Should You Repair or Replace Water-Damaged Wood Floors

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Man installing wooden floor

The worst has happened: you’ve come home to discover water-damaged wood floors due to a burst pipe or a leaky sink. Is it time to figure out how to install engineered hardwood flooring on your own, or is it possible to simply repair the affected boards?

The answer to this question depends on a variety of factors. Considering that 14K people in the US experience an at-home water damage emergency each day, there are many different circumstances that need to be evaluated.

We know hardwood floor water damage is a huge disruption to your life, so let’s quickly jump into the aspects that point either to a new floor installation or easy water-damage repairs.

Question 1: How Long Ago Did It Happen?

The first thing you need to ascertain is how long ago the flooding/water damage occurred. If the water made contact within the past few hours, you may be able to clean up the spill with minimal effects on your floors.

However, if you were out of town and the water had more than a couple of hours to sit, perhaps even days, your floors are in trouble. The longer the water can do its damage, the more likely it is that you’ll need to entirely replace your hardwood flooring.

If you’re not exactly sure when the damage occurred, here are some signs that the water has had too much time to wreak havoc:

  1. The floors are stained and discolored
  2. Some boards are buckling/cupping
  3. Nails are popping out of lifted boards
  4. Mold has begun to grow

The first indication that the floors need to be replaced is usually their shape. Although the boards might seem dry, if a hump forms or the floor starts to cup, you’re likely looking at a situation that’s beyond simple repairs. It’s time to pull out your laptop and start searching for a “how to install engineered hardwood flooring” guide.

Better yet – it’s time to contact your local hardwood flooring company for expert assistance.

Question 2: What Was the Water Source?

Another aspect that determines whether you can repair your floors or not is the type of water that caused the damage. Many people don’t know this, but there are actually four types of water that can cause serious problems.

Clean Water

Girl in rubber glove fixing pipe in bathroom

This first type is your best bet when it comes to repairing rather than replacing. Clean water is devoid of harmful bacteria. In most cases, it comes from your sink, faucet, bathtub, shower, or maybe even a hose. As long as it hasn’t been exposed to dangerous chemicals or dirty materials, you have a chance to remove the water quickly and replace the damaged areas.


Unfortunately, when your dishwasher or clothes washer leaks, it’s probably not releasing clean liquid. Greywater, also referred to simply as “dirty water,” has been contaminated. These contaminants might not be super dangerous, but they’re enough to make the water questionable. Think bleach, detergents, food particles, etc.

Because this water isn’t as safe, your chances of being able to replace the damaged floors decrease. Talk to a restoration specialist to understand what risk your boards have been exposed to.

Keep in mind that originally clean water can turn into greywater when left unattended for more than a few hours. The more materials the water comes into contact with, the dirtier it becomes.


Next on the list is blackwater, the most dangerous type of water damage your floors can encounter. This liquid comes from contaminated sources such as overflowing toilets, backed-up sewage systems, nearby streams, etc. It’s considered dangerous because blackwater contains harmful bacteria (pathogens) that can cause diseases in humans and animals.

When your floors are exposed to blackwater, especially for long periods of time, you’ll most likely have to pay for new installation rather than repairs.


Although saltwater is not dangerous to humans, it is extremely harsh on your floors. If you experience flooding from an ocean, or even if you tip over a saltwater tank indoors, your floors could take on serious finish damage.

The faster the saltwater is cleaned up, the better chance you have of simply being able to re-stain the floors rather than having to reinstall. Still, don’t be surprised by how quickly saltwater can cause irreversible damage.

At the end of the day, remember that your insurance company may or may not cover any of these types of water damage. It’s up to you to check your policy to see what repairs/installations are covered based on the type of water accident. Since 2005, the number of water-damage claims has increased at a rate of 2 percent, but that doesn’t guarantee your coverage.

Also, if you’re feeling disheartened by the type of water damage you’ve experienced on your floors, keep in mind that installations are sometimes cheaper than repairs. Just because you need to start from scratch doesn’t mean you’re necessarily facing the more expensive route.

Question 3: How Bad Is the Visible Damage?

As we talked about in question one, visible damage can appear on your floors when the water has had enough time to take effect. Even if the problem was caused by “clean” water, you need to watch out for these major signs of permanent floor damage:


When boards are forced together by built-up moisture, it results in “crowning.” You will likely see boards sticking out or shrinking. You’ll even see the boards raise up in the center, forming a sort of hill or mound. This is a serious problem area, and in most cases, the floors will need to be replaced to deal with the cupping.

Destruction of parquet in apartment


In rare instances, the water damage is so severe that the individual boards of the floor will stick out. This is the most extreme form of physical damage due to water, which means your hardwood floors will almost certainly need to be completely replaced.


If you notice that your water-damaged floors are beginning to lose their color, you’re likely dealing with staining. You may see whitish circles, which indicate mild damage that could be addressed with repairs and refinishing.

However, if you see dark black stains, the water has infiltrated the floorboards. You’ll either need to conduct major repairs or completely remove the boards altogether.


Lastly, cupping occurs when your hardwood floors expand and become uneven on the edges. It’s essentially the opposite of crowning. This can cause serious problems going forward, so your best choice is most likely to have new floors installed before things get worse.

To prevent these physical problems from occurring after water damage, you’ll need plenty of fans, blowers, and dehumidifiers to minimize the moisture. Even then, it might be too late – once the water has had time to enter the wood, the damage is done.

Question 4: Are You in a Hurry?

The next thing you need to consider is your timeline. If you have plenty of time to spend repairing your wood floor’s water damage, then you might not need to schedule a new hardwood flooring installation. However, if you have children and pets running around frequently, you likely want a fix much sooner.

Rather than learning how to install engineered hardwood flooring on your own, we recommend having floors in high-traffic areas professionally replaced as quickly as possible. Not only will this restore your home to its original state, but it will also lower the risk of your family’s exposure to sharp wood edges, buckles, mold, and other dangers.

It’s always better to get a professional to install flooring than to waste weeks or even months doing so yourself. Do yourself – and your family – a favor by scheduling an inspection immediately.

Question 5: Are You Ready for a Fresh Start?

Let’s say you deem your floors repairable. The last thing you need to ask yourself is, “Do I really want to repair my floors? Or would I rather just replace them?”

Handyman installing new laminated wooden floor

In order to repair hardwood floor water damage spots, you’ll still need to go through a long process and plenty of expenses. Perhaps this is actually a better opportunity to start fresh with floors that aren’t scratched, out-of-date, and damaged.

Many homeowners use water damage as a chance to install new flooring that is better protected against future accidents. After all, the average cost of repairs is at least $1,000, and the price of a whole new installation could be as low as $2,400.

If this kind of redecorating opportunity sounds appealing, talk to a hardwood floor expert to learn what your options are. How much more would a full installation cost than necessary repairs?


To sum it all up, our advice as floor cleaning professionals is to determine how serious the water damage is, then go from there. If the damage is extensive, you’ll likely save time and money by just replacing everything rather than picking a few spots to repair.

Have you experienced water damage on your floors? Talk to our New Jersey experts at Floors by the Shore.

Our flooring and carpet cleaning company offers a huge selection of installations and repairs. With more than three decades of experience in the field, you can trust us to tell you the best route after a water-related accident.

At Floors by the Shore, we have:

  • Bona-certified craftsman
  • Certified WOCA-oil finish specialists
  • NWFA Installation, Sand, and Finish certified specialists
  • Products that are free of volatile organic compounds
  • Speedy refinishing and repair times

Call 732-280-1984 today to speak to a representative. You can also reach out online. We look forward to hearing from you soon!


First published on: Oct 21, 2020

Updated on: May 20, 2022