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50% Moisture Levels in Wood Flooring

11/24/2011 10:01 AM

I have a contract on a home in Austin. The home sits on a steeply sloped hillside. The home inspector showed me moisture readings all along the uphill side of the home running over 50% in the wood floors. As we move away from the wall, the moisture reading gradually drop. In the middle of the house (20' from the uphill facing wall) there is finally a reading below 10%. There is no moisture showing in the walls. There is no damage like cupping in the floors. But we can't tell if they were sanded recently. The floors are oak. They look like they are original to the 1979 era home. But they do appear to be in too good a shape like they may have been recently refinished. The homeowner is denying any knowledge of course and says the floors were polished only.

It appears that the limestone the house is built on is very porous and absorbs the rain immediately. My uneducated guess is that the water is flowing underground and pooling at the base of the slab and wicking up. There is no evidence of pooling at the slab level. There is a good 6" of slab above grade level. What really has me wondering is that we are in the middle of a 2 yr drought and have had only (2) - 1/2" rains in the last 6 months, both in the last month. There is also a sprinkler line that runs only 6" away from the slab on the entire length of the uphill side of the home. However, the homeowner states that the line has not been run in 6 months or more since all his plants died in the drought. If it was leaking, I would assume that I would see some pooling which I am not seeing. Plus the moisture levels in the floor is pretty consistent on the entire 50' length of the back of the house. It would seem to me that if that was leaking it would cause a higher level at one spot in the floor. Any way I would like opinions about:

1-causes

2-cures

3-should I get out of this contract all together or just try to negotiate a better deal

????

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#1

Re: 50% Moisture levels in wood flooring

11/24/2011 10:21 AM

Buyer beware.

All is not right here.

Sounds like the pipe is leaking or the house is sitting on a spring, which I doubt.

The water table has surly dropped here, as it has in Arkansas where I visited earlier.

If the owner's playing dumb, I'd walk away or hire a (Sorry for the profanity) lawyer, and get an insurance policy.

Suing for non-disclosure after the fact will be costly.

Find a house with dry floors.

Good luck.

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#2

Re: 50% Moisture levels in wood flooring

11/24/2011 11:07 AM

I second the motion.

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#3

Re: 50% Moisture levels in wood flooring

11/24/2011 12:38 PM

If you do have wicking as you suspect, the joists that sit on the foundation would have to pick up the water first, then transfer it through the subfloor to the oak flooring. Not likely in a drought.

It sounds like the owner put down an oak floor out of air-dried material, instead of kiln dried flooring.

The moisture level of wood flooring is extremely important to getting a good result out of the floor. Material is kiln dried to 6-7% moisture content before milling, with every board checked to remove those with too high or too low content. Then after milling into flooring, it is delivered to the home and placed in the room it is to be installed in for at least a week, to acclimate. The kiln dried material will still exchange moisture, but at a level so small as to not open up cracks or cup.

Air dried material is subject to wild swings in moisture and wicking, due to the fact that its cell structure is still fully intact, allowing osmosis to continue forever. The ends of the boards are where the moisture is bleeding from, and re-absorbing from, giving the higher readings at the ends, and lower in the centers.

In contrast, kiln dried material has one of the long sides of the cell wall ruptured in the drying process, allowing the moisture content to be set as a fairly constant value.

It sounds to me like the owner decided to do an "upgrade" on the cheap to increase curb appeal, and very likely got a "deal" on some flooring made from lumber that was air dried, and way out of spec moisture wise. Thus requiring the recent refinishing to cover up the issue in hopes of unloading it someone else.

Keep looking for a better place. This floor will never stop warping and cupping. If it is bad enough to need to be sanded in a drought, imagine when the rain comes back.

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#4
In reply to #3

Re: 50% Moisture levels in wood flooring

11/24/2011 10:08 PM

The oak flooring sits directly on the slab. No joists. The oak floors look like they are original to the house (1979), but refinished.

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#5

Re: 50% Moisture Levels in Wood Flooring

11/24/2011 11:38 PM

I think I would side with Lyn on this one: try and wiggle out of your contract. You should have a clause regarding inspection, and acceptence or rejection of the contract based on that. So I guess that is answering number 3 first.

To answer #2: tell me more about the floor, the slab, and the foundation wall on the up hill side of the house. Is this a basement senario? Is the wall below grade at all?

To answer #3: I need to know your answers to all the above before I reply to this one.

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#6
In reply to #5

Re: 50% Moisture Levels in Wood Flooring

11/25/2011 12:41 AM

There is no basement. The hill was leveled to make a flat area for the foundation. The hill's slope begins going up only 2-3 feet from the rear of the house. The concrete slab comes out of the ground a minimum of about 6 inches on all sides of the home. On the sides of the home going from back to front (following grade) the slab wall is considerably higher.

No basement, although, the home is multi-level as it follows the hill down. The garage is in front of the home and the first (entry level of the home) projects out over the garage. The entry is closer to the middle of the home on the side. But nothing in the home is below ground.

And I still have 7 days left in my option period. I can get out of this any time I want until then without financial loss. However, if there is any hope of permanently fixing this at the Sellers expense, then I would likely go forward. Especially if I could get a reduction in price to go with it.

Thanks.

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#7
In reply to #6

Re: 50% Moisture Levels in Wood Flooring

11/25/2011 2:01 AM

Ok, I have your house layout in my head now. As mentioned previously, the oak flooring may have not been kiln dried, but that actually may be a blessing in disguise.

Without seeing first hand your conditions here is my best guess at the cause: I don't think it is a waterline leak, as the moisture seems to be very consistent along the entire length of your back wall and you also did not mention having radiant floor heating. I am also guessing your oak flooring is glued directly to the slab floor. You also said no portion of any wall was below grade. All this leads me to conclude that the moisture source is the ground beneath the slab - especially the edge of the slab deepest into the hillside. The most logical source of this moisture is subterranean water seeping down the hillside. Even though you have had very little rain, there can be (as I have seen) significant amounts of water. I believe you also mention the ground absorbs water quickly, which also means the water can come out in a deep cut as well.

Now for the solution: it is fairly straight forward, but not cheap. My recommendation would be to pull up all the flooring in the rooms with higher moisture content (maybe 1/2 your sq footage?), grind the concrete for a clean open surface, apply a concrete sealer like zypex (disclaimer: no I do not represent them in any fashion), allow to cure 2 - 4 weeks, then install new flooring of your choice.

Unless this house is somehow a steal of a lifetime, I still think I would steer away from it. As a WAG, I would think you are looking at about $20k give or take on this particular endeavor. If you do decide to move forward, I would get at least $25k maybe $30k concession from the owner for this piece.

At the end of the day it really doesn't matter where the water is coming from, but it is coming through the slab and it needs to be addressed. As for the zypex, it will seal the water out if done properly. Do not be tempted to use something like drylock, as you will have problems within a few years and be back at square one. Also, installing drainage around the foundation will eliminate some but not all of the moisture under your slab. Plus you will still need to pull up your flooring. The other caveat is I don't think the owner is being forthright about the floor issue, so that may also be a red flag. Good luck which ever way you decide to go.

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#8

Re: 50% Moisture Levels in Wood Flooring

11/25/2011 5:16 AM

The reason for the floor being recently sanded is plain and simple - the wood was cupped. Cupping comes from moisture and once the wood is installed, THERE IS NO CURE for the ongoing (and oncoming) cupping.
And if the MC is 50 %, you should be able to do laundry with the amount of water in that wood.
I speak from experience. I built a house in 98 and installed flooring that was green. BIG mistake. The supplier assured me it was kiln dried but I later caught him on his website admitting it was green. We reached a settlement but even after 13 years, the wood is still changing (cupping and uncupping). It has mostly flattened out but there is enough cupping remaining that it is quite evident. That flooring supplier is now out of business.
I would strongly suggest that you get out of the contract and NOT buy this house. Even if you were to replace the wood with carpet, you will still have the moisture problem in the floor/slab and it will rot or mold the carpet.
Don't walk away from this house, no matter how much you like it. RUN !

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#9

Re: 50% Moisture Levels in Wood Flooring

11/25/2011 5:34 AM

If the house is in a great location then don't walk away, haggle the price way down. Your first offer should be 50% of land value only. Assume that the house is unrepairable and will need to be removed......

This is a buyer's market.

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#10
In reply to #9

Re: 50% Moisture Levels in Wood Flooring

11/25/2011 6:16 AM

Wal

Based on his description, I would think there is a problem inherent in the lay of the land and there is nothing that could be done, even if you removed it and built a new house.

As you say, it is a buyers market and something better is more than likely to come along.

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#11

Re: 50% Moisture Levels in Wood Flooring

11/25/2011 6:18 AM

Beware of assumptions. The assumption you make is that the water has come through the floor. It may have been a plumbing disaster, check the roof cavity for signs of pipe repairs. Look at the roof (perhaps from google earth ) to see if there was a hole from something. Check also the ceiling from within the roof space, it would also show signs of repair.

I would guess that if you told the owner your concerns and request an inspector do the checks above he may be more forthright and tell the truth. O.K. my assumption.

Good luck,

Jim

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#12
In reply to #4

Re: 50% Moisture levels in wood flooring

11/25/2011 6:36 AM

The oak flooring sits directly on the slab.

That's a big part of the problem.

http://www.woodweb.com/knowledge_base/Installing_Hardwood_Floors.html

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#13

Re: 50% Moisture Levels in Wood Flooring

11/25/2011 7:20 AM

If the location is good anything else can be changed or fixed or dealt with.

If the location is ordinary walk away.

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#14

Re: 50% Moisture Levels in Wood Flooring

11/25/2011 10:32 AM

I'd walk.

After following this till now, I think the only way to salvage this (and stop cupping) is to equalize the humidity on both sides of the floor. Until then you will be constantly pumping water through the floor from the high humidity side to the low humidity side, where it can evaporate into the room. $$$$$$$$$$$$$ for someone.

Of course, we're here and you're there, looking at the house you obviously want to buy.

Proceed with the knowledge that a home is the biggest purchase most of us make in our lifetimes. You need to be satisfied with the deal you make.

Good Luck.

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#15
In reply to #14

Re: 50% Moisture Levels in Wood Flooring

11/25/2011 10:50 AM

More info. This is in West Lake Hills, Texas, a city within Austin. Think Beverly Hills of Austin. Lot value is 70% of deal. Purchase price is $200k below anything else we've looked at and Austin has not been a buyers market for years. This house less lot value is priced at 65% of replacement and it is in great shape less the moisture issue. Plus this problem will have to take another $50k off the deal before my option period is over or I will walk.

Thanks guys for all the input to date...

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#16

Re: 50% Moisture Levels in Wood Flooring

11/25/2011 11:17 AM

IMO, the Seller has not offered a FULL AND TRUTHFUL DISCLOSURE regarding the problems and failures of this specific house, thus the Contract to purchase may be legally non-binding and null, depending on your state's real estate laws.

IF the Seller fights you backing out of the Contract, then first thing you should do is obtain the services of a Licensed Professional Engineer (from your state to thoroughly inspect the premises), and a really good Attorney who is well-versed in Real Estate Contract Law.

Otherwise, run away very fast and don't buy the POS......as trouble will rear it's ugly head in triplicate (maybe Spades?) when the rains start falling again or you activate that landscape/garden sprinkler in question!

Ever heard the term "Money Pit"?

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#17

Re: 50% Moisture Levels in Wood Flooring

11/25/2011 12:50 PM

I'd say your inspector's moisture meter is malfunctioning. Oak is a tight-grained wood and well-known for its expansion and contraction extremes with variations in moisture content. First, I doubt seriously that you could get oak to a 50% moisture content even if you submerged it in a tub. Second, if it actually has such a moisture content level, it would cause the oak to expand to the point that it would buckle and heave, not just cup.

Years ago, when I was starting in construction, I went to work for a general contractor who had just finished an indoor neighborhood movie theater. It was a fancy one with 5/4 x 4" oak chair rail around the perimeter wall. There were two china drinking fountains that were partially recessed into the wall. As was the custom of the day, all of the oak trim was delivered in advance and stored in the building for several weeks to adjust to the natural humidity in the building. The finish carpenters were instructed to leave a gap in the chair rail at each drinking fountain to allow for expansion, in the event that the oak had not fully adjusted to the natural humidity. Several months after completion of the project, we were notified that the chair rail had expanded and literally sheared the fronts off of both the fountains. It turned out that the gaps were not left as directed and the fluctuations in the interior humidity were greater than anticipated.

I have seen maple gymnasium floors heave as much as 3'-4' in the middle of the area on account of flooding or high moisture content. In this case, you should proceed with caution but also recognize that there is something very wrong with the inspector's findings.

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#18

Re: 50% Moisture Levels in Wood Flooring

11/25/2011 7:21 PM

My two bits.

I would check with his insurance company to see if there has been any damage claims on the house.

Good luck

Doug

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#19

Re: 50% Moisture Levels in Wood Flooring

11/25/2011 11:24 PM

As a general rule, the grade should slope away from the house for at least 5 feet, and 5 feet out it should be 6'' lower than at the foundation. If the last rain gave the foundation a good wetting, it could still be damp 2 weeks later.

Sounds like the rest of the house, the location, etc makes it a pretty good deal. I would not use a sealer on the slab -- the slab should not be getting wet in the first place. Sealer just hides the real problem. Fix the grading correctly, putting in (or re-digging) a french drain the full length of the back side of the house. Make sure the irrigation line is not leaking. Also check plumbing drain and supply lines all along that side of the house.

With a problematic setting, you'd want to make sure that that gutters are installed, clean, and that their drains are directed well away from the foundation, ideally via underground drain pipes.

In my experience "foundation repair" specialists are no darn good. You usually have to first make the grading and french drains right. Then there is no need for the sealers and other wierd stuff the foundation guys pitch.

50% is incredibly wet.

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#20
In reply to #19

Re: 50% Moisture Levels in Wood Flooring

11/26/2011 12:23 AM
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#21
In reply to #19

Re: 50% Moisture Levels in Wood Flooring

11/26/2011 1:33 AM

The house does not sit on a foundation, it is slab on grade. The slab is cut into the side of the hill. The ground on which the slab sits appears to be significantly porous. I have seen cases where the surface of a relative steep slope is dry, but when a cut was made subterranean water flowed like a small creek. With a slab on grade cut into a hillside, no French drain will address hydrology and hydraulic water pressure running under the surface of the slope. I believe this is why the current owner no longer uses the irrigation system, as it just added more water under the slab.

As for the slab, yes it will wick water up through the concrete, this why so many basements smell damp or musty. In effect, the water table is impacting the bottom of the slab cut into the hill. No French drain will ever have an effect on water wicked up from a high water table.

As for sealers, you are half right. There are some sealers that are just a coating over the concrete like DryLock. Others like Xypex (as I mentioned previously) that penetrate into the concrete and are activated by moisture. It is not some hocus pocus snake oil stuff, it (Xypex) is actually spec'd by PE's on heavy civil project where concrete tanks are installed under water or are holding some kind of fluid without leaking. When applied as per the manufacturer, it will withstand 175 psi of water pressure, so a basement or slab on grade will not be a problem.

As for foundation repair specialists, yes there are some flaky ones out there. But to imply that all foundation repair contractors are snake oil salesmen is not founded. Can the recommendation you make help? Yes, in a significant number of cases. Will it work all the time? No. Will it work in the OP's case? No.

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#22
In reply to #15

Re: 50% Moisture Levels in Wood Flooring

11/26/2011 2:20 AM

Try chopping $100k of the deal.

Lots of places haven't been buyer's markets for years and now they are.

Desperate vendors have an aroma...

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#23
In reply to #21

Re: 50% Moisture Levels in Wood Flooring

11/26/2011 9:33 AM

I have to agree with you on the use of Xypex. It's an incredible product, though somewhat expensive, but when all else fails it will eliminate or nearly eliminate water intrusion problems in foundations, basement slabs and slabs on grade.

There have been several similar threads in the forum very similar to this one, and I strongly suggest to the OP that he/she do a search of said threads, as he/she can learn quite a bit how to remedy the water and dampness problems at this particular house in question.

FYI, I have specified the use of Xypex in all types of Heavy Civil Engineering Works and otherwise the past 20 or so years now, and I glad to report that there have been no known water intrusion failures that I am aware of. Please note that there are several different Xypex products available, and one must select the proper product to suit the desired end result.

===signed,

CaptMoosie, PE/PhD

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#24
In reply to #21

Re: 50% Moisture Levels in Wood Flooring

11/27/2011 7:10 PM

The house does not sit on a foundation, it is slab on grade.

Perhaps you live somewhere other than in the US? In the US, there are three common foundations: slab, crawlspace, and basement. Slabs foundations can be constructed in at least three ways.

With a slab on grade cut into a hillside, no French drain will address hydrology and hydraulic water pressure running under the surface of the slope. I believe this is why the current owner no longer uses the irrigation system, as it just added more water under the slab.

You are incorrect. Properly designed french drains can relieve water pressure from under a slab. Water flows downhill, so if the drains are deep, any water under the slab will flow into them, particularly if the ground is porous, as the potential buyer claims. If there is significant water pressure, (building up under the slab because it is improperly drained) then sealant applied to only part of the slab (and not under the high side walls themselves) is very unlikely to work. In the worst cases, such houses become boats, with the potential for slab cracks, etc.

In heavy rains the entire hillside can be wet for several feet down. Without drains on the high side, the foundation will be wet. Sealing part of the upper surface of a wet slab is not a fix I would live with.

If the floor is wet on the high side, then the mudsill will also be wet and the bolts are likely to be rusting. This is not fixed by slapping on a little sealant, especially when that sealant cannot be applied between the mudsill and the slab.

But to imply that all foundation repair contractors are snake oil salesmen is not founded.

If you reread my post, you will see that I wrote "In my experience..." That does not mean that all foundation repair guys are snake oil salesmen. It only means that I have not come across a competent one.

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#25
In reply to #23

Re: 50% Moisture Levels in Wood Flooring

11/27/2011 8:07 PM

I have to agree with you on the use of Xypex. It's an incredible product, though somewhat expensive, but when all else fails it will eliminate or nearly eliminate water intrusion problems in foundations, basement slabs and slabs on grade.


I am surprised that, as a PE, you are recommending that tearing up flooring and applying some sealant to only part of the slab should be the first approach. That is what Jonathan has advised. Slapping on some sealant on only the exposed surfaces of half of a slab is not responsible in my opinion. This will reduce the rate at which the sealed part of the foundation dries, and cause the now dry part to become wetter.
To be dimensionally stable, the entire foundation needs to be uniformly dry. The wood likewise needs to uniformly dry.


Sealant on the floor does nothing to fix the wet mudsill. It does nothing to fix the root cause.


What is wrong with the standard practice of providing good drainage first? Clearly, this house does not have good drainage.

I moved into my current house just after the foundation had been "fixed" by sealants. On the day I moved in, (during a major storm) two entire levels had up to 1/2" standing water. The solution, which took about a day and a half with a small machine, was to dig new drains and regrade. The house is now bone dry, and has been for 7 years so far, in a county that has had major flooding several times.

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#26
In reply to #25

Re: 50% Moisture Levels in Wood Flooring

11/27/2011 9:27 PM

good primary drainage is the 1st line of defense
followed by french drains
if the house is sitting on a spring, good luck

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#27
In reply to #17

Re: 50% Moisture Levels in Wood Flooring

11/28/2011 10:29 AM

I agree that a 50% moisture reading is very high. What type of moisture meter was used? When was it calibrated last?

Given the extreme drought in central TX, I would be surprised anything in that state had 50% moisture content. Check for plumbing or other interior sources of water in the area. Get a different meter and double check the moisture content.

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#28

Re: 50% Moisture Levels in Wood Flooring

11/29/2011 4:14 PM

? is the house cooled with a swamp cooler and does the basement vent happen to be at the back wall? I had a problem with a maple floor once that bucked under a swamp cooler but was fine ten feet away.

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#29

Re: 50% Moisture Levels in Wood Flooring

12/05/2011 8:47 AM

is the test equipment working properly? is it possible that the foundation is setting on a aquafer? i'm not familiar with the area, but limestone will leach water even during dry spells. have you tried a dehumidifier? run it for a few days and check the moisture content again. there may be trapped water laying along the walls from mopping the floors. seal the end grain of the floor. this is a must!!! but only after the floor boards are completely dry.

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