THEY SAID MY FLOORING IS WATERPROOF!
Then why is it falling apart?
One of the biggest possible misunderstandings in flooring today is the claim a floor is waterproof. This usually only applies to tile or vinyl floors, but some hardwoods and laminates are blurring that line. If you want the answer without reading the entire article, here it is. Waterproof floors can hold up to H20 in it’s liquid state (water.) However, in it’s gas state, water vapor, H20 molecules become smaller and can affect your flooring product. This usually happens under a floor, as the floor allows the build up of vapor underneath. This can cause a host of issues. To keep it simple, water on top good. Vapor below is bad.
What kind of issues can be caused by vapor/ high RH?
Vapor, or high relative humidity, can cause several issues with your vinyl or tile flooring. I will list the issues for vinyl first.
High RH Effects on Vinyl:
- Efflorescence – the build up of salts or calcium deposits.
- Delamination – this causes the glue between the plank and the image on the plank to separate. Sometimes this is a factory defect.
- Cupping – Typically happens in glue down vinyl, the product starts to cup as shown in the image below.
- Discoloration – The vinyl starts to develop stains or spots.
High RH Effects on Tile Installs:
While most tile isn’t affected by high RH levels, the grout and setting material can be negatively affected. However, if your tile isn’t made of porcelain, and instead is natural stone, it too could be negatively impacted. Some effects of high RH on tile installs are as follows:
- Efflorescence – the build up of salts or calcium deposits, they can come up through the grout or tile pores.
- Discoloration – The tile or grout starts to change colors.
- Loosening of tiles – If enough RH builds up under your tiles, it could weaken the bond between the tile and the substrate. This can lead to cracked tiles or grout.
But why would they tell me my floor is waterproof?
It is waterproof, meaning water that sits on top of the floor will not damage it. This is known as topical moisture. Most products, even laminates and some hardwoods, can hold up to topical moisture. However, if water works it’s way past the top or if RH levels underneath get too high, this can cause the problems mentioned above.
One more thing, if you dishwasher or toilet backs up, the flooring can find it’s way around the edges of the room and under the floor. This can lead to damage to your floor in addition to mold, mildew, and rot. We don’t want to get overly complicated, but here goes.
Water vapor can affect the bond between the plank and plank image. It can also affect what are known as plasticizers. These particles help keep your vinyl looking fresh and feeling flexible. High RH can help remove these from your floors and lead to premature wear and tear. Long story short, water in it’s gas state can wreck most floors in one way or another.
So What can I do about my waterproof floors?
Before you purchase new flooring, ask yourself a few questions.
- What kind of use am I expecting?
- Where is this floor going to be installed?
- How long do I want it to last?
- Can I give it proper maintenance?
- What’s under my existing floor?
If your kids are grown and your pets are house trained, you probably don’t have a lot of liquid spills. Except for maybe stray ice cubes or wet feet at the entry ways. Your floors will be fine, save a water leak under your floors.
Is this floor going in a bathroom, a kitchen, maybe a basement? Your kitchen will see the most water probably near the sink. Your bathroom will probably see the most water outside the shower area, especially if you have young kids. Your basement is probably concrete and you might have high RH readings since it’s “below grade.” For some of these areas, a regular vinyl plank or tile will do. In others, a sheet vinyl will work best since you can cove it up the walls. And if you find that your RH levels are too high, maybe sealing the subfloor prior to installation would be a good idea.
There are many good flooring options that are waterproof. However, there are many factors that can make or break your flooring and your home. Many floors are not made to hold up to water vapor as it can get inside the vinyl products and mess with the chemistry. Take care of any noticeable water leaks immediately and take proper RH readings before installing your flooring material. Good floors and due diligence go a long way!