True hardwood, hardwood that is at least ¾-inch thick, is very resilient to permanent water damage. True hardwood is a solid wood material, usually with grooves (flutes) on the underside. Don’t be confused by imitators like laminate, parquet, or engineered (plywood base with a thin layer of hardwood on top) hardwood. These imitators damage easily and are less likely able to be saved.
Even though hardwood is resilient to water damage, there are times when saving a hardwood floor is not recommended:
1. As hardwood flooring absorbs water, the individual planks begin to expand. This expansion is usually first noticeable as cupping. Because the edges of the plank absorb moisture first, the edges expand upward. As both edges expand upward, a cup-like shape is formed. The real problem is that as the edges expand upward, the planks also expand across their width. Once a hardwood floor has absorbed enough moisture, this width expansion will cause the floor to begin to buckle as the planks come into contact with the walls of the room and have no further room to expand. Buckling is when the hardwood planks raise upward and away from the subfloor and/or each other. Once a hardwood floor is buckled, it may not be able to be saved without considerable time, money, and labor.
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2. Once buckling occurs, the planks have moved upward. This upward movement will sometimes loosen or partially pull the nails holding the hardwood to the subfloor. These nails can prevent the floor from ever being as flat as it was when the floor was originally installed. The floor may even emit creaks, squeaks, or noises as it is walked on. This is due to the fact that it is no longer securely anchored to the subfloor.
4. If there is damage to the subfloor, the hardwood must be removed to enable repair of the subfloor.