Working with Restoration Companies: Wood Floors Can Be Saved!

Historically, when hardwood flooring is damaged by water, it was a foregone conclusion that the material would be torn out and replaced. What if the water-damaged hardwood floor could be saved, though?

That’s a question that few restoration industry pros asked themselves. Even 20 years ago, restoration technology had advanced to a point that moisture could be physically removed from wet hardwood flooring. This fact was largely ignored by the restoration industry and the insurance community because tear-out and replacement was “how it has always been done” and the process of restoring hardwood flooring in-place still needed a lot of trial-and-error refinement. Very few restoration companies were interested in investing the time required, or had the willingness to take on a challenge this big.

Our company, ACR Inc., has always been committed to staff education in restoration techniques and drying standards. Our restorers learned all about the then-current knowledge base from the most-advanced thinkers in restoration. We looked outside of the restoration industry as well, reaching out to the NWFA to better understand the characteristics of various hardwoods, the wide variety of installation approaches, mill standards, and more.

We benefited with highly qualified staff, which was the prime goal of all of this valuable education provided by NWFA, but something else happened too. Our key people suspected that the sophisticated techniques that they learned could be adapted and controlled to dry water-damaged hardwood flooring without removal and without damage to the wood flooring. If this was possible, and if it could be done consistently, two things would happen. First, insurance carriers could satisfy their policy’s claim at a much lower cost. Second, property owners could experience far less inconvenience. After all, tearing out and replacing a hardwood floor in an average residential loss can take months.

Experiments and refinements were producing positive results; more and more hardwood floors were saved by controlling the material’s moisture content downward to equilibrium level. More and more facility managers, buildings and grounds people, and adjusters assigned to their losses began to see for themselves that the problem can be solved through mitigation rather than replacement.

Our biggest breakthroughs came on a large scale. Our company has long had a large client list in the educational sector – school districts, colleges, and universities – virtually all of them have at least one hardwood gym floor. Water losses hit gym floors far more often than you’d guess, so this was a great opportunity to develop and improve hardwood floor drying processes for the future.

Based on the great relationships we’ve enjoyed with fellow NWFA members, we know that we all share a common goal in helping hardwood flooring remain as a top material selection. Hardwood flooring is a natural, sustainable material that can last for decades and longer. We’re very proud that ACR provides value by supporting product longevity, adding years of use through restorative drying.

When an average high school gym floor is “damaged” by a water loss, and tear-out/replacement is ordered, a 7,000 square feet floor costs upward to (and often beyond) $250,000 to replace. Applying restorative drying can reduce the cost to regain use to about 15 percent to 20 percent of the replacement cost. This cost savings is shocking, but we learned that the real win for the client is reduced loss of use. Tearing out the damaged boards, repairing and drying the subfloor system and substrate, weeks of acclimation for the new flooring boards…three months can easily be lost. However, it’s not only gym classes that are affected, it’s intramural sports, assemblies, even third-party rentals. Revenue is lost, expensive extra workload to reschedule all that can be, tournaments cancelled – it’s a cascading nightmare of complications and expensive alternate locations. It’s actually loss of use that the client truly fears.

Today, with our skill level rising every time we save a floor, we can dry that same, typical gym floor and return it to full use in two weeks – often less. With cost lowered by 80 percent and operational loss of use reduced by 85 percent, restorative drying is a rather obvious advantage.

Several situations can prevent restorative drying from succeeding. When the wood floor buckles away from the substrate, or if it remains wet for too long, the wood will lose the resiliency needed to return to equilibrium moisture content. We call that being beyond the restoration threshold. Plus, we’ve discovered that a number of hardwood gym floor installations don’t follow installation guidelines. Others were installed long before standards were commonly followed. So, while conditions don’t need to be perfect to allow for a successful restoration, there are limitations.

Many major insurance carriers, adjusters and claims people, facility operations managers, and others count on this technology to bring their loss back for all the reasons mentioned. Even now, drying water damaged hardwood flooring in-place is still not very well known as a possible solution. It’s still not a common skillset for restoration companies, as it takes years to become skilled in applying these techniques. Plus the education needed as a basis is very expensive.

All of us who associate ourselves with the NWFA are here ultimately to serve our clients and help solve their problems. For example, gym floor installers (who aren’t making money unless they’re installing or reinstalling floors) rely on repeat customers and their referrals to stay in business. They can strongly reinforce their relationships by suggesting restorative drying to save the client time and money, rather than an assumed reinstall. That client’s value goes way beyond this one floor; it’s the five more floors being added in the district over the next two years.

Based on the great relationships we’ve enjoyed with fellow NWFA members, we know that we all share a common goal in helping hardwood flooring remain as a top material selection. Hardwood flooring is a natural, sustainable material that can last for decades and longer. We’re very proud that ACR provides value by supporting product longevity, adding years of use through restorative drying.

We are continuously refining and advancing restorative drying for water-damaged hardwood floors. We continue to seek input from fellow NWFA members and invite you to turn to us as a resource for our specialty restoration knowledge. In the end, the value we all bring – mills, architects, suppliers, installers, and restorers – depends on our collaboration as a complete solution for our clients.

Joel Kaufman is a writer for ACR Inc. in Wheeling, Illinois. Call 866.645.1165 or email info@ACRrestores.com for more information.

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