Wood and Laminate Flooring in Florida is Problematic

NATURAL WOOD and LAMINATE FLOORS; Not Ideal on Concrete Substrates


Don’t Believe Us? Ask “Holmes on Holmes” TM

 

SEEING IS BELIEVING.

The truth is, wood and laminate floors on a concrete slab at ground level are not a good idea in central and coastal Florida. This may seem like a self-serving statement, but we’re not alone in coming to this conclusion.

Mike Holmes, the home improvement guru of the popular TV series “Holmes on Homes”, isn’t crazy about the idea either…more on this later.

Here’s why: this photo shows one of many moldy vapor barriers we’ve removed in the process of a flooring renovation. 

It clearly shows mold growth throughout the underside of the vapor barrier. The lower left triangular area is the concrete slab. Black mold and remnants of an earlier tile installation can be seen. Roofing felt was used as an underlayment for the home’s original tile installation – an all too common mistake made by previous flooring installers. The laminate flooring that replaced the original tile didn’t show visible signs of mold on the surface. It wasn’t detected until the laminate was extracted in preparation for new porcelain tile installation. Studio Tile removed and replaced it with porcelain tile. This Suntree home was built in the late 1990’s.

 

AGAIN.

Another laminate floor extraction shows clear evidence of mold on the surface of the laminate and on the grey underlayment in the photo here. Mold within the tongue and groove can be seen in the stack of extracted laminate in the background of the other photo.

AND AGAIN.

In another Suntree setting, the slab at the base board indicates mold in the vapor barrier underlayment. This laminate flooring, along with carpet, was removed after repetitive pet accidents and replaced with porcelain tile.

AND YET AGAIN.

This photo shows a room affected by the high water table in Florida and a lack of proper drainage in the property’s landscaping. Originally, a laminate floor was in this room. Studio Tile removed it and discovered a large patch of mold seen in the back of the room. The dark grey areas moisture in the slab due to poor landscape drainage. The vapor barrier beneath the laminate floor trapped moisture and prevented it from evaporating naturally through the home’s air conditioning system.

WHY IS THIS IS HAPPENING?

We’ve identified four primary causes for mold under wood and laminate floors that are installed with a vapor (moisture) barrier. Unfortunately, wood and laminate floors require these underlayments to block moisture because they are highly absorbent and prone to warping.

  1. Florida has a very high water-table. Concrete slabs absorb water from the ground beneath. Concrete is not a barrier to moisture. If you’ve dug any holes in your yard, you know it doesn’t take long to hit soggy sandy ground. This is why there are no basements here. It’s just too wet. Concrete slab construction is an answer to this; however, using the right type of flooring is key.
  2. Florida weather can dump more rain in a short period of time than can be quickly drained away. Think hurricanes and tropical storms. Inevitably, Florida homes are subjected to potential leaks and flooding. Even short term minor flooding will destroy wood and laminate floors. These materials don’t have any resistance to water. Many of the wood floors we’ve replaced with porcelain tile were damaged beyond repair by very minor flooding.
  3. Appliance and plumbing leaks; dishwashers, washing machines, refrigerators and plumbing leaks account for many damaged wood floors. A tiny leak under a powder room sink can spread water throughout the ground floor within hours.
  4. Pets and normal wear wreak havoc on wood and laminate floors – warping, peeling and scratches in surfaces that aren’t durable enough to take the claws and accidents of house pets. Moving furniture across laminate often leaves indentations and scratches. Laminate and woodfloors are no match for the rigors of an active household.

Vapor Barriers

Because wood and laminate floors absorb moisture, measures to protect these flooring materials must be taken when they are installed at ground level. Vapor or moisture barriers can be as simple as a sheet of plastic or a more complex multi-ply sheeting that acts as a moisture, thermal and sound barrier in one application. 

At first thought, a plastic or vinyl sheet barrier installed on top of the concrete slab under the flooring seems like a good idea; however, the barriers do not eliminate the moisture in the concrete slab. And, there is perpetual moisture source of moisture in the ground under our Florida homes. 

Vapor barriers act much like plastic wrap on top of a warm bowl of soup. Water condenses on the underside of the plastic with no means of escape. It is within this environment that mold has an ideal place to grow, unseen by the home-owners.

During construction, many newer homes have another type of vapor barrier installed under the concrete lab to prevent water from accessing the slab. While effective, the success of these barriers doesn’t completely solve the problem.

Minor flooding and even regular exposure to rain or pool water at entries is a frequent trouble spot. Water drains between the joints, soaks into the body of the laminate or wood and into the vapor barrier. Laminates swell and peel, wood swells and warps and the barrier becomes a home for mold.

Why is Porcelain Tile a Better Option?

Porcelain tile is impervious and non-absorbent, so water doesn’t affect it. The moisture in the slab beneath the tile escapes and evaporates through grout joints. This moisture is removed from the air in your home by the air conditioning system. Because the moisture isn’t trapped beneath the tile, the possibility of mold is diminished. During renovations, Studio Tile replaces multiple types of flooring. In every laminate and wood extraction, all have shown some level of mildew or mold in the flooring or the underlayment.

We’ve never seen signs of mold under a tile floor. Tile floors are usually replaced for a handful of reasons:

  1. Faulty or improper installation
  2. Inferior tile that is failing
  3. Clients desire to upgrade or make aesthetic changes

To hear what Mike Holmes of the hit TV series thinks about wood or laminate on ground level concrete, check out Season 4,. Episode EP4046 “Best Laid Plans”. 

Mike Holmes says wood flooring should never be installed on ground level concrete. We agree. If you want natural wood flooring, we suggest using it only on suspended floors. In Florida, this means second floors and higher.

 

Want the Look and Feel of Wood? 

There are hundreds of porcelain tiles that look like wood in the Studio Tile showroom. Take a look at the photo gallery Wood Tile to see numerous homes with tile that looks like wood. 

 

 

 
Josh Unger