Stop Tearing Out Hardwood Floors!

September 1, 2006
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If you've read my articles before, you know that I lean toward minimally invasive drying. This article is no different: if you're a contractor who thinks he can make more money by replacing and repairing, put down the magazine and go get busy with your sledgehammer. If you want to make more money, save your customers money and help save the planet, read on.

The Basics

True hardwood flooring is very resilient to water damage. True hardwood flooring is the kind that is at least ¾-inch thick, solid wood material with grooves (or flutes) underneath. Beware of imitators, including laminate flooring, parquet flooring, and engineered hardwood (plywood with a hardwood top). Imitation hardwood is more costly to dry, damages easily, and is less likely to be saved.

It is actually very easy to recognize physical damage in hardwood flooring. Damage will be seen either in buckling of the hardwood or displacement of the surrounding structure. Buckling is when the hardwood raises up and away from the floor itself, making little "mountains" of hardwood. Displacement of structure is when the entire floor spreads further than the boundaries of the room, pushing walls and other structure out of the way.

Cupping is the most common result of water intrusion on a hardwood floor. Cupping is temporary, and will disappear when the wood is dried. For more information on cupping (and all things hardwood), visit the National Oak Flooring Manufacturers Association Web site at www.nofma.com.

Should Hardwood Be Dried?

There are actually times not to save a hardwood floor. Contaminated water losses are the prime example. Because there is no way to clean the contamination from between the subsurface and the hardwood, the hardwood must be removed. Also, if there is damage to the subsurface (particle board, etc.) the hardwood must be removed to repair the surface.

However, when hardwood can be saved, the benefits are tremendous. Money and time are saved by the customer, solving two of their biggest problems. Drying hardwood requires specialized drying tools, which means equipment rental for the restorer. Also, the more hardwood that is saved, the less hardwood that ends up in landfills and the more trees continue to grow (and more oxygen for us to breathe!).

Some of you readers may be saying "But I make money on the re-installation." Maybe you do, but where do you make more money? On drying equipment or on overhead and profit of re-installation? Of course you make more money on drying equipment.

How Can Hardwood Be Dried?

Drying hardwood has become much easier in the past couple of years since the introduction of drying mat systems. The first step in drying is much like any other drying procedure: extract. To extract, place the mat system on the affected area and hook up the hoses to a truck-mounted or portable extractor. This will pull liquid water from the subsurface. Leave the extractor hooked up until no more liquid water is being removed from the floor. This may take from 30 minutes to several hours, depending on the floor and the amount of water present.

After extraction is complete, attach an inter-air dryer set on vacuum mode to the mats. The system will begin the process of removing the moisture in vapor form from the subsurface. As the mats and dryer pull air from below the floor, it is replaced with drier air from above the surface of the floor. This is the mechanism of drying, and it will take several days.

The process can be sped up a number of ways, including:

  • Providing drier air above the floor with desiccant dehumidifiers.
  • Concentrating the dry air above the floor using a tent above the mats and floor.
  • Drying from below along with drying from above.

Don't Bother...

Don't bother attempting to dry hardwood floors without low-grain refrigerant dehumidifiers or desiccants. Refrigerant dehumidifiers are simply not able to get the air dry enough, fast enough. Also, don't bother simply blowing air across the top of the wood. Using low-pressure air movers above the floor doesn't help the floor dry. And don't bother trying to dry by forcing air into the floor with a standard air mover; they just don't have enough pressure to blow under the flutes.

 

Be Sure The Floor Is Dry

The rest of the drying process is marked by daily monitoring and equipment adjustment. On the first day of the drying job, determine the dry standard of the hardwood and subsurface by measuring an unaffected area in the structure. Each day thereafter, monitor the moisture content of the floor and subsurface and document progress. Adjust drying equipment to the wettest areas, which almost always ends up being the most cupped areas.

There are many meter technologies that make monitoring hardwood flooring easier. Non-invasive moisture meters indicate the relative moisture of the floor without leaving marks. Be sure that your meter is "seeing" the whole depth of the floor, as many non-invasive meters only read ¾-inch deep. Since the floor is over 1.5-inches deep, the meter may miss wet areas. Consider using non-invasive meters from both sides of the floor, or using a penetrating meter from below the floor. In some cases, a hammer probe with a penetrating moisture meter may be used from above, and the holes will be repaired.

 

Get Paid

Once the floor is dry and the final readings are written in your job file, it's time to finish the process. If holes were made in the floor during the monitoring process, they will need to be repaired. If the floor surface is affected in some way, other resurfacing may be necessary. Contact a good furniture repair company or hardwood refinisher to complete the process.

Finally, invoice the customer, get paid, design a brochure with before-and-after pictures of the job, including quotes from the customer, get lots more jobs, get rich, buy a boat, donate money, retire on the lake...

 

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