You understandably love your hardwood floors. They’re elegant, sophisticated, durable and long-lasting. For these reasons and more, you chose this type of flooring system in the first place for good reasons. But hardwood is susceptible to moisture and can warp and cup if you’re not careful. Here are some warning signs to look out for when it comes to your hardwood floors, whether you have them in your kitchen, living room, bedroom or throughout the house.

Moisture and Hardwood

Moisture and hardwood don’t go together very well. That’s why people don’t put them in the bathroom. Wood is a hygroscopic material, which means it absorbs and releases moisture until it can reach a fair balance with the surrounding environment. Too much moisture can foster the growth of mold and bacteria, which weakens the wood and poses health concerns for occupants.

The longer you let those moisture issues go without treatment, the worse they will get. Early detection is key, so be sure to regularly inspect your hardwood floors for these warning signs. This will ensure you don’t get surprised by costly repair bills down the line.

Signs of Moisture Damage

There are many identifiable signs of moisture infestation for your hardwood floors, such as:

  • Warping and Buckling: When excess moisture seeps underneath your hardwood and into the concrete subfloor, the resulting evaporating water has nowhere to go but into the wood floor above it, where it is absorbed. The wood then pulls away from the subfloor and separates. In the worst scenarios, the wood boards can peel away from the subfloor by many inches, usually as a result of prolonged exposure.
  • Cupping: Wood swells as it absorbs moisture. Over time, each board begins to push out at the edges and rise up higher than the middle of the board, which leaves an indentation running along the board. The result? A “wavy” look to your floors. You will be able to feel this cupping if you slide in stocking feet along your floor. It should be smooth, but if your feet catch, cupping is likely the culprit.
  • Crowning: This is the reverse problem. When more moisture is located in the middle of the wood board than the edges, the middle will rise up.
  • Cracks or Separations Between Boards: In the winter, you heat your home, which is great for your comfort but not so great for your floors. That artificial heat can cause humidity to fall, leading to shrinking boards with spaces between them as a result of moisture loss. These variations are normal and happen with the change in seasons, and should remedy themselves. But you should also do your part to monitor your home’s temperature and humidity level so you can take corrective action if necessary and minimize seasonal shifts. For example, you can easily add moisture to the air in winter by switching on a humidifier in the basement. In the summer, use a dehumidifier if the moisture levels get too high.

You can usually spot the above warning signs fairly easily with the naked eye, or at least feel them with your feet. If you have these issues addressed in a timely manner, the boards should return to their normal state. But if excessive moisture is involved and you leave the problem untreated, your wood floors may pass the point of repair. Your only recourse at that point is to replace them.

Some signs of excessive moisture, on the other hand, are not easily detectable because they happen behind the scenes. This includes leaks underneath the floor. These are dangerous because they’re invisible, and by the time you notice them, it could be too late. This can arise from many sources, such as a leaking appliance (think dishwasher or fridge), ground water intrusion via a vapor barrier, condensation or a concrete subfloor. This can do serious damage to your subfloor, says Bob Vila. The source can also originate from outdoors, such as from rain runoff due to poor grading into the foundation.

A decayed subfloor could also be to blame, which can lead to a spongy feeling when you walk on your hardwood floors. The average homeowner can’t determine these causes of moisture, which is where a hardwood flooring specialist comes in handy.

Early Warning Signs

Sometimes moisture problems can be caught at their earliest stages. If you catch these issues early, you can prevent or minimize the resulting damage. This is why regular inspection of your floors is critical as part of being a responsible homeowner who wants to keep costs down.

Early warning signs include:

  • Constant Condensation. When water droplets are allowed to form on the wood’s surface consistently, and you don’t notice any other apparent source, this means the board has too much moisture in it. High humidity levels in the home can lead to excessive condensation.
  • Discolored Finishes. Moisture can slightly discolor your wood flooring finish, resulting in a patchy appearance to the boards in comparison with others.
  • Musty Smells. The presence of bacteria and mold will give off a musty odor that is unmistakable.
  • Pest Infestation. Pests such as termites love wood with lots of moisture in it. If you notice sudden pest infestation, this could be a sign of excess moisture in your wood.

To make an exact determination of the cause of excess moisture in your floors, it’s important to consult with a professional. They can run the necessary tests and use their industry knowledge to make a definitive diagnosis and suggest the best treatment. For example, they can use a wood moisture meter to determine moisture content.

Contact Designer Wood Flooring

To learn more about the warning signs associated with your hardwood floors, or to schedule repair or refinishing, contact us in Southeast Texas or San Antonio today or visit our showroom in Spring Branch. We can help you determine the cause of your hardwood floor problems and suggest the ideal solution.