Find­ing kitchen mois­ture source crit­i­cal

Winnipeg Free Press - Section F - - HOMES - ARI M8R8NTZ

QUES­TION: Re­cently we have no­ticed a siz­able hump in our kitchen floor which has been get­ting pro­gres­sively worse. We have a very high-end lam­i­nate floor and it seems to be lift­ing along one of the seams di­rectly be­side the re­frig­er­a­tor. In the past we have checked for any water dam­age from around the sink and dish­washer and also see no dam­age to the base­ment ceil­ing. Our base­ment is un­fin­ished so vis­i­bil­ity is good. To­day we pulled out the re­frig­er­a­tor and no­ticed that the toe plate on that side of the counter is swollen and very dark. It looks like water dam­age but we can see no sign of any wet ar­eas or stains. Could the re­frig­er­a­tor be caus­ing this prob­lem? It is well-vented ac­cord­ing to the man­ual, how­ever it has a bot­tom-mounted freezer.

Could it be caus­ing con­den­sa­tion of some sort? If you feel that it is in­deed a mois­ture prob­lem, as we sus­pect, what op­tions would we have? Do you have any sug­ges­tions of where to start to cor­rect this prob­lem? Your opin­ion would be very much ap­pre­ci­ated. Best re­gards. Cathy and Stan Falk

AN­SWER: The dam­age you are see­ing to your kitchen floor is un­doubt­edly due to mois­ture and find­ing the source is crit­i­cal in solv­ing this prob­lem. There are sev­eral pos­si­bil­i­ties and they should be elim­i­nated one by one un­til the true source is found, and then ac­tions taken to stop fur­ther de­te­ri­o­ra­tion.

It’s un­der­stand­able that it may have been dif­fi­cult to lo­cate the source of your buck­ling floor­ing ini­tially. Be­cause lam­i­nate floor­ing has a very durable sur­face, but a sub­strate that is very sus­cep­ti­ble to mois­ture dam­age, de­te­ri­o­ra­tion may go un­no­ticed for some time. When water seeps through the joints be­tween the in­di­vid­ual planks, or gets un­der the floor­ing it­self, the fi­bre­board core may be­gin to swell with­out any vis­i­ble signs on the sur­face. Of­ten, it is too late to do any­thing to stop fur­ther de­te­ri­o­ra­tion once this has oc­curred. For this rea­son, I al­ways cau­tion my clients to quickly wipe up any water that drips or spills onto the sur­face of lam­i­nate floor­ing, es­pe­cially in kitchens. I also rec­om­mend against us­ing this prod­uct in any bath­rooms for the same rea­son.

While it is pos­si­ble that the ini­tial bump in your floor could be due to typ­i­cal floor move­ment and shift­ing, the swelling and stain­ing at the bot­tom of the kitchen cab­i­nets is a dead give-away for water dam­age. Some­how, mois­ture is be­ing ab­sorbed by the par­ti­cle­board in this area, caus­ing sim­i­lar de­te­ri­o­ra­tion to that seen in your floor­ing. The ques­tion to ad­dress is where this mois­ture is coming from.

When try­ing to iden­tify the source of some­thing like this, I al­ways start look­ing at the most com­mon cul­prits. If the kitchen sink or dish­washer are di­rectly ad­ja­cent to this area, start there. It is quite com­mon for kitchen faucets to drip un­de­tected, es­pe­cially from re­tractable hoses for spray wands, in­side cab­i­nets. If the bot­tom of the cab­i­net is solid, with­out any pipe pro­tru­sions or holes, water dam­age is nor­mally seen in the cab­i­net it­self. If the cab­i­net has any open­ings, par­tic­u­larly in the bot­tom around water sup­ply or drain pipes, look there first. While it may not be read­ily vis­i­ble with the naked eye, try push­ing a rolled up pa­per towel into th­ese open­ings un­til it touches the ac­tual sub­floor and see if it comes out wet. If it is damp, you have likely found the source of the water.

A drip­ping or sweat­ing water sup­ply pipe or faucet can pro­duce a lot of mois­ture, which may be run­ning along the sub­floor be­neath the cab­i­net. This may run down­hill un­til it reaches an ob­struc­tion, in your case the cab­i­net gable or kick plate. This water will be wicked up into the man-made, wood-based cab­i­net, caus­ing the swelling and stain­ing you have ob­served. If there is enough mois­ture, it could also run un­der­neath the cab­i­net and even­tu­ally be ab­sorbed into the base of the lam­i­nate floor­ing. This would cer­tainly cause the floor­ing to buckle as it swelled, cre­at­ing the floor hump and lift­ing floor seams you have ob­served.

If the area un­der the sink and cab­i­net are dry, and no vis­i­ble leak­age or mois­ture is seen on the water pipes in this area, the next prob­a­bil­i­ties are the dish­washer and fridge. Built-in dish­wash­ers can be prob­lem­atic when there are leaks, be­cause the water sup­ply con­nec­tions, and a good por­tion of the flex­i­ble drain hose, are hid­den un­der­neath. To ac­com­mo­date this, most man­u­fac­tur­ers have eas­ily re­mov­able kick plates to in­spect this area. Once you have re­moved this metal cov­er­ing, shine a good flash­light in this area and look for pool­ing water. If none is vis­i­ble, try the pa­per towel trick again, this time lay­ing out a sheet or two flat, to see if any water is ab­sorbed. The best time to eval­u­ate a leak­ing dish­washer is right af­ter a com­plete cy­cle, as the leak­age could also be through the door from a dam­aged gas­ket or hard­ware. If noth­ing is vis­i­ble from this and the sink, move on to the re­frig­er­a­tor.

While I am not very fa­mil­iar with the com­po­nents of the newer bot­tom­mounted freezer units, most mod­ern fridges have in­te­gral de­frost mech­a­nisms. Th­ese de­frosters can be­come blocked with dirt or other ob­struc­tions and can leak water. If there is an evap­o­ra­tion pan un­der­neath the fridge, it will usu­ally catch any of this ex­cess water, where it can be harm­lessly dried, but th­ese can also be­come dam­aged or over­flow. Pull out the owner’s man­ual and see if there are in­struc­tions for clean­ing or in­spect­ing the de­frost sys­tem. If this is the item re­spon­si­ble for the water, do­ing the re­quired main­te­nance may solve the is­sue. If you can’t find this in­for­ma­tion, and it ap­pears that the fridge is leak­ing or con­den­sa­tion is form­ing on the out­side any­where, call an ap­pli­ance re­pair com­pany im­me­di­ately.

Un­for­tu­nately, once lam­i­nate floor­ing is swelled, re­place­ment of the dam­aged sec­tions is the only re­pair. Hopefully you have a few ex­tra re­place­ment planks saved, but this can only be done once the cause of the dam­age is found. While it ap­pears ob­vi­ous that water is caus­ing this dam­age, find­ing the source and stop­ping it may be a lit­tle less sim­ple. Ari Marantz is the owner of Trained Eye Home In­spec­tion Ltd. and the pres­i­dent of the Cana­dian As­so­ci­a­tion of Home & Prop­erty In­spec­tors - Man­i­toba ( Ques­tions can be e-mailed to the ad­dress be­low. Ari can be reached at

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