How to salvage flooring that has been inundated with water

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How to salvage flooring that has been inundated with water is noted by JENNY BOYMAL of Jena Dyco International.

A flood in a commercial facility – no matter how small – is a nightmare. Not only are you faced with the immediate occupational health and safety (OH&S) concerns in terms of slippage, there are also the added concerns of commercial disruption and the external contractors and equipment required to deal with the aftermath.
The biggest problem associated with flooded floors is the potential for the job to be done incorrectly, which can result in future problems, for instance:

  • wet conditions beneath the floor can lead to the structure of the floor weakening and worsening over time
  • water trapped in enclosed subfloor spaces can result in mould growth, and
  • moisture that remains in floors can spread to other areas, such as walls and carpet areas nearby, and affect a facility’s structural integrity.

When you are dealing with the restoration of flooring in a flooded facility there are a number of factors at play, including:

  • what’s the flooring made of
  • what’s underneath the flooring
  • when did the flood occur and how long has the floor been wet, and
  • what category of water are you dealing with?

Different floors react to water in different ways. Some are easily salvageable, while it is impossible to save others due to their natural characteristics when they take on moisture. There is no quick fix to restoring flood-damaged floors and no two jobs can be treated the same way.

Regardless of what type of floors you are dealing with, the first step is always to remove the standing water. Extraction of standing water will help arrest further absorption of moisture into the material and, thus, help to minimise the drying time. This will also reduce liability in terms of OH&S and slippage.
Importantly, removal of excess water will also reduce the chance of seepage or saturation of other building materials that were not initially affected by the flood. For example, if a flood occurs on a timber floor on a Friday night and the excess moisture is not removed until Monday morning when the flood is discovered, there is a high chance that water will seep through the skirting boards or furniture in the area, thereby increasing the cost of damage and the amount of drying time it will take to restore the property.
The key thing to remember when dealing with flooded floors is that immediacy is critical. The longer the floor is left untreated, the worse the long-term damage. Knowing who to contact in the instance of a flood is half the work. But, how do you know who to contact and how to react? Let’s take a look at some of the more common types of flooring in commercial facilities and explore the issues regarding the flooding of each and what type of expertise you will need on hand.

A carpet may be dry to the touch, but this does not mean that there is no moisture in it. What many people fail to realise is that the surface of a carpet (in other words, the part that you feel when you run your hands over it) will only give you a superficial indication of the carpet’s moisture content.
Water will remain at the base of the fibre and seep through the backing to settle in the subfloor. There it will remain and, if it is not dried properly, it will continue to cause more extensive damage in terms of mould growth. And, mould can lead to much larger problems in terms of structural damage and poor indoor air quality.
Carpeted floors that have been flooded are commonly restorable provided the services of a trained and certified water damage restoration company are employed. In order to restore carpets to their pre-loss condition, restorers will need to undertake regular moisture readings, install air movers and dehumidifiers, and monitor the drying procedure until the carpet is completely dry.

The installation of vinyl flooring is a good preventative technique that can be adopted if a facility is at risk of regular flooding, for instance, in the northern parts of the country, or facilities close to riverbanks.
Due to its resilient nature, vinyl flooring that has been flooded is generally salvageable dependent on its previous levels of maintenance. Gas polished vinyl will continue to harden. A regular maintenance program for vinyl floors will make them less permeable and less likely to absorb water. This, in turn, will reduce the drying process and the potential for extensive damage.
Provided that the floor is commercial grade seamless vinyl and the seal is OK, the restoration process should be as simple as bringing in air movers and monitoring the moisture content and drying process until the floors are dry.
The only instance in which flooding of a vinyl floor may prove problematic is when the vinyl covering has come loose or is compromised. In this case, water may seep underneath the vinyl or wall frame and damage unaffected non-primary areas, such as the carpeted office next door. When water seeps underneath vinyl flooring, there is also the possibility that the glue in the seams will let go and the vinyl will become brittle and crack. When flooding occurs on compromised vinyl flooring, it is important to treat the flooding immediately, and inspect and take moisture readings of nearby unaffected areas.
In a non-flood situation, vinyl lifting at the seam may be a potential sign of water seepage from the subfloor from an unknown water source. If you notice vinyl seams lifting, contact a vinyl expert who is also trained in water damage restoration to come and inspect the floor.

The effects and best-restoration procedures for flooded timber floors differ depending on the timber species and the subfloor. In the instance of flooding, it is likely that the floor will become cupped (higher board edges); however, the expansion will be dependent on the species and the board width. The extent of moisture will also be dependent on the species. High density woods are less likely to absorb moisture and are, therefore, more likely to be salvageable.
Timber drying expert, Garry Carroll from All Aces Services, states that a serious issue when it comes to flooded timber floors is that a builder is the first point of call. “A builder will come in and say, ‘Yes, it’s wet – we need to pull up the floor and replace it.’ However, whether a floor needs to be replaced or whether it is restorable should be determined by a specialised restorer, with the assistance of a member from the Australian Timber Flooring Association (ATFA),” he states.
In this instance, the restorer will work to the restoration specifications of the timber flooring expert from the ATFA. After the cupping and crowning have been repaired, the ATFA representative will return for a final inspection and declare the floor dry. The restorer will then do up to three inspections over a six-week period to ensure that the floor has equalised and acclimatised. Only after this procedure has been followed should the floor be sanded and sealed.

Ultimately, the best way to minimise the damage that flooding can cause to floors is to have an action plan in place. A flood doesn’t need to bring business to a halt. Take the time to meet with expert drying specialists and discuss an emergency plan now – it will save a lot of money and stress when catastrophe hits.
In addition, only engage with professionals who are qualified to undertake water damage restoration work. Even if you don’t understand the answers, asking questions such as ‘how will you assess the damage?’ and ‘what qualifications do you have?’ will help to identify if you are dealing with a professional firm that understands commercial drying properties.
The primary responsibilities of trained water damage restoration experts are to prevent further damage, determine the source of damage, speed up the time of recovery, eliminate harmful contamination and restore the surface to its pre-damage condition. When speaking with flood restoration technicians, ask them about their responsibilities and how they will make your life, as the facilities manager, easier. Also ask them to outline how their drying processes will minimise any interruption flood damage may cause to the tenant’s business.
Restorers who are certified with the Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification (IICRC) in water damage mitigation, carpet and hard floor care, and commercial drying strategies will be able to restore floors to pre-loss condition while also minimising on-site risk and business interruption.

Jenny Boymal is the managing director of Jena Dyco International, a training provider for the restoration industry offering specialised courses in water damage restoration, mould remediation and hard floor care.

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