I was called out to inspect a floor that had replaced the existing flood-damaged floor. The flooding was caused by a plumbing leak from a bathroom on the upper floor above the kitchen.
The damage from the water loss was quite extensive, damaging the sheetrock and flooding the floor. The flood was discovered July 5 when the homeowners returned from a trip. They immediately called their insurance company and a restoration company to deal with the damage. The following day, the restoration company brought fans and dehumidifiers to the home. The next week, the fans and dehumidifiers were removed, plastic was hung to isolate the kitchen from the rest of the house, and they began to remove the damaged sheet rock. The homeowners moved into an apartment when the demolition began on July 13.
Construction was delayed and the lighting fixtures were replaced in mid-August. Sheet rock replacement and painting were completed September 12. On September 19, the large contents within the home were removed in preparation for the floor removal and replacement. On September 20, the flooring was removed, and the installation of new wood was completed September 23. The sanding of the floors started the next day, and the last coat of finish was applied September 27.
The homeowners moved back into the home on October 18. In early December, they contacted the flooring contractor to alert him of what they considered to be excessive gapping between the side joints of their flooring. The flooring contractor explained to the homeowner that the gapping was due to the unseasonably cold and dry weather. He agreed to visit the home, but he never did.
In speaking with the restoration company, they stated they were responsible for overseeing the entire renovation, but left evaluation, preparation, and installation of the flooring in the hands of the flooring contractor. They did not perform any moisture tests, nor did they record relative humidity (RH) levels in the home. I tried to contact the flooring contractor, but he did not respond. It was unknown whether the contractor performed any of these tests.
The new flooring that was installed was a 3¼” wide by ¾” thick random length solid vertical grain Fir to match the existing floors in the home. The flooring was installed over a solid board subfloor laid diagonally over the floor joists with an unfinished basement beneath it. There were several gaps (of different widths) observed throughout the new installation, and crowning was also observed in an adjacent room that was not directly affected by the flooding. The existing floors (that were unaffected by the flood) were tight, with no gaps.
On the day of inspection, RH was observed to be in a range of 47 percent to 49 percent. The RH of the unfinished basement was 51 percent to 55 percent, moisture content of the flooring in the affected areas ranged from 9.3 percent to 11 percent. The subfloor was also tested for its moisture content, which ranged from 10 percent to 12 percent. Individual board widths were also measured, and they ranged from 3.217 inches (8.17 cm) to 3.244 inches (8.24 cm). The gaps between the boards ranged from .03 inches (.8mm) to .08 inches (2.01mm).
The gapping of this floor was the result of improperly aligning the conditions in the home and in the subfloor, with the moisture content of the flooring. There was no documentation of what the moisture content of the subfloor or the wood flooring was prior to or during installation. The restoration company placed dehumidifiers and fans in the area for a few days, but we don’t know what the moisture content of the floor was after the floor was flooded, nor what it was when they removed the equipment. The flooring was never removed until the new floor was to be installed so it’s not known if moisture was trapped between the flooring and subflooring. The evidence of crowning in unaffected areas suggests that the floor was slightly cupped when it was sanded. The existing floors were tight, and the homeowners stated that the kitchen floor looked the same as the rest of the floors prior to the flood. Some of the larger gaps observed with this floor were also attributed to sidebonding (when localized gaps develop between flooring boards while adjacent groupings of boards remain tightly bonded together with no apparent separations (often caused when the finish gets between the boards and bonds them together).
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It’s imperative to perform a proper evaluation of a jobsite prior to commencing with an installation or sand and finish job. Especially when the jobsite has had an unusual event, like a flood. Acclimation is not a matter of time; it is a matter of moisture content difference between the subfloor and the flooring in relation to the anticipated living conditions of the home when it is in use.
The flooring should have been removed long before it was, so that any trapped moisture would have time to dry out, and if a proper evaluation was performed, this issue would have
Kjell Nymark is the certification and training manager for the National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA) in St. Louis. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.