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How to Repair Water Damage From A Leaking Water Heater

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Water damage and a leaking water heater go hand-in-hand. That's especially true if you didn't detect your leak until your floor was covered in water. Once you've fixed the leak it's time to assess your floor for damage.  All types of flooring can suffer water damage. But wood flooring is especially at risk. Depending on where the leak was coming from and how long your leak went undetected, you may have mold,  or the beginnings of mold, in the flooring and drywall near the flooded area. 

There are a variety of types of mold and some can be very toxic. As a general rule of thumb, if you have 10 square feet or more of mold it's generally best to leave the clean-up and repair to a trained professional. With that said, you can probably clean-up small amounts of mold yourself if you take the proper safety precautions. You should always wear gloves, a dust mask and safety goggles to keep your exposure to a minimum. 

The Telltale Signs of Water Damage and How to Fix Them

Water can damage all types of flooring. In sever cases it can even seep thru the floor into the sub floor. Identifying water damage is relatively easy, as you can usually see signs of buckling, discoloration, and warping.

We'll cover below the signs of water damage and how to repair each type of flooring. Keep in mind, that the floor should be thoroughly dry before beginning repair, regardless of floor type. A wet vacuum can be used to pick-up large pools of water, then fans and dehumidifiers should run for several days until the area is thoroughly dry.

Some times drying out the area will be all that needs to be done, but if you fall into this lucky group, you should still be on the lookout for mold growth. 

Some homeowners decide that the best route is to simply hire a company that specializes in drying out flooring. If this is the direction you choose, ask them to sanitize and deodorize the floor as well. This will help eliminate the order and prevent future mold and mildew growth. 

Hardwood Flooring

If hardwood flooring has been damaged by water you'll notice signs of the following:

  • Dark Spots: Dark spots are generally an indication of mold or mildew. However, be careful, they can also be part of the wood's natural pattern. 
  • Cupping: When cupping occurs the edges of the floor planks will dip and raise, leaving the center of the board lower. In other words, forming a cup. 
  • Buckling: The floor planks are completely removed from the floor below.
  • Bulging: This is the opposite of cupping. The center of the floor plank will raise and form a crown shape, leaving the sides lower. 

How to Repair Hardwood Floors

Sometimes you can simply screw or nail the floor planks back into place. This is often an option if only a few boards are showing signs of water damage. 

However, if the damage was more extensive you'll likely need to replace each damaged floor plank, and sometimes it's necessary to replace an entire section of floor. Replacing damaged floor boards can be very time consuming.

If you hire a contractor, it's a good idea to have them write a bid to compare the two jobs: Repairing the damaged floor vs replacing the entire floor. Surprisingly, many times it's more cost-effective to put in a new floor!

Before purchasing matching wood, look around your house. Many builders leave the extra materials for homeowners to make future repairs.

Here's What to Do

  • First assess the damage. There's a point where it's more cost effective to replace the entire floor or at least a large section.
  • Cut into the floor with a saw and use a pry bar to remove the damaged floor planks. 
  • Replace and nail the new floor planks in place.
  • Sand the new and old floor planks until they match.
  • Apply several coats of stain.
  • Apply several coats of polyurethane finish. 
Varathane 200261H Water-Based Ultimate Polyurethane, Half Pint, Satin Finish
  • Protects indoor wood surfaces such as furniture, windows, cabinets, trim and more
  • Water based formula dries fast and cleans up with soap and water
  • Dries to the touch in 30 minutes with coverage up to 31.25 sq. ft., recoat after 2 hours
  • Durable formula provides outstanding stain and scratch resistance with excellent clarity
  • Satin finish provides a classic and natural look

Watch the Video:

Laminate Flooring

Laminate flooring will show the following signs when it's experienced water damage:

  • Discoloring: When you see discoloring in a laminate floor it could be a sign of mold or mildew.
  • Swelling: Swelling will typically be seen on the edges of the planks.
  • Warping: The planks will begin to bulge or cup because they are no longer flat.

How to Repair Laminate Floors

The material used under the water-resistant laminate finish is eager to absorb water. As the water is absorbed the material will swell and separate from the laminate finish. If the floor is totally immersed in water, the entire floor will need to be replaced. 

Generally laminate floors show signs of  water damage after a couple of days. Before you get too involved in the repair project be sure to accurately assess the damage. Many times it's more cost-effective to replace large sections or even the entire floor rather than each individual board.

Here's What to Do

  • Use fans and dehumidifiers to dry the floor as quickly as possible.
  • Remove the boards at the closest wall from the damaged area.
  • Inspect each removed board. Some may be able to be reused.

Carpet Flooring

When carpet flooring is water damaged it's common to notice these signs:

  • Odor: When carpeting has mold or mildew you'll frequently notice an odor.
  • Discoloration: If you notice any discoloring, it's most likely from mold or mildew.

If quickly dried, carpet can generally handle large amounts of water. However, if the flood goes undetected mold, mildew and even rot (wool carpets) can develop.

  • Rent a carpet cleaning machine. They are usually more powerful than household models and are capable of sucking more water from the carpet. 
  • Hiring a professional floor care company may even be a better choice as they use extremely powerful equipment.
  • If you have it professionally cleaned, be sure they clean, sanitize and deodorize the carpet once it's dry. 
  • On damaged carpet, you can try to replace a small section, especially if it's located where it won't be noticed. But be prepared to replace the carpet entirely. 

Tile Flooring

Tile flooring is very water resistant. However, damage can occur when water seeps thru the cracks in the grout.

Be on the lookout for the following signs:

  • Hollow Sound: Use a coin to tap on each tile. If you hear a hollow sound, the tile is loose.
  • Stains: Discoloration of any kind could be a sign of water damage.

The floor under the tile (subfloor) can experience damage if the water seeped thru the grout. When this happens, the wood will swell causing the tile and grout to crack. 

How to Repair Tile Floors

  • Dry the floor as quickly as possible, using fans and dehumidifiers. 
  • If you have a loose tile(s), lift the tile using a standard head screw driver.
  • Handle the tiles with care as they can be reused. They break fairly easily. 
  • Replace the tiles and match the grout as closely as possible.
  • If you have a cracked or broken tile look around your home before buying more. Many times contractors leave extras onsite.

In some cases the floor below the tile will be water damaged. If this is the case the subfloor will need to be repaired. See below for details

Linoleum and Vinyl Flooring

If you notice any type of discoloration on linoleum or vinyl flooring it could be an indication of water damage. However, both types of flooring are well suited to handle excess water. 

How to Repair Linoleum and Vinyl Floors

  • After removing all visible signs of water, use fans and heaters (increase the furnace temperature) to help dry the seepage that may have traveled thru to the subfloor.
  • If a section is damaged, use a utility knife and remove the area. Gently pry it from the floor with a flat head screw driver.
  • Use care when removing linoleum and vinyl flooring, as it can frequently be reused.

With linoleum and vinyl flooring the main concern is the water damage that may have occurred to the subfloor. If the subfloor is damaged, the wood will swell, and after it dries it might even shrink. In some cases it's necessary to replace a section of the subfloor. See below

Repairing a Subfloor

If you notice a "mushy" feel when you walk over the floor, there's a good chance that the subfloor has experienced water damage. It's also not uncommon to notice a "lift" in some areas. This is were the subfloor has expanded or become swollen with water. 

Most subfloors are constructed from Oriented Strand Board (OSB) or plywood. These materials are not very forgiving when it comes to flooding, so if they become water damaged it's often best to simply replace the area.  

The biggest concern with a concrete subfloor is that the area is thoroughly dried before the flooring is re-installed. Always keep a close watch for signs of mold. If you suspect that mold has developed within your subfloor it is usually best to call a professional.

How to Repair a Subfloor
  • Set a circular saw to a 1 inch depth and remove the damaged area.
  • Use a pry bar to remove any protruding nails.
  • Clean-up the debris with a vacuum.
  • Inspect under the subfloor for moisture. Do not move forward with repairs until the area is completely dried.
  • Build the floor frame with 2x6 lumber.
  • Cut a piece of 5/8" CDX plywood for your new subfloor.
  • Leave a 1/8" gap between the plywood and the existing subfloor. This will allow for expansion.
  • Nail down the new plywood to the floor framing with 8d nails, or use deck screws.

Watch the Video:

Managing Repair and Replacement Costs

Check your homeowner's insurance policy. Frequently policies cover water damage, and sometimes even if the damage was caused by human error! Your insurance agent will likely need to evaluate the situation.

It's a good idea to bring your insurance company into the discussion before starting any removal or repair work on large jobs. Policies will often cover the costs of water removal, flooring and subfloor replacement, and even hiring a professional cleaning company.

For smaller jobs it may be in your best interest to hire someone out-of-pocket or do the work yourself. Homeowner's insurance premiums tend to increase with each claim and it may not be worth the risk of your premium increasing.

Last update on 2024-03-01 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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