What Happens If Water Gets Under My Tile Floor?

Flooded tile floor. The reflection of a nearby window appears on the surface of the water.

What Happens If Water Gets Under My Tile Floor?

Water damage to tile and stone floors in San Luis Obispo County, California can happen for a variety of reasons, from plumbing mishaps to sprinkler system malfunctions to storm-related flooding. If you have experienced flooding, you may be wondering whether your tile floors will need to be replaced. Here are some tips to take care of the immediate situation without inadvertently damaging your tile or stone. Since water-damage problems under tile floors are not always readily apparent, we’ve also included some tips for moving forward after cleanup.

Stay Safe

Steer clear of danger by turning off water and electricity. If you suspect the affected area poses an electrocution hazard, call your power company to turn the electricity off at the meter. Your next phone calls should be to your insurance company and an electrician. If you plan to enter the affected area, be sure to wear the appropriate protective gear.

Document Damage and Call Your Insurance Company

Take photos and videos to document the damage to your flooring and possessions. Before you call remediation specialists or break out the shop vac and roll up your sleeves, call your insurance company to get specific instructions about how to proceed with cleanup. Coverage for cleanup, repairs, and replacement of damaged flooring will vary from one policy to the next.

According to the Insurance Information Institute (III), homeowners and renters insurance generally provides coverage for unexpected damage like burst pipes or water that comes from the top down. Sewer and drain backups may not be covered. III explains, “Typically, water that comes from the bottom up—such as an overflowing river—is covered by a separate flood insurance policy.”

Cleaning and Sanitizing Tile Floors

For high-volume flooding, consider calling a reputable remediation company, such as Central Coast Casualty. Services are available day or night. Remediation companies have the specialized equipment and expertise to handle the most challenging situations. If you are doing the cleanup yourself, use a sump pump to remove water. Follow up with a wet vac, taking care to remove as much moisture as possible around baseboards and vents. For less-extensive water damage or flooding, a mop, bucket, and towels may suffice.

Here are some tips for cleaning your floors:

  • Avoid harsh, acid-based or abrasive cleaners that can damage the surface of your tile.
  • Use a pH-neutral, stone-safe cleaner to clean your floors, especially if you have calcium-based natural stone tiles.
  • Follow the instructions on the label.

Here are instructions for sanitizing your floors:

  • Use a spray bottle filled with hydrogen peroxide that has a 3% concentration.
  • Spray the floor, saturating and completely covering the surface of each tile.
  • Allow the solution to remain there until the floor is dry.
  • Clean the floor once more with a pH-neutral, stone-safe cleaner.

Drying Your Floors

Even if your tile flooring material is water-resistant, moisture can find its way into porous surfaces and grout lines. To completely dry your floors, you need to remove humidity from the environment.

Set up fans to keep the air circulating. Your air conditioner wall units and/or HVAC system functions as a dehumidifier, so set the thermostat low enough that it will run continuously. Alternatively (or in addition to running the AC), run dehumidifiers.

Depending on the level of water damage, you may need to keep the dehumidification process going for days or even weeks. Use a nondestructive pen moisture meter (available online) to verify that the moisture level has dropped.

If you have natural stone floors with a polished finish, a professional stone restoration contractor can hone your floors to help moisture escape. Later, when the floor is completely dried out, they can restore the polished finish. If you have tile and grout floors, a professional tile restoration contractor can remove your grout lines to help moisture escape and then regrout the floors.

What About Water Under My Tile?

Insurance adjusters may not know if there is damage under the tile. Because evidence of damage may not present until weeks or months after the fact, you may not want to sign on the dotted line with your insurance company right away.

Here are some signs that water has made its way into and under your tile floors:

  • Discoloration. The iron in natural stone can oxidize (rust), turning the stone yellow, brown, or red. The floor will likely need to be replaced.
  • Efflorescence. A white substance appears on the surface of stone, or for water-resistant tile floors, along grout lines. This indicates that salts from the substrate are being deposited on the surface. The floor may not need to be replaced. Contact your professional stone restoration contractor. NOTE: Do not seal the floor.
  • Spalling, pitting, and flaking. These are indications of subflorescence, which is similar to efflorescence. The difference is that the salts from the substrate have become trapped in the stone instead of escaping to the surface. The floor may need to be replaced.
  • Mold and mildew. This problem only happens if contaminated water containing organic materials is absorbed into and under tile floors. If the substrate is a cement slab, in most cases the bond between the tile and cement will not allow the absorption of any organic material. You can buy a mold testing kit at your local home supply store, but it would be advisable to consult with an inspector.
  • Tiles are lifting. In the tile industry, this problem is called tenting. If the wood substrate absorbs water, the wood expands, causing the tiles to lift. The floor as well as the substrate may need to be replaced.

Different types of water, such as sewage, salt, fresh, or potable / drinkable, can affect your flooring in various ways. Different types of flooring, such as ceramic, porcelain, travertine, marble, granite, and others, will respond in various ways to such damage. Your professional stone restoration contractor or an inspector who specializes in tile and stone can make recommendations about whether your flooring should be replaced.

In many cases, properly installed tile floors can withstand water damage and flooding. With proper care, you may be able to avoid replacement. Feel free to reach out to Copher Tile and Stone with specific questions about your installation.

Article by Alice Dean

Resource: The Stone and Tile Show, Fred Hueston, Stone Forensics

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