Can This Floor Be Saved?

Long sad story: One of my best friends, you know, the one that always comes to me for advice. The pressure relief valve on his water heater failed. Slowly, over a period of at least a month. The plumber that originally installed the water heater just drilled a hole in the floor and piped the relief valve into the dirt crawl space. So, for at least a month, they thought they had a running toilet. But no, the relief valve was turning the crawl space into a steaming lake. They noticed the wood floors buckling a week ago, but we had just experienced an unusual weather pattern that brought us 17 straight days of rain. Passed it off to high humidity. Noticed that the front yard had developed a running spring halfway down the slope. But lots of rain lately. They noticed that the air conditioner was running all the time too. Made a note to have it serviced when they got time.
Finally, yesterday, they opened the utility closet and found the leak . . . and the lake under the crawl space. When I shone a light across the underside of the floor joists, a million tiny sparkles shown from a million drops of water clinging to the bottom of each joist and the underside of the subfloor. Over the entire 2000 square feet. The foundation walls had a little trench around the inside where the builder over-excavated the footings. So there's a 6" deep moat of standing water all along the perimeter wall. The footings for the support piers in the middle of the house were similarly over-excavated. They each stand in their own little pond. When I crawled around to survey the damage, my knees and hands sunk 4 to 6 inches into the heavy clay in some places. Just wanted you to understand the nature of the problem.
Yes, he'll have foundation problems, but we have lots of foundation experts locally because of the expansive nature of that clay.
What I want help with are his floors. 100 year old heart pine salvaged from a cotton gin or something, planed and finished. Don't know if it's poly or varnish, but it's quite shiny. The flooring expert he called took some moisture readings and said they were hopeless. The expert wants to tear them out and replace them. Maybe the subfloor too.
I said yes, take them out. Dry them out. Send them to a kiln if you have to. But when they are dry, they should go back pretty close to their original shape, Right? If they were worth salvaging from a cotton gin or wherever, aren't they worth salvaging now?
Should the finish be removed by sanding or planing before drying to let the moisture escape equally to avoid cupping?
Is this guy trying to sell new flooring, or could the wood be damaged beyond repair?
Like most of us, I'm the recognized wood expert in my circle of friends. But this is beyond the realm of my experience. Big bucks ride on the decision. Help me out here. What to do?
DonkeyHody "We should be careful to get out of an experience only the wisdom that is in it - and stop there; lest we be like the cat that sits down on a hot stove-lid. She will never sit down on a hot stove-lid again---and that is well; but also she will never sit down on a cold one anymore." - Mark Twain
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Leave 'em in, run the A/C and some dehumidifiers, and see what you get. If that fails, *then* take 'em out. I've seen some amazing floor buckling due to water come out just by environmental drying.

Waaaay to early to tell.

Wait and see, all may be fine.
Dave Hinz
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I agree. Let them dry in place and see what develops.
My story. I decorated a new dining room. Paint, wallpaper and a chair rail. I used a pnuematic nail gun. When installing the chair rail, I hit a waterpipe to the upstairs laundry room. Dead center. Aluminum nail into copper pipe. You would think it would carom off of the water pipe. Hit it dead center. Not once but twice. Both sealed like a nail in a tire. Very slow leak took a month to notice. Wood floors in adjoining office buckled. No damage to newly decorated room. Floors healed. Gotta go on vacation now. bye
wrote:

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I Had something like this happen in my new house. the oak floor was drenched with hundreds of gallon of water for a weekend(pipe in the kitchen was not connected then power was applied to the well pump and the builder left). the floor looked destroyed, really cupped badly. the builder removed it and I claimed it (hate to see that much oak trashed)and put it in the basement snickered. about four months later it all looks good, so I used it to do the entire basement floor including the shop. At the time of the flood the wood floor contractor told me that if left in place the floor would return to normal in a few months(builder and my wife decided not to wait) and would need only minor refinishing.
Len

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Rent dehumidifiers and run fans in the crawl space. Big ones. See what happens with time.
A knowledgable floor shop won't want to touch them because they can do strange things later, I know I've been burnt while managing a large shop. Got called back a year later after the moisture meters said what they were supposed to say. Nyet.
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I agree with everyone who said to fix the leak, then wait and see. Some years ago when I was living in a rowhouse, the house next door had a fire. It sat vacant for about 2 years with a opening in the roof about 10X10 feet. I made an offer to the owner and bought the building. On the top floor, below the open roof, the floor was all wavy and bowed, in some places a much as 6 inches too high. This was a mid-1800s building with random width softwood flooring. After I fixed the roof, within about 2-3 months the floor had almost leveled out, at least to the same degree that most houses in the neighborhood had level floors, and this was before even driving any new nails into it.
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Larry Wasserman Baltimore, Maryland
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DonkeyHody wrote:

Big question--does he need a nice floor _now_ or can he wait for it to dry out before making a decision? If he needs a nice floor _now_ then the only real choice is to take it up and replace it. Anything they do _now_ to the existing flooring to improve the appearance is going to look like Hell when it dries out. If you're going to keep it then _leave_ _it_ _alone_ until it dries. If it was flat when it got wet, anything you do (sanding, planing, etc) that tends to flatten it is going to make hollows when it dries, then you'll have to sand or plane out the hollows and you may end up running out of floor before you get it flat again.
As far as taking up the flooring, sending it out to a kiln, and putting it back, that might be workable _if_ there's enough thickness left to permit it to be refinished with enough thickness left after the refinishing to allow a stable floor and a few additional refinishings, and _if_ there is enough matching flooring available to allow for the pieces that are inevitably going to be damaged in the removal. Lot of "if"s there.
There should be another party involved in this--what does the insurance company want to do?

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I'd start the ventilation/drying by mounting some small fans on some of the foundation vents. When things start looking fairly dry, then put a couple of home dehumidifiers in the crawlspace. They need draining, of course, so put them where you can get to the buckets. If you can get a hose out through the foundation, it would save a lot of trouble. Maybe a small bilge pump in the bucket? Then you could pump up and out.
Once everything gets stabilized, a plastic membrane over the whole crawlspace floor will keep ground moisture from coming up. The fans may need to be permanent.
Good luck and let us know what happens. Wilson

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garrotte the plumber.....
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Thanks for the replies so far. A couple of things I forgot to mention. The floor boards are about 6 inches wide, laid over 3/4 inch plywood subfloor. They LOOK old, so a little cupping or cracks between boards would be more acceptable than on a traditional hardwood floor.
We're in central Mississippi. Ambient relative humidity hovers around 70% outside, even when it's not raining. Air conditioning only brings it down to about 60% inside, so drying is very slow. The house is already beginning to smell of mildew.
I tend to agree with the advice to wait. I'm thinking he should focus on drying out first. The floor, subfloor and joists don't appear to be rotten at all, they're just wet. So there should be no rush to rip things out until we see where things go back to when they are dried. As long as the damage has been well documented, the insurance should cover it even if he waits a year or so, right?
On the other hand, I'm a little concerned about how long it will take to get all that moisture out of the floor and subfloor with so little drying potential available. I have visions of all sorts of fungus growing in the space between the floor and subfloor.
DonkeyHody
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snipped-for-privacy@bellsouth.net (DonkeyHody) wrote in
snip

I would get the agreement with the insurance adjuster in writing, just to be sure. Verbal agreements, particularly over time, tend to self-modify.
I am concerned about the mildew, however. Mold remediation issues are becoming very contentious with insurance companies here in California.
Good luck with this. I hope your friend can save the character of this home.
Patriarch
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That's why I suggested dehumidifiers. They will keep working and will pull you lower than 70%. Of course, you have to do the preliminary with circulation, then close off the crawlspace and start the dehumidifiers. Running the machine with the crawlspace vents open is a waste of electricity, less effective than fans changing the air. When you start dehumidifiers in the crawlspace, start one in the house too. It will pull down the humidity more efficiently than the A/C. Of course, you must keep the house closed as much as possible or you will be drying the atmosphere, a losing proposition.
Insurance should pay for all the machines if the floor is not replaced. This will take several weeks and without plastic on the ground under the house you are swimmiing upstream.
Wilson

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On 16 Jul 2004 19:59:43 -0700, snipped-for-privacy@bellsouth.net (DonkeyHody) wrote:

I had an oak floor soaked once and all of the boards cupped. Waited almost 3 months before sanding and refinishing - Beautiful! Over the next several months, the boards continued to dry. Now the boards are all crowned : ( - advise: let the floor dry long enough and you should be ok.
Bill
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As Paul Harvey says, here's the Rest of the Story. My friend called today and said if I wanted any of that flooring to come get it. When I arrived, there were SIX contractor's vehicles parked in front of his place including a dump truck. No way that contractor was messing around trying to salvage anything. They were ripping the flooring up with crowbars and wrecking hammers. And there were nails about every foot or so. I couldn't have made anything larger than a jewelry box from that stuff.
When I saw it, I decided the flooring contractor was probably right. There was a layer of what appeared to be roofing felt between the pine floor and the subfloor. Apparently, the hot water did not all make it into the crawl space. Some of the water got between the pine flooring and the roofing felt. The felt carried it to the farthest corners of the house. There was standing water on the top of the felt in some places. Mold was everywhere. You could smell it when you walked in, and you could see it on the bottom of the pine boards. Insurance is paying for replacement in kind and the flooring contractor promises he can get more just like that. I still believe the flooring could have been salvaged in place given enough time. But the mold is a whole 'nuther issue. My friend and his wife are happy with their decision, so I am too.
Thanks for the advice,
DonkeyHody
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