How to Have Waterproof Wood Flooring
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Wood floors and water are as compatible as cats and dogs. They can get along briefly, but over time, it won't end well.
Some people love wood floors so much that they want to install them everywhere. That includes places that get wet, like bathrooms or basements. Wood planks that sit in areas with continuous high moisture will eventually grow mold and rot. Typical solid hardwood floors can withstand an occasional splash of water if it's dried up immediately. However, wood is porous like a sponge and absorbs water quickly. Ignoring spills, pet accidents, or tracked-in snow will ruin the wood.
Water-damaged wood floors are expensive to replace. If you're going to install wood flooring in wet areas, we will show you the best waterproof solutions and water-resistant hardwood options.
Water-Resistant Flooring vs. Waterproof Wood Flooring
Water-resistant and waterproof are two different characteristics. Let's define the differences between water-resistant and waterproof as it relates to wood flooring:
A water-resistant flooring can repel water for a short time. Water beads up and does not absorb right away, giving enough time to wipe it up. A water-resistant floor is less likely to incur any lasting damage from short-term spills.
These materials are excellent for spaces where water is controlled, like in a powder room without a shower or bathtub. However, if left wet, water can get into seams and eventually under the topcoat, causing stains, mold, and mildew.
A waterproof floor will repel water indefinitely like tile. It can't absorb water. To make wood waterproof requires a permanent sealer all the way around the board. Water won't penetrate the waterproof coating.
Typically, waterproof flooring materials will be more expensive, but you won't need to replace the floor after a few years, either. They offer long-term protection for wet rooms.
Does Waterproof Hardwood Flooring Exist?
Although they use fancy trademarked names, "waterproof hardwood floors" are simply engineered hardwood floors with added waterproofing layers. They have a sandwich of synthetic materials on the bottom, a top layer of hardwood veneer, and a clear, waterproof coating over the wood.
It’s like a giant chemical lasagne that you can walk on!
Here are a few manufacturers and their version of waterproof hardwood flooring:
- Mohawk/RevWood – They call their sealer Hydroseal, and they combine it with a glueless locking system that traps water on the floor's surface.
- Shaw/Floorte – Choose from wood or vinyl for this brand of waterproof flooring.
- USFloors/Coretec – Engineered with wood veneers bonded to a hand-formed mineral core.
- Flooring America/Flooring Canada/Aquadura H2O – It offers a 100% waterproof warranty.
- Carpetone/Hydrotek - An engineered hardwood floor with a waterproof core and UV aluminum oxide finish.
- Innovative Flooring Supply/Noah - This brand is an engineered hardwood floor with conventional widths and wide planks.
Engineered hardwood flooring is an excellent compromise if you want the look of real wood in a continuously damp environment. Bear in mind though, engineered flooring is rarely environmentally friendly due to the chemicals and glues it is made of. Manufacturing is a resource-intensive process and at the end of its life, there is no way to recycle it. Its only option is to become another pollutant in a landfill.
Where Should I Use Waterproof Hardwood Flooring?
Waterproof hardwood flooring looks great in any room. However, due to the added cost of manufacturing, it's best to reserve it for the wet rooms and use water-resistant flooring for the rest of the home. Some of the most logical places for waterproof wood flooring are:
- Entryways and Mud Rooms – Floors in these areas take a lot of abuse and must withstand wet shoes, dripping raincoats, and slush-covered winter boots.
- Bathrooms – Floors in bathrooms get wet every day. Anything less than waterproof floors in these areas will be costly.
- Utility/Laundry Rooms – Chances are these floors will get soaking wet from time to time. Using waterproof rather than water-resistant wood flooring in this room is insurance for a long-lasting floor.
- Kitchens – Depending on the amount of traffic, you can get by with water-resistant flooring. If you have people who love to cook and make a mess, you should opt for waterproof.
- Basements – Depending on the moisture, installing a wood floor in a basement will work provided there is a proper moisture barrier. Basements that flood occasionally or are continuously damp must have a waterproof floor.
You should install waterproof flooring in areas where there is the possibility of standing water or high humidity, such as hot tubs and saunas.
Does Waterproof Flooring for Basement Include Wood?
It's possible to install wood in a basement, but you need to prepare the cement slab first, even if you're installing waterproof flooring. This article provides in-depth information about installing wood floors in a basement.
All concrete slabs wick up moisture from the ground regardless of if they are at grade (ground level) or below grade (the basement level). Use a moisture meter to check how much moisture comes up to determine the best moisture barrier to use.
Waterproof Concrete Sealer
Just because a particular flooring is waterproof doesn't mean it won't become moldy and nasty from sitting on a wet slab. If the slab or basement on which your home sits is in an area with high moisture or a high-water table, you should seal and waterproof the cement slab before installing a hardwood floor. This will reduce the chances of mold and mildew growing under the floor.
Moisture Barrier Underlayment
Another option to prevent moisture damage is to put down a moisture barrier underlayment. Typically, this is plastic sheeting that has sealed seams. It creates a barrier between the hardwood floor and the cement slab that is impervious to water.
Moisture barriers, also known as vapor barriers, prevent moisture from contacting the flooring. Some moisture barriers also have underlayment pre-attached for added comfort and soundproofing.
Sealing the concrete slab and installing a moisture barrier will go a long way to protecting any hardwood floor. But is the floor waterproof? Not yet.
Can You Waterproof Your Existing Hardwood Flooring?
Waterproof flooring can withstand direct contact with water indefinitely and not affect the look. Water-resistant floors give you time to clean up spills but will affect the appearance if not dried quickly.
The best you can do for pre-installed wood floors is to make them highly water-resistant. Due to the exposed plank edges and ends around the room, standing water can absorb into the wood. That doesn't mean you can't give your wood floors a fighting chance against occasional spills. Two or three coats of quality polyurethane over a freshly sanded and vacuumed floor will do the trick.
How to (Almost) Waterproof a Hardwood Floor
Pre-finished hardwood floors automatically have built-in water resistance. If you plan to refinish the floor, here are the necessary steps:
Step 1 – Clear the room – Remove all furniture and obstacles from the floor. This is your opportunity to do spot repairs and to fill gaps, and repair gouges.
Step 2 – Sand the Floor – A quality sanding job is critical to the final finish's success. It's the most time-consuming and tedious process but necessary to get a good result. Start with the edges and use rough grit sandpaper. Depending on the floor's condition, you'll need two to four passes changing to finer sandpaper each time. End with 180 or 220 grit. Next, thoroughly vacuum and dust between passes. Our article, How to use a wood floor sander machine, has some excellent tips.
Step 3 – Apply the Finish – To ensure the most protection and the best look for the floor, follow the manufacturer's instructions for applying the top finish. If possible, do the work on a warm, dry day to finish the floor.
It is possible to create a uniformly sealed floor surface using polyurethane and allow it to stand up to wet feet and dogs coming from the outdoors or the shower. Multiple coats will prevent spills from soaking into the board's seams and give you time to clean them up.
Make the Floor Water-Resistant or Buy a New One
Natural hardwood is still the most popular floor type for home buyers. If you need a waterproof hardwood floor for potentially wet spaces, you'll need to go with one of the engineered floor options we listed above. Unlike solid hardwood, waterproof floors have protection on all four sides.
If you can get by with a water-resistant finish, you'll have more options for the type of wood floor you can install. You can also refinish your existing floor, adding three or more polyurethane coats. The polyurethane will make your current floor scratch and water-resistant for many years.
You don't need a waterproof floor for most applications and rooms. A factory prefinished hardwood floor will last for generations. Easiklip carries a line of 3/4-inch, solid white oak floors with four double coats of UV-cured polyurethane. They are water-resistant on the surface, making them suitable for kitchens, bedrooms, and living rooms.Because they are floating floors that don't use screws or nails, Easiklip floors are an excellent choice for hardwood floors in the basement. They will not pierce the waterproof membrane between the floor and the concrete sub-floor. Provided there is no flooding or humidity above 60%, you can enjoy hardwood floors without the extra expense of a waterproof floor.
Don't Get Ripped Off At the Flooring Store!
This is how much your real solid hardwood floor will cost:
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- All flooring is 3/4” thick solid white oak (not laminate or engineered)
- Suitable to install over concrete slab
- In-stock items are delivered to your curbside in 7-14 days (continental USA only)
- Easily install yourself, or hire an expert
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