Who Pays for Moisture-Related Flooring Failures?

Picture this scenario:

A husband and wife decided to replace some tile flooring in their home with white oak wood flooring and hired a contractor to do the work.

In the months after the installation, though, calamity struck. The homeowners shared their experience on Hardwood Flooring Talk:1

“We immediately began noticing cupping of the new floors…throughout the new flooring.”

They called the contractor, and so the detective work began. Was there a leak? A source of high humidity? Did the subfloor have excessive moisture?

The answer seemed to be no for all these questions.

But there was one possible problem:

“The installer that was subcontracted brought the new boards to the work site and installed them within 24 hrs. There was no dedicated in-home acclimation period.”

So, who will pay for this flooring failure caused by not acclimating and testing for moisture? That’s the question that you, as a flooring installer, have to consider as you do your work and deal with clients.

It depends on many factors, such as the cause of the moisture, the type of flooring, and the terms of warranties or contracts. Let’s look at the possibilities so that you can know how to handle situations that come your way. We’ll cover:

Read to the end to also learn how you can protect yourself against liability for a moisture issue.

(Please note: This article is not intended as legal advice. Please consult legal or insurance professionals to determine who is liable in a specific situation.)

The Manufacturer

Orion 950 wood moisture meter in use

Measure the moisture content of wood as soon as you receive it so that you can report an issue before it gets worse.

The manufacturer usually won’t cover moisture damage, though it depends on the product’s warranty. If a moisture issue occurs due to a defect in the flooring material, then the manufacturer might take responsibility.

For example, if the manufacturer guaranteed that the floorboards would be at a certain moisture content, it might be responsible if they don’t have that moisture content on arrival at the jobsite.

However, even then, the warranty may require that any issues be reported before installation. This means the general contractor or installer should check the moisture content of the boards at the time of delivery and alert the manufacturer of any issues.

The Builder or General Contractor

As noted in the previous section, the builder or general contractor (GC) may be responsible for failing to check for defects when materials first arrive.

And if a moisture problem occurs due to an issue with the subfloor—such as too high of moisture levels in a concrete slab—the responsibility will, in some cases, fall on the GC. But if not, the installer may be left with the bill. We’re going to talk about that next.

The Installer

Man installing hardwood floor in living room

In some cases, the installer may be responsible for the cost of flooring failures.

If a moisture problem happens due to improper installation, the installer or flooring contractor typically pays.

That was the case with our story above, and the contractor agreed to fix the problem at his cost.

These kinds of issues can occur if the installer fails to check the moisture content of the floorboards or subfloor and acclimate them to their final environment. They can also occur if the installer doesn’t properly seal the subfloor or use the correct adhesive.

If the flooring manufacturer provides specific humidity requirements for installation, the installer is also responsible for ensuring these conditions are followed (and helping the customer do so).2

Of course, you may have liability insurance to protect yourself, but you also care about good customer service. So, if a problem occurs, you may step in and fix the issue to save your reputation.

But why not avoid the issues in the first place? We have some tips below to help you do just that.

Homeowner’s Insurance

Homeowner’s insurance policies may cover the cost of repair or replacement in the event of flooding or major leaks.

Progressive’s policies generally cover water damage that’s sudden and accidental. This includes:3

  • Pipe leaks/breaks
  • Other plumbing issues
  • Issues with household appliances

It also depends on how long the issue has been happening. For example, the policy may not cover leaks that have been going on for more than 14 days.

The Homeowner

cupping and cracked hardwood floor

Homeowner negligence can cause flooring failure, like cupping.

Homeowners are responsible for moisture issues caused by negligence or failure to care for their floors.

If you, the installer, instructed them to keep their home environment at a certain temperature and humidity level, but they failed to do so, the cost of repairs falls on them.

Properly educating them on how to care for their floor and keep environmental conditions consistent can prevent these situations. So can equipping them with a floor moisture data logger.

We’ll look at some more suggestions in the next section.

How to Protect Yourself Against Liability as a Flooring Contractor

Flooring contractors bear a lot of the responsibility for moisture-related flooring damage, but thankfully, you can avoid much damage by doing proper moisture testing before installing the floor.

Use a pinless wood moisture meter to test the moisture content of both the flooring and the subfloor.

The readings of the flooring should be very close to the environmental moisture levels, known as the equilibrium moisture content (EMC). A simple EMC chart can help you determine what that number should be in your area, though having a moisture meter with an EMC sensor/calculation built in (like the Orion 950) can give you more precise results for the region and specific building.

Orion 950

The Orion 950 can calculate EMC in a given space.

Per the National Wood Flooring Association, a wood subfloor should be within 2–4% moisture content of the floor. If the subfloor is a concrete slab, perform relative humidity testing to get an accurate picture of moisture in the whole slab (rather than just the surface). Follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for the relative humidity level you should aim for.

By testing for moisture, you’ll be able to avoid many costly and time-consuming mistakes.

We also recommend having a way to keep a record of the testing you’ve done. Some moisture meters, like the Orion 950 pinless meter, will send your readings to a smartphone app from which you can print reports if you need them. These reports will come in handy for protecting yourself against moisture issues you didn’t cause.

And finally, you can also help your clients protect their floors post-installation with an in-floor humidity sensor. Floor Sentry, a small logger that goes into the underside of a floorboard, allows homeowners to keep track of the moisture conditions of the floor and subfloor from their phones. If conditions go out of an acceptable range, they’ll immediately receive an alert so they can adjust the environment as needed.

This way, you put the care of the floor into the hands of your clients, and they’ll be much less likely to experience moisture-related issues.

Sounds like a win for everyone involved!

Visit our shop or contact us to learn how you can protect your business and installation work.

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