How Cutting Corners And Carelessness Can Lead to Calamity

subfloor underside home improvementSmall things can grow into big consequences. This is true with life in general, as well as with the technical side of your home. A situation I consulted on last winter is a classic case in point. It’s especially instructive for anyone with a finished or soon-to-be-finished basement, but the lessons go beyond this. Learn from the trouble of others and it can save you grief. The fun started when a plastic drain hose popped off a spigot coming out of the gas furnace in a brand new, million-dollar home. The installer had forced the hose onto a fitting that it wasn’t designed for, and he was too lazy to put a clamp on the connection. He also failed to locate the hose properly, so it ran right across the doorway leading from a finished hallway into the unfinished furnace room. One small snag on someone’s foot one morning and the tube quietly popped free of the furnace, letting 20 litres of condensed combustion water from the gas furnace leak quietly and unnoticed under a laminate floor in a neighbouring hallway over the course of the next 36 hours. By the time someone realized there was a problem, squishy sounds were coming from the flooring whenever you walked on it. The seams of the laminate were visibly swollen by then, too.

While none of this would have happened if the furnace installer had done his job properly, what occurred next is an example of how trouble snowballs.

If this laminate floor had been installed over raised subfloor tiles originally, the leaked water would not have been an issue. It would have drained away harmlessly after the leak was stopped. But since the flooring and its foam underlay were tight to the concrete, there was no allowance for trouble. The lack of a subfloor was another short cut that saved the builder money, but also made the snowball bigger.

modern gas furnaceAfter reporting the soggy floor to the insurance company, a mold expert arrived, then cut and removed the flooring from the squishy swath of hallway before anyone knew what was happening. Ragged, splintered edges of freshly-cut laminate ringed the freshly exposed concrete where the soggy floor used to be. While it’s prudent to be concerned about mold and moisture developing underneath the soggy flooring, I suspect the water would have dried fine without floor removal. A fan, a heater and a dehumidifier were at least worth a try. The concrete floor was unpainted too, so it was porous and thirsty. Indeed, the squishiness was gone and the swollen edges of flooring planks had almost disappeared before the over-eager guy with the saw arrived.

With the old floor cut out, insurance repairs were now part of the deal, but how much would the insurance company kick in? The homeowner expected the laminate floor over the entire basement to be replaced, since she felt that a simple patch in the hallway would never match the remaining floor. That said, the original laminate basement floor was never well liked, so what better time to put down a completely different kind of floor? Perhaps with radiant infloor heating? Cost estimates for the issue were now well into five figures beyond what the insurance company was offering, with the prospect of weeks of disruption and a dumpster in the driveway to hold the trashed laminate.

In the end, after considering all the options, the homeowners decided to simply go with my recommendation of simply replacing the cutaway floor and seeing how that looked. Cheaper, easier and more environmentally sound were the reasons why. The repair was done surprisingly well, though that’s not the point. A little more diligence with a small plastic hose, a little less cost cutting that eliminated a proper subfloor in a home that’s expensive enough to have had one, and a whole lot of trouble could have been avoided. Like I said, little things can make a big difference.

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