Identifying common engineered hardwood flooring water damage
Like solid hardwood floors, damage to engineered hardwood floors can be the result of either a one time water event or an ongoing issue. Many times the damage is the result of a combination of both.
Wood floors are susceptible to moisture and many may have been damaged prior to the single event that finally required action to be taken. Other times, previous moisture damage is the result of an ongoing issue that was ignored but finally broke loose with claim worthy damages.
It can be difficult to tell the difference.
Let’s take a look at some common types of hardwood flooring damage and their causes.
Small cracks in the surface of the finish running parallel to each other, along the direction of the grain. They may be barely visible and felt as small ridges across the surface of the finish, or may be more visible. Cracks cover the entire surface from edge to edge of the board or plank in the affected area.
Usually due to topical moisture exposure but can also result from subterranean moisture.
This is something that you may see if a washing machine or toilet overflowed onto an engineered wood floor. When a large volume of water comes into contact with the surface of pre-finished engineered wood flooring, the wood fibers will expand. This causes the less flexible factory finish to fail because it can only expand with the wood to a certain point before fracturing. This can happen with solid wood also, but solid wood will cup. Cupping is due to an expansion of the lower part of a wood plank; the surface will not expand as much as the underside due to trapped water soaking the wood cells in the bottom section of the plank.
Engineered wood responds to moisture in the same way, but only appears to respond differently because the grain in the various wood veneer layers do not all run in the same direction. This adds stability to the wood plank and can result in a saturated plank that expands, but remains fairly flat. This expansion tears the factory finish apart in the direction of the wood grain.
Subterranean moisture can do this also, but when the moisture source is below the floor, there are usually other signs that are noticed before the condition of the finish. For example, peaked ends, delamination, discoloration, or even buckling. The photo below of an engineered plank with “peaked ends” is actually a better photo of a cracked finish than the photo above, because when a finish is badly cracked there are usually more severe problems, in the case of the photo below, that problem is peaking. The photo above is a good example of minor cracking and the photo below of more severe cracking with peaked ends.
Water loss related?:
Can be but not always.
Cleaning solutions or moisture from cleaning, steam cleaners or too much water. Normal wear and tear involving moisture such as wet feet or pets. High humidity in the home.
Ends of boards or planks are lifted to form a small peak.
Moisture absorption causing the engineered hardwood flooring to swell. Unlike solid hardwood which expands more in width than in length, engineered hardwood flooring will expand equally in all directions. This causes the weakest connection to the substrate, the ends of planks, to detach from it’s substrate, the engineered plies to de-laminate or both, causing the ends to lift.
There are a few ways for this to happen. The entire planks may have expanded due to moisture intrusion, or only the ends may have swollen. When a floor absorbs too much moisture, the plank will expand, causing damage due to compression. If moisture levels are not elevated enough to cause this sort pressure, moisture can still absorb into the ends and sides of planks. The result is similar, the plank ends have less bonding area than the sides, so the ends tend to peak before the sides do. That’s why this problem can occur from cleaning with too much liquid, or from a minor spill. Moisture testing can help determine if it’s a major problem.
Water loss related?:
Can be but not always. Both slab leaks and surface moisture will cause engineered hardwood flooring to expand or plank ends to swell. Cleaning products and incidental spills can work their way down into plank ends, causing swelling.
Engineered layers (usually the top layer) separate from each other.
Manufacturing: Delamination can occur due to manufacturing problems with adhesive; either insufficient adhesive coverage, a bad batch of adhesive, or problems with the manufacturing process.
Water loss: Delamination can result from all sorts of water related issues. Basically, a considerable amount of moisture intrusion can lead to delamination, and some engineered hardwood floors hold up better than others. There are those that consistently perform better than others (in my experience), but I have been surprised to see extremely low priced floors hold up quite well where some high end floors have fallen apart. Regardless, no engineered hardwood floor is meant to withstand flooding.
There are obvious reasons why an engineered hardwood floor would delaminate after becoming wet. The real problem with delamination, is it can happen once a floor is dried and appears to have been saved. This is usually due to over drying, although the adhesives probably weren’t as they should be after they became wet in the first-place. A floor may look like it survived the flood, but now that the adhesive has lost some of its strength, it’s not up to the challenge of the expansion and contraction every wood floor will face. Especially if the adhesive has been compromised.