Flooring is an essential — if not underappreciated — element of the home. While your family relies on sturdy flooring for everyday activities, perhaps this is most clear when your floors become damaged.
Your floors may experience water damage for many reasons — including water heater leaks, broken pipes and natural disasters like hurricanes or floods. However the incident occurs, odds are you’re left asking whether you should replace or repair your floor.
Each situation is different, but details like the type of flooring, the extent of damage, and the cost of repairs versus replacement will help determine which decision is best for you. Here are some tips for dealing with water-damaged floors.
How to Spot Water Damage on Floors
If you’ve experienced a leak, flood or another water-related incident, it’s important to check the flooring around the affected area. Pay special attention to signs of water damage on hardwood floors. Hardwood is one of the flooring types most susceptible to water damage. The longer your flooring was wet, the deeper the water may have traveled.
Odds are, you’ll know if the floor sustained damage when you inspect it. Abnormalities are typically clear signs of water damage.
Here are some specific issues to look for in your flooring:
- Buckling: Buckling occurs when the flooring detaches from the subflooring beneath it. Your floor may separate at the seams or peel upward.
- Crowning: When flooring loses moisture, it can shrink on the underside. This moisture loss leaves planks rounded, with a high point in the middle and low points on the edges.
- Cupping: When your floor absorbs moisture, plank edges may curl upward — leaving the middle of the plank with a slight depression.
- Discoloration: Any change in color may indicate mold or mildew. Inspect new stains and dark spots for growth.
- Warping: Any abnormal bubbling, peeling or cracking in the flooring could indicate damage.
- Odor: Unusual odors could indicate mold and mildew in the flooring or subflooring.
If the flooring shows only minor indications of damage, you may be able to resolve the issues by thoroughly drying the affected area. If not, you’ll need to consider restoration options. Some damage only appears after several hours, so give your flooring plenty of time to dry and show changes.
After you’ve identified the type of water damage your flooring has, you can decide whether you want to repair or replace it.
Signs of Water Damage Under Floors
You may typically expect water damage to come from leaking ceilings, overflowing toilets or leaky faucets, but water damage can also come from underneath your flooring. Groundwater, in-floor heating systems or drains can all lead to under floor water damage.
Water damage under your floors has a lot of the same signs as other types of water damage. However, there are some other unique things to look out for. Before you notice the physical signs of water damage, you may see your water bill is higher than normal. This increase could be a sign water is running somewhere hidden, like under your floors.
If you suspect you have a leak under your floors, turn your water off and take note of your water meter. Leave it for a few hours, and then check back. If your water meter has changed, that means water is still running somewhere, and if you can’t see a leak, it’s likely under your flooring.
Should You Repair or Replace Water-Damaged Floors?
There’s no clear winner when it comes to replacing versus repairing water-damaged floors — the choice is ultimately up to you. However, to avoid a burdensome home project or expensive repair bill, you should consider several factors before you decide.
1. Extent of Water Damage
Is your flooring damage minor and cosmetic, or major and destructive? Was the water covering the floor for an extended period? Flooring that is still functional will likely require much less time, money and effort than flooring damaged to the point of being unsafe or deteriorated.
If your home wasn’t thoroughly dry within 24 to 48 hours of the incident, you should assume you have mold growth. Mold growth can complicate flooring repairs and jeopardize your health, making this type of damage a much bigger task to take on.
2. Type of Water
Depending on the source of the damage, you may be more inclined to replace rather than repair.
- Clean water: Water from leaking pipes is clean water — like rainwater. This type of water is safe to clean.
- Gray water: Water from dishwashers, washing machines and clean toilets is slightly dirty. This “gray” water may have contaminants. If you choose to clean it yourself, you’ll need to use proper safety equipment.
- Black water: Water from sewage or rivers is known as black water. The waste and bacteria it contains are serious contaminants and can cause health problems. This type of water damage almost always requires professional replacement help.
3. DIY or Professional
The extent of water damage may dictate whether you tackle the task yourself or hand it over to the pros.
If you want to repair or replace the flooring yourself, consider whether the task is something you can reasonably accomplish. Depending on the circumstances, replacing damaged floors yourself may require a significant amount of effort and time that you could save by having them professionally replaced. Homeowners can typically clean up moldy areas of fewer than 10 square feet with proper protocol. Beyond this, the EPA recommends consulting a professional with mold experience.
4. Available Time
How much time are you able to dedicate to the damaged flooring situation? If you’re working or caring for a family, an in-depth DIY repair or replacement may not be an option. If you have available time, you may be able to save money by taking on the task yourself. Consider your schedule when deciding whether to repair or replace your flooring.
Is the damaged flooring in a high-traffic area of your home? Do you have young children or pets who could become injured around the decayed floors? If so, your decision to repair or replace will depend on how quickly you need the floor fixed. This urgency may also apply when your home has severe mold from the water damage. Depending on the severity of the damaged flooring, you may need to repair the area as quickly as possible.
When to Consider Replacing The Water-Damaged Floors
Sometimes, the damage is too extensive, and it’s best to just start fresh with new flooring. Or, you may just be ready for a new look. Either way, you may want to consider replacing your flooring for a couple of reasons.
1. Your Subfloor and Floor Are Severely Damaged
Subflooring is the wooden or concrete support system beneath your flooring. If you have water-damaged subfloors, you’ll likely notice your floors are swollen or lifted. They may also feel soft or squishy when stepped on. The best choice for damaged subflooring is usually to have it replaced — especially if it is growing mold.
Do wet subfloors need to be replaced? Typically, the best choice for damaged subflooring is to have it replaced, especially if it is growing mold. In severe situations, it may feel like replacing the flooring is the only action you can take. This may be true. However, you must remember one crucial step before you seek replacement options — begin the drying process in the affected area as soon after the incident as possible.
Here are some steps to take to keep your home safe:
- Remove excess water: Use wet vacuums to soak up standing water.
- Increase airflow: Open any internal doors, closets and windows to aid airflow into the affected area.
- Dry the area: Point fans at the damaged flooring and use dehumidifiers to remove excess moisture.
If you notice mold growth during the drying process, avoid using a fan. Fans may spread mold spores throughout the home. Remove visible mold with appropriate protections for your eyes, nose, mouth and hands. Keep children and individuals with weakened immune systems or breathing problems away from the affected area.
Signs you need to replace water damaged subfloor include:
- Loud, squeaking floorboards
- Cupping, bubbling or cracking in the floor
- Musty smells
- Uneven or sinking floors
Addressing severely damaged flooring can be stressful and dangerous. If you’ve been the victim of widespread damage, consider a clean slate with replacement. In many cases, it is most time- and cost-effective to start new.
2. You’re Ready for a Fresh Start
In situations where your floor is salvageable, you may still consider a replacement. As unwanted as water damage is, it can be an opportunity to install new flooring and protect your home from future incidents. When browsing flooring options, consider materials like laminate, vinyl, carpet and tile, which protect against water. If you choose hardwood floors, be sure to take steps to waterproof and preserve it.
Once your new flooring is installed, you’ll want to take some simple steps to maintain it. Proper flooring maintenance will help protect you from further water damage.
Here are some general practices to keep your floors safe:
- Be gentle on the surface: Hard shoes and furniture legs may scuff your floors. Consider taking some precautions by asking guests to remove their shoes and adding protective guards to furniture.
- Utilize rugs and carpets: For high-use areas, add some extra padding with a rug or carpet.
- Schedule regular cleaning: Vacuuming helps remove dust particles and dirt that may damage the flooring if left untouched. Establish a routine for light cleaning to extend your floors’ lifespan.
- Deep clean: It’s a good idea to periodically call in a professional cleaner to deep clean your flooring.
- Spot clean: Wipe up spills and debris as soon as possible to avoid staining.
New flooring and proper maintenance could decrease your chances of water damage in the future. If you’re ready to take action against damage, a replacement could be your best option.
3. Water Stayed on Your Floors Too Long
The longer water stays on your flooring, the more damage it can cause. If you can catch a leak or spill right away, the damage can be minimized, and repair may be an option. However, if your floors are exposed to water while you’re away at work, or even worse, away from your home for a few days, the damage will likely be too extensive for repair.
Signs water has been on your flooring for too long include:
- Boards are lifting and nails are popping out
- Mold is growing
- Some boards are cupping or buckling
- There are stains or discoloration
4. The Water Is Contaminated
While any type of water can damage your floors, certain water poses more of a risk than others. Clean water, or water that doesn’t contain harmful bacteria, usually comes from a leaking sink or shower. This type of water, while still able to cause damage, can be removed, and the area can be repaired.
Other types of water, including gray water, black water, and saltwater, can be more harmful to you and your floors. Leaks involving these types of water are more likely to lead to replacements rather than repairs.
Black water is especially dangerous because it contains disease-carrying bacteria. This water typically comes from backed-up sewer lines, overflowing toilets or nearby streams. In the event of a black water leak, it’s most likely better to replace your floors just to ensure all bacteria are removed.
When to Consider Repairing Water-Damaged Floors
If your subflooring is undamaged and the affected area is dry within 24 to 48 hours, you may be able to repair the damaged flooring.
Before attempting a repair, ensure the floor is completely dry. Use wet vacuums to clear big water puddles, and set up fans and dehumidifiers to dry out the rest of the moisture. This process may take several days, and it may prevent damage altogether in some cases.
Water damage floor repairs will vary depending on the type of flooring.
- Hardwood: For small-scale wood floor water damage, you may be able to nail or screw warped boards back into place. If certain boards need removing, you’ll need to find and purchase matching wood. When replacing planks, be sure to sand them to resemble the current flooring and find a matching stain color. Then, apply several coats of stain to the new boards, as well as a polyurethane finish.
- Laminate: Laminate floor water damage may lead to swelling and separation beneath the finish. After the flooring is dry, allow the laminate several days to show signs of water damage. To repair, remove and replace damaged boards and keep the undamaged ones.
- Carpet: If a carpet is left wet for a long time, it will develop mold quickly. Use a wet vacuum to remove as much water as possible, and then finish drying with fans. When dry, have a professional clean, sanitize and deodorize it to prevent mold and mildew. If a small section of carpet located in an out-of-the-way area is damaged, you may be able to remove and replace it.
- Vinyl: Many homeowners use vinyl in areas like bathrooms and kitchens that are prone to water. When installed correctly, vinyl is fairly waterproof. Though it handles water well, you may see damage after excess water coverage. When the flooring is dry, remove damaged areas and replace them with new vinyl. Because vinyl is typically laid in layers, repairing these areas may be difficult to do at home. Consider calling a professional to ensure proper installation.
- Tile: Like vinyl, tile is quite water-resistant. However, excess water can sometimes loosen tiles. When the floor is dry, identify which ones have come loose and carefully pry them up from the floor with a screwdriver. If you are reinstalling them yourself, find a grout that matches the flooring and add the tiles back to their original locations. To ensure proper installation and keep your flooring water-tight, consider calling a professional.
An important element to consider with repairs is whether you want to complete them yourself or hire a contractor. Examine the extent of the damage and your repair capabilities. Water-damaged floor repairs can be tricky and labor-intensive if you’re inexperienced. However, if you can feasibly repair the damage yourself, you could save cost on hired labor.
When to Consider Refinishing Hardwood Floors
You can sand, refinish and re-coat water-damaged hardwood floors in some situations. It’s important to keep in mind, however, that restaining a hardwood floor can cause the color of the stain to appear slightly different than it did before. In some cases, the entire floor may need to be refinished. Even if only a few planks are damaged, there may be differences where the stain is applied in the areas where the repaired planks meet the original planks.
There may be some times when you shouldn’t try to refinish water-damaged hardwood floors. If you have prefinished wood flooring, you should not try to refinish it because the protective coating that’s applied by a factory can be difficult to match.
Follow these steps when refinishing hardwood floors.
1. Repair the Water Damage to Hardwood Floors
Before refinishing a hardwood floor, it’s important to resolve the source of the water damage. Make sure that you repair the cause of the water damage to ensure that further damage doesn’t occur.
2. Choose the Planks You Will Replace
It’s important to identify which planks are damaged by water and need to be replaced. However, you should also remove some planks surrounding the water-damaged area. Water damage in hardwood flooring is not always visible, so removing surrounding planks will ensure that hidden damage doesn’t cause further problems.
3. Replace the Subfloor and Add New Hardwood Planks
Before replacing hardwood planks, it’s essential to remove any areas of the plywood subfloor that may be weakened or moldy. You should also allow the concrete floor underneath the subfloor to fully dry before replacing any of the hardwood flooring. Flooring craftsmen can begin to replace the subfloor and the hardwood planks.
4. Sand and Refinish the Floor
Once the new hardwood planks are in place, you can sand, restain and refinish the floor. Sanding and restaining the entire floor can eliminate the risk of color differences between new and old wood planks.
Calculating Cost for Repairing vs. Replacing
Depending on the type of water damage you’re dealing with, your homeowners insurance may cover some of the repair or replacement costs. Most policies will cover water damage resulting from something sudden and accidental. However, if the incident results from a known and neglected leak or home repair, you’ll likely be footing the bill.
Situations Where Water Damage Occurs
What qualifies as sudden and accidental? Examples of water damage include:
- An abrupt bathroom leak that was immediately addressed: Bathtub and shower drains, disconnected drain strainers, rusty or loose water supply connections and water valves can all cause water leaks in the bathroom.
- Ceiling damage: A sudden leak in the walls or ceiling can lead to damage.
- A burst pipe, whether from temperature, old age or tree roots: Temperature, old age and tree roots can cause pipes to burst, producing leaks. When cold water moves through pipes, the pipes contract and cause weak spots to burst. High temperatures and extra demand of water can also make pipes more vulnerable to bursts.
- Sudden kitchen appliance-related water damage: Kitchen appliances such as refrigerators and dishwashers can develop water drips. These water drips are often caused by clogged filters or cracks in filter housings or lines. Drain hoses in dishwashers can also leak water. Plastic drain hoses can easily form cracks that leak water onto the floor. Center islands can make flooring vulnerable to this problem because water leaks can travel several feet when the subfloor is exposed.
- Toilet overflow: Blocked vent pipes, blocked or clogged drains or a filler float that is set too high are all things that can cause a toilet to overflow. An overflowing toilet can flow onto your floor and cause extensive damage.
- Sudden leaking roof: Water can leak into your home from your roof, especially after walking on your roof, mishandling parts or dropping tools. Broken seams or cracks in dried caulking can also cause roof leaks. It’s important to regularly monitor and maintain your roof to prevent leaks from occurring.
In some situations, insurance does not cover water damage or other types of insurance are required. These situations include:
- Storm damage: One thing to note is the lack of flood coverage on this list. Most homeowners insurance policies exclude flood coverage, which is sold separately. Keep this in mind if your floors were damaged due to storm damage such as hurricane floodwaters.
- Gradual damage to pipes: When pipes burst due to neglect, insurance may not cover the resulting water damage.
- Foundation seepage: Cracks in a home’s foundation can cause water to seep into the home and onto the floor. Damage caused by cracks in the foundations are not typically covered by insurance plans.
Insurance companies expect you to do as much as possible to prevent water damage. If the damage was out of your control, check with your insurance agent to see if your policy covers it. If you’re left to cover the repairs or replacements on your own, consider the cost of supplies. Repairs or replacements will vary in cost depending on the size of the project and the type of flooring you’ll use. However, it’s most often cheaper to replace the damaged flooring altogether rather than have it repaired.
Considerations by Room
While it might be more likely to experience water damage in your basement or bathroom, water damage can affect every room in your home. Here’s how to approach this situation based on the room it might happen in:
Your bathroom floors come in contact with water every day, from wet feet after showers to splashes from kids playing in the bathtub. That’s why bathroom flooring is specifically designed to handle water. So, if your bathroom floors are starting to show signs of water damage, you’ve probably got a big problem on your hands.
If you need to replace your bathroom flooring, make sure to choose an option that’s optimal for withstanding water. Also, talk to your floor specialist about the type of flooring you’re installing and what the signs of water damage would look like for this particular floor style.
Your kitchen is another room where your floor may frequently experience water or other liquid spills. Tile is a great option to protect your kitchen floor from minor water damage like spills. This type of flooring is also easy to clean, giving you a clean, safe kitchen to cook in.
Bedroom and Living Room
Bedroom and living room flooring focus more on the design aspect rather than functionality as we see in the bathroom or kitchen. If you love the look of your current flooring, consider applying a waterproofing treatment. If you currently have carpet, you may want to consider an alternative flooring style like engineered wood — any spills or leaks on the carpet can take longer to fully dry compared to engineered wood or another alternative.
Basement flooring can be tricky. Your basement is susceptible to water damage from flooding and groundwater in addition to leaking pipes or drains. How you utilize your basement can also factor into the flooring you choose.
If your basement is used for storage, you can pick the most protective option without worrying about how it looks. If you use it as an entertainment space, the look of the flooring may be as equally important to you. However, it’s recommended to put an extra emphasis on protection here since basements are so likely to experience water damage.
Finding the Best Fit for You
If your water-damaged flooring dried quickly and was minor in scope, you may be able to repair it. If you’ve experienced widespread, severe damage, replacement may be the only option. Keep in mind your situation when deciding whether a repair or replacement might be best for you.
Whatever the case, water damage is an unwanted stressor. You need options for restoration as soon as possible. If you’re looking for replacement flooring, 50Floor offers a convenient home shopping experience. Our experts will walk you through options to help you restore your flooring with excellence and save you time in the process.
See flooring options in your home’s light and among your current decor to make a fully informed decision. In cases of water heater leaks, sink overflows and more, we also offer spot damage repair for our customers.
To take the first step toward restored flooring, schedule an appointment today.