Major storms like Sandy can cause extensive water damage to hardwood floors, but panicked homeowners should not rush to replace what appears to be beyond repair.
"Sometimes if you let it dry out, it will return to its original shape," said Steve White, owner of Elegant Floor Services in Silver Spring.
Homeowners should dry visible water immediately after floors get wet, White said, whether that requires pumping water out or simply mopping and toweling it up. Sometimes floors that appear dry to the naked eye can be soaked and the job might require industrial-size fans and other equipment that removes water beneath the wood, down into the subfloor.
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Homeowners may need a professional service to come in to measure moisture in the subfloor. Putting a new floor over one that still has moisture can lead to mold, mildew and other moisture-related issues.
"Even if you're going to replace the boards, you can't rip up the damaged boards to reveal a soaking-wet subfloor and then install new material down over that," White said.
If the floor can be saved it is often worth the effort ?-- especially since flood damage may not be covered by insurance. Homeowners need to check their policy to see what, if any, water damage is covered, including damage from plumbing leaks or normal rain that seeps in through a foundation crack.
"Flood damage is not covered under a typical homeowner policy," said Anna Bryant, a spokeswoman for State Farm Insurance.
Once the wood is deemed completely dry, White said the location of the damage and type of finish determine what should happen next. With wood finished on-site, even if you're only replacing a few boards, it's best to sand and refinish the entire space to give the wood an even, like-new appearance.
If replacing parts of a floor becomes necessary, Tom Bresnahan, vice president of Arlandria Floors in Alexandria, said manufacturers of prefinished boards keep some woods available for 10 years before they are switched out with different styles and colors.
A lot depends on the breadth of the damage. "If it is a small space, say 2-by-2 feet, we can do repairs," Bresnahan said. "If it's more than 50 percent of the space, it's more cost-effective to rip out and replace."
White said that if water gets into a floor, seeping through it and underneath, it will take time to dry, so be patient. "if the problem is tolerable ... live with it a couple of months."