Flooring Horror Stories—Don’t Let Them Happen to You

Don’t let your beautiful hardwood flooring project become a horror story! Always pay attention to moisture.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before:

A flooring crew installs a gorgeous nail-down hardwood floor and within a short amount of time…nearly every plank shows signs of cupping.

How could it all go wrong so quickly? The crew built up a plywood subfloor system on the concrete slab utilizing industry-recommended methods and then installed the hardwood flooring.

Well, the first mistake was that the crew didn’t evaluate the moisture condition of the subfloor. After they started ripping up the newly installed hardwood floor, they learned the concrete and plywood had moisture levels that were way too high!

Perhaps the crew also forgot to let the hardwood acclimate to the environment before installing it. If they did forget, they hit a double-whammy that guarantees moisture-related flooring failure!

Don’t Be That Flooring Crew

Rapid RH L6 concrete moisture testing

Remember to assess the moisture condition of the concrete subfloor.

Everyone swaps jobsite stories, but you don’t want to be the one telling this kind of flooring horror story. You want to be the flooring professional who tells stories about how smoothly you handled a client pushing to install the hardwood flooring quickly when you knew the moisture condition of the concrete subfloor wasn’t conducive for a successful flooring installation.

Let’s face it—most hardwood flooring horror stories come down to moisture.

Hardwood flooring moisture issues might become apparent quickly, or they may take months. But in most cases, the underlying cause of the moisture failure was present during the installation. Typically, one of a few mistakes leads to moisture-related problems:

  1. The wood didn’t get enough time to acclimate to the installation location.
  2. Nobody checked the subfloor for moisture issues or addressed any moisture issues that were found.
  3. The design of the installation didn’t account for the risks of water coming from external sources.

Quantifying the Costs of Each Moisture Horror Story

A hardwood floor can get deformed from both too much or too little moisture. Cupping and swelling show up when the floor absorbs too much moisture. On the other hand, the boards will crack and shrink if dry air sucks too much moisture out of them because the boards were wetter than the target moisture content for the area.

The moisture damage also affects your schedule and your bottom line. When moisture damage appears in the hardwood floor, you now have to invest time and team effort to investigate and come up with a solution. That’s unpaid time. And if you scheduled another job during that time, you’ll have a waiting, frustrated customer.

If you take the steps necessary to manage moisture at the start of the project, before installing the hardwood floor, your project plan can account for the possibility that extra drying or acclimation time might be needed. When you know that going in, you can better plan for contingencies, like using that time to start on the next job.

When you wait until moisture damage appears, you not only have to wait for extra drying time—which wasn’t on your schedule—but you might also have the additional time and costs of ripping up the hardwood floor and reinstalling it.

That’s a costly hit on your wallet, your time management, and your reputation.

Make Moisture Measurement a Part of Your Standard Worklist

Orion 930 in use on floor

Always use a pinless moisture meter to be sure your wood is fully acclimated prior to installation.

One thing that’s so frustrating about moisture horror stories is how easily they could be avoided. Build time into your standard work plan to evaluate the moisture condition of the subfloor and underlayment (assuming it’s a material that holds moisture). Schedule delivery of the hardwood with enough time for it to acclimate to its service surroundings.

Always have the right moisture measurement tools so you can make an accurate evaluation. For concrete subfloors, that means using an in situ relative humidity (RH) sensor. Only the RH moisture test can determine the true moisture condition within the concrete. Other tests only measure surface moisture conditions, which can’t tell you about moisture that may push to the concrete surface later on and destroy your hardwood installation.

You also want a pinless wood moisture meter to make sure the hardwood floor is fully acclimated. Use a pinless meter and not a pin meter so the moisture testing doesn’t mar the beauty of the hardwood boards by leaving pinholes all over them. A pinless moisture meter also lets you measure much more quickly and accurately.

Don’t let moisture make you the villain in a flooring horror story that might ruin your reputation. Use trusted moisture testing systems from Wagner Meters to be well-prepared before your flooring installation.

Looking to install wood flooring yourself? Check out our DIY How to Install Wood Floors.

Last updated on February 19th, 2024

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