.

Your professional hardwood flooring installer can recommend how to eradicate the mold. The entire drying and cleaning processes can take weeks or months before the wood to return to normal moisture levels and the hardwood floor restored. The types of subfloors you have will also play a factor in drying times. Full repairs and installations should not begin until all of the flooring is within normal moisture limits. You may be working with several people doing several different things to your home at once. The National Wood Flooring Association strongly urges you to resist giving into any pressure to make any quick fixes to your hardwood floor.