Timber is a classic and durable material that makes for an excellent floor in any home. It does however have some limitations and you should know that water is its number one enemy.
In wood’s living form, water is a critical component that helps create photosynthesis, feeding the tree and helping it grow and stay healthy. However, once the tree has been harvested for use, whether for furniture, flooring or firewood, the goal is to remove the majority of the moisture and keep it out. Making extra attention important to protect your floors from spills, leaky pipes, and other forms of water damage.
Wood is hygroscopic, meaning it expands and contracts with moisture, so this means humidity swings can cause wood floors to bulge or shrink. Greater influxes of water create even greater potential for damage. Excessive moisture will be absorbed through the pores of the wood, potentially causing warping, buckling, and discolouration. And if that moisture remains in the wood for an extended period of time, it encourages the growth of mould, which causes the wood’s fibres to deteriorate, weaken, and eventually fall apart, a process known as rot.
But before you toss out the idea of wood flooring and replace it with tiles, know that there is still hope. Continue reading to learn about a few simple measures to protect and prevent water damage to your home’s wood floor.
Consider the Location and Species
When living in a home, spills and leaks are inevitable, especially with children and pets, but some rooms are more susceptible to water buildup like kitchens, bathrooms and laundries, and choosing a flooring type takes more thought and care to ensure longevity.
Some wood flooring materials and species are better than others if you intend to use them in a location prone to water buildups, such as a bathroom, kitchen, or entryway. Hardwoods in general are more resistant to water than softwoods because their fibres are more closely packed together, resulting in less absorption. Some hardwoods, such as Oak and Walnut, are more resistant than others like Douglas Fir and Pine.
Engineered hardwood has a higher level of moisture resistance than solid hardwood. Engineered flooring planks are made of a number of thin layers of plywood that are glued one on top of the other with their grains in alternating directions, resulting in a stable structure that is resistant to expansion and contraction and, to a lesser extent, absorption. The plank is then capped with a solid wood top layer, which is what you see and can walk on, also known as the wear layer. Because of the moisture in bathrooms, kitchens, or anywhere the subfloor is concrete, engineered floors should definitely be considered over solid hardwood floors.
Not All Finishes Are Equal
Most engineered flooring products are covered with a finish. This adds a layer of protection against scratches, dents, and to some extent, water. Some of the available finishing products on the market include waxes, shellac, linseed oil, and tung oil, all of which offer poor to fair water resistance. Nitrocellulose lacquer and most water-based finishes provide a better water resistance. The best finishes for a water-resistant surface are varnishes, polyurethane (lacquer) and UV-Cured Hardwax Oil.
It’s worth noting that the key term here is “water resistance,” not “water proofing.” Even the best finishes cannot guarantee complete security. Standing water for an extended period of time will eventually find its way between plank seams and between the flooring and the subfloor. A good finish will only slow down the process allowing you time to clean up the mess.
It is important to keep the finish up to date by maintaining or refinishing it periodically. Oiled floors can be maintained by applying a liquid wax coating every 6 to 12 months, or more frequently in high-use areas, while polyurethane finishes can last an extra two to three years before a reapplication is needed. Lacquered flooring will mostly require a sand and refinish to repair wear and tear in the surface.
Preemption and Prevention
You’ve chosen a water-resistant species, perhaps you’ve selected engineered timber flooring, and applied the best finish. You are in a good position to protect yourself from water damage. But now comes the difficult part: preventative measures and daily awareness.
Preventive measures involve identifying potential areas for water buildup and spills and taking steps to minimise the effects before they occur. To minimise contraction and expansion, use air conditioning to maintain an indoor relative humidity of 45–55 %. Use floor mats in entryways and mudrooms to absorb moisture. Place trays beneath potted floor plants and a plastic pan beneath the washing machine. Outside the shower, place an ultra-absorbent bathmat. When there is a thunderstorm, close all windows and doors.
Take Care of Your Plumbing
Before installing hardwood floors, have your plumbing checked. It’s a good idea to keep an eye on your plumbing in general and quickly address any issues you find, as water leaks or flooding are two of the most common causes of water damage to wood floors, with dishwashers, sinks, and washing machines among the most common culprits for plumbing leaks.
If you are installing hardwood floors in an older building, have a professional plumber inspect the plumbing. To protect your wood floor, make sure that everything is up to date and will not cause you any problems.
Use Door Mats & Rugs
Laying down mats and rugs throughout the house is one of the best and easiest ways to protect hardwood flooring from water damage. Position mats at the entrances to your home to prevent damp, muddy shoes from scuffing up your floors, and place a mat at the base of any sinks to protect your flooring from water splashing.
Another important place to put a soft, absorbent mat is underneath any pets’ water bowls. This is especially important if you do not work from home. A knocked over bowl, if not placed on a mat, could leak water onto your flooring and go unnoticed for hours.
Similarly, have a place to leave wet shoes, jackets, and umbrellas so they don’t drip water on the floor.
Regular Cleaning and Maintenance
Regular sweeping or vacuuming is the best way to protect hardwood floors. Sweeping up dust and dirt also helps to keep your floors clean. If dirt particles are large enough and stepped on, they can cause stains and scratches.
Sweeping and vacuuming are both water-free methods for keeping dirt and dust off your floor that you can use as much as you want.
Select a floor cleaner designed specifically for hardwood floors. It’s best to use a damp (not wet) soft mop and to dry the floor immediately after cleaning. Allow no liquid to sit on your floor for an extended period of time. When purchasing a mop, be sure to choose one that is specifically designed for hardwood floors.
Awareness and Diligence
After you’ve worked to proactively prevent water buildup, the final step is to be vigilant. No matter how careful you are, spills and splashes will occur. When they do, wipe or mop them up as soon as possible so that the water does not seep into the flooring. Keep an eye out for plumbing leaks under sinks, around toilets, and beneath dishwashers. You can even bring in a plumber on a regular basis for a check-up. When cleaning your floors, avoid using mops that are too wet. Finally, reapplying your flooring finish on a regular basis (if your finish allows for it without a complete sand) will increase the durability of your floor.
Fixing your Flooring after Minor Water Damage
If large amounts of water—whether flood-related or not—have come into contact with your wood floor, your floors will never be the same as new, but you can take steps to potentially save them if it is a minor spill that has been noticed straight away. We recommend replacing flooring for large scale water-damaged areas.
Remove Surface Water
The sooner you can deal with your wet floors, the better. Wood’s cellulose fibres absorb water quickly but release it slowly. Therefore, you should begin removing the water as soon as possible.
Scrub the Floor
Using our Marldon cleaning solution, scrub the entire floor with a stiff brush, frequently rinsing the brush. Do not pour the water on the floor. Thoroughly wipe off all dirt, mud, silt, and organic material, which can all encourage mould growth.
Dry the Floor
Dry the floor naturally and slowly with fans and plenty of airflow through the space. Open windows and doors (unless the outdoor air is more humid than the indoor air) and use fans to circulate air throughout the room.
WARNING: It is important to dry the floor steadily but slowly. Wood flooring dried too quickly can crack. Do not apply heat to hardwood flooring, as this can result in splitting, cupping, and other problems.
To protect your hardwood flooring and keep it looking great does not have to take over your life. However, making wise decisions about what to install and where to install it, as well as maintaining a level of awareness and diligence once installed, can go a long way towards protecting your investment and preserving the beautiful appearance that drew you to wood flooring in the first place.