Can You Fix Damaged Hardwood Flooring?
While the key to maintaining a beautiful wood floor for years and years is damage prevention, this doesn’t mean that you can’t undo certain types of wood floor damage.
But how do you know whether or not the damage to your floor can even be repaired? What if it has to be replaced? Well, if you have those questions, you’re in luck because this article will address exactly that.
Specifically, this we’ll answer questions like
- How do you know whether to fix or replace a hardwood floor?
- What are the best practices for repairing damaged hardwood floors?
- What are the best practices for replacing damaged hardwood floors?
- How do you prevent hardwood floor damage?
Let’s jump right in to learn all about solving wood floor problems and preventing them in the future!
Should my hardwood floor be fixed or replaced?
Whether or not your hardwood floors should be fixed or totally replaced depends on the type of damage and the severity of the damage. Some types of damage require replacing, and other types need a simple repair or treatment.
So let’s talk about damage that requires you to either:
- Repair your hardwood
- Replace your hardwood
When you should repair your hardwood floor
In general, you can repair damaged wood floors if the damage is primarily superficial and can be repaired by sanding, refinishing, patching, etc.
Issues such as cracks, scratches, discoloration, mild warping, and gaps can all be repaired by flooring professionals and even savvy DIY homeowners.
Cracks can appear in your solid hardwood flooring for a variety of reasons. Most of the time, cracks occur on a floorboard whenever it becomes too dry and loses its natural oils. These hairline splits are usually on the surface and do not affect the entire plank.
If this is the case, then it can be repaired by using a wood filler, sanding, and then re-staining the affected area to match the rest of the floor.
Everyday use, pets, furniture, and more can cause scratches on the surface of hardwood floors, especially in high-traffic areas. But the good news is that these surface scratches and small gouges are quite simple to fix.
Repair scratches by sanding down the floor and applying a new wood floor finish. You can either use sandpaper to sand down the damaged areas and then apply a finish to match the existing floor, or you can sand the entire floor and refinish it all.
This is less expensive than new flooring, and it can be a great method for home improvement.
In fact, Burt Bollinger from Hardwood Floors Magazine—the official magazine of the National Wood Flooring Association—says that sanding and refinishing floors is one of the best parts of hardwood flooring:
“A considerable advantage of wood floors is that they can be refinished and repaired over time… Refinishing floors also provides homeowners with the ability to achieve a look that aligns with their changing tastes.”
It is also important to consider that if hardwood floors are sanded down and refinished too many times, then the floors become too thin and must be replaced.
Discoloration, as long as not caused by extensive water damage, can be fixed in the same way as scratches. A simple sanding down and staining should be all you need.
Mild warping, such as slight cupping or crowning, is the result of excess moisture.
If you have a dependable moisture meter, like one from Bessemeter, you will be able to determine the moisture content of the flooring and see how far off it is from the equilibrium moisture content.
In some cases, mild warping can be remedied by placing a dehumidifier in the room, particularly if you live in a place where humidity and temperature change drastically with the seasons. This can help you avoid a floor replacement.
It’s important to distinguish between mild warping and severe warping. Mild warping can be repaired, but severe warping usually means that the existing floor should be replaced (more on that later).
Gaps are common with hardwood floors. Wood is a hygroscopic material, meaning that it absorbs or releases moisture based on its surroundings. So as the wood shrinks and expands with the seasons, gaps may come and go.
If the gaps are minor and caused by seasonal changes, it’s best to leave them. But if the gaps are large or bothersome, then you’ll want to assess them to see if the gaps are a result of structural issues.
Structural issues can be serious, so contact an expert like an NWFA (National Wood Flooring Association) Certified Inspector or a structural engineer.
Now that we’ve discussed wood floor damage that can be repaired, let’s talk about damage that can’t be repaired.
When you should replace your hardwood floor
While superficial damage can often be repaired, damage that goes deeper into the wood planks, impacts the subfloor, or impacts the structural integrity of the flooring should always be replaced.
Rotted wood, termite-infested wood, and wood that’s been subject to severe moisture damage are some examples of when you should replace your hardwood floor.
Moisture damage is the most likely reason for a wood floor to be damaged beyond repair. This can be caused by flooding, spills that haven’t been cleaned up, or leaks from pipes or household appliances like dishwashers and washing machines.
Moisture damage can also be caused by a wet subfloor. If there is excess water in the subfloor, wood, or concrete, then the floor may absorb that moisture, resulting in cupping, crowning, or buckling.
In the case of moisture damage that only impacts the wood flooring, the damaged planks should be removed and then replaced.
If the moisture issue comes from the subfloor, however, the floor may need to be torn up to allow the subfloor to dry. Then, after the subfloor is dry, the flooring can be replaced.
Rotted wood is likely flaking and weak. While this issue probably won‘t be present in newer builds, homeowners may find rotted wood in older homes.
In this case, you can’t un-rot wood. Once the wood has rotted, it’s done for and must be replaced.
Termites don‘t always mean game over for wood floors. If the termites are caught early enough, the home or building can be treated.
However, a significant infestation can compromise wood floors beyond repair. While you can replace only the damaged boards, you may decide, for aesthetic reasons, to replace the floor of the entire area.
You’ll also want to make sure that termites are done away with. You can call an exterminator who will probably tent and gas the house.
Now, let’s talk about some best practices for repairing and replacing wood floors.
How should you repair hardwood floors?
The method of repair depends on the type of damage, but generally damage that can be repaired is usually superficial, and this type can use the same basic formula: fill, sand, and finish.
To fix superficial damage, fill the damage with wood filler, sand it once dry, and then apply a finish to match the rest of the flooring.
If the damage is widespread, then sanding the entire wood floor and applying the same (or a new) finish is also a useful method. This method can simultaneously fix the problem and give the floor a new, updated appearance, depending on the finish used.
How should you replace hardwood floors?
Replacing a hardwood floor is more complicated than repairing one. But here are some of our favorite best practices for replacing a hardwood floor:
- Pinpoint the type of damage. If the damage is coming from a wet subfloor, tear up the wood floor and allow the subfloor to dry.
- Consider the flooring that is best for the space, whether hardwood again, laminate flooring, or engineered wood flooring.
- Always measure the moisture content of the new flooring before, during, and after installation to keep any other moisture-related issues from happening and undoing all your progress.
Of course, if you can avoid replacing a wood floor altogether, that’s the best solution, so let’s talk about prevention!
How to prevent hardwood floor damage
Normal wear and tear will happen to any hardwood floor. What’s the point of having a great floor if you don’t use it, right?
But there are a few things you can do to keep your floor from minor damage as well as major damage that would require you to replace your floor.
In terms of daily use, simple fixes like adding felt pads to the bottom of your furniture or putting runner rugs in high-traffic areas can keep your floor from superficial damage like scratches, scuffs, and gouges.
Another way to keep your floors from unnecessary damage is to always clean up messes as soon as possible after they happen. By doing this, you can avoid having moisture sit on the surface of your floor, giving it time to cause discoloration.
Preventing more serious damage starts with assessing the moisture content of your wood floors. Moisture is the most common cause of hardwood floor problems, so knowing what the moisture content (MC) of your wood floor is as well as knowing the equilibrium moisture content (EMC) of your location can give you the knowledge you need to prevent future problems.
For example, if the MC and the EMC don’t match up, you can take steps to either add or take away moisture (most likely, you’ll be eliminating moisture, which can easily be done with a dehumidifier).
Using a pinless wood moisture meter from Bessemeter also means that you’ll keep your hardwood floors looking great because you won’t have to poke and prod them with pin meters.
Prevention, prevention, prevention
Hardwood floor damage isn’t the end of the world, whether you have to repair it or replace it. But, life certainly is easier if those damages are prevented in the first place.
Take the right step towards long-term flooring success by using a reliable moisture meter in your wood floor installation routine.