Not long ago, NFT published an extensive study on consumer complaints related to the floor covering industry. For retailers and installers, the bottom line was the emphasis on responding promptly and scheduling the recommended repairs.

Damage for moisture can come in many forms and often be subtle. The site-finished solid strip flooring seen here has been damaged by slight cupping due to acclimation after installation and finishing.

Of course, those of us who work with hardwood flooring recognize that repair issues are not always cut and dry. An effort to remedy a problem quickly may seem like the right thing to do, but that is not always the appropriate procedure for our part of the business. An enduring premise in the hardwood floor industry revolves around the simple notion that "water and wood don't mix." This is a common bond for all hardwood flooring manufacturers, whatever their differences in the marketplace. That alone should confirm this motto to be our official sacred creed.

As an industry, we even emphasize "minimal" water for routine cleaning. And we continually use phrases like damp wipe as opposed to "damp mopping" when we talk about ways to enhance the longevity of a hardwood floor. Of course, there is a fine line between instilling caution and creating a sense of paranoia in the consumer's mind. After all, a regional weather report predicting heavy showers doesn't mean you have to construct an ark.

Contrary to what some consumers may believe, hardwood floors are probably the most resilient flooring material available. Avoid excess moisture and exercise some simple care and maintenance and your hardwood floor will return years of service and performance-just as the manufacturer intended.

Unfortunately, as we all know, accidents do happen. Mishaps involving water and the impact on the installation can range from bizarre to insignificant. For example, a full pail of water inadvertently spilled on a urethane finished wood floor may have no damaging effect if promptly removed and towel-dried. Circulating air over the exposed area with a common household box fan is also recommended.

As with all floor coverings, undetected leaks are considered extremely silent and deadly. Also, it may take months before the impact to the installation becomes visible. The change may be gradual as it alters the "facial" appearance of the floor, well before prominent cupping is apparent.

Over an extended period, wet mopping a hardwood floor will also finally take its toll on the installation as well. Educating the consumer about proper maintenance should commence at the time of the sale, not after they call complaining about a problem. Customers have a tendency to ignore the cause of the problem even while they simultaneously scrutinize the results. Many homeowners either conclude that the hardwood flooring is defective or that the installation was done wrong before they will ever consider the problem to be environmental.

Defending your reputation and exposing the real cause can usually only be accomplished using a moisture meter. When troubleshooting, secure several readings in various areas. The obvious areas will demonstrate higher unacceptable readings while other areas of the installation unaffected will denote lower readings.

Telling the customer point-blank that the situation is it not your problem is likely to only escalate the problem. Choose your words wisely. After agreeing on the conclusion of the inspection, work with the customer to formulate a time table for repairs.

The first step, of course, is to eliminate the source of the moisture. Second, allow ample time for the hardwood and subfloor to dry. Then proceed with repairs only after the flooring has reverted back to an acceptable moisture level. In some cases, the problem will correct itself. Avoid rushing the repairs. (Remember, the cupping process occurred gradually.) If there is large-scale cupping, remove boards along the wall line. Ventilate and dehumidify the area. Stay in touch with the customer on a periodic basis to gauge the progress of drying.

After a sufficient time has elapsed, and the flooring is considered dry, proceed with any repairs that may be required. If you are working with prefinished hardwood, remove the hardwood units that are unacceptable and replace with the same hardwood flooring as originally installed. If the original installation was job site finished, sand the cupped areas and blend with the existing wood using stain and finish. But remember: Prematurely sanding a cupped hardwood that is not at an acceptable moisture level will only create additional damage to the hardwood flooring. The flooring that was cupped will not be convexed in appearance after the hardwood is finally dry and well after the sanding has been completed.

Put it this way: Hardwood floors that have been damaged by water normally require a mere "lifeboat" repair and not the utilization of the entire "Naval Fleet" normally associated with other floor covering materials. While it is important to let the customer know you are eager to resolve the situation, when it comes to the repair job, remember the phrase you have heard since preschool: "haste makes waste."

Rushing the repair job is like applying a Band-Aid to a severe cut. It may only stop the bleeding for a short period of time but you may still need major surgery in the not too distant future.