water damage on baseboards

Here’s How to Fix Minor Water Damage on Baseboards (and a Warning!)

Repairing minor water damage on baseboards is trickier than you might imagine. In fact, because baseboards are inexpensive, replacing them is a far better solution.

But that’s just a small part of the overall problem.

By the time you notice your baseboard damage, you’re likely to have way more damage occurring behind the walls! And it can become a serious health issue.

Signs of Baseboard Water Damage

The signs of water damage to any of your walls, ceilings, floors, and baseboards (or trim) are similar. This makes it easy to spot regardless of where you see a possible issue.

  • Discoloration, staining, and peeling. Typically, these are the first visible signs of water damage. On painted materials, you’ll first notice a change in color followed by staining and/or peeling (bubbling) of the paint. On unpainted wood, this will be harder to detect. The good news is that the baseboard can be removed and refinished if this is all you see. So, a new piece is probably not needed.
  • Swelling or warping. If you see a baseboard that has swelled or warped, a repair won’t help. You’ll need to replace the baseboard with a new piece. The wood or fiberboard has soaked up so much water that it can not be fixed.
water damage on baseboards - swelling and warping
Notice how the baseboard has warped and the wall behind it has swollen. Also, there are stains on the baseboard. These are commons signs of water damage coming from behind the wall. At this point, the wall needs to be restored by a professional.
water damage on baseboards - paint peeling and bubbling
Another sign of water damage on baseboards is when paint peels or bubbles. More important, notice the dark spots? This is mold that is already growing on the baseboard (and possibly on the wall behind it). It needs to be opened up and properly restored.

What is a Baseboard?

Baseboard is the trip that runs between the floor and the wall. It usually is between 3 and 8 inches tall and comes in a variety of materials and styles.

Although it is a decorative piece of trim, its primary function is to hide the openings (or misalignments) between the bottom edge of the wall and the floor.

Parts of a Baseboard

In most cases, the parts of (or associated with) a baseboard include:

  • Wall. Drywall is a common material used to create the wall that the baseboard is attached to. However, the wall can be plaster, wood, or any other building material.
  • Stud. A stud is a vertical support that the wall is attached to. It is part of the frame of the house. Because it is sturdy and almost always made of wood, it is a great place to anchor items onto the wall (trim, paintings, shelving, etc.) with a nail or other fastening tool.
  • Baseboard molding. Baseboard and baseboard molding is one in the same. A baseboard can be plain or “molded” to be more decorative.
  • Finish nail. Finish nails, or finishing nails, are thicker than brad nails. This makes them stronger but also more difficult to remove, which makes them perfect for nailing down baseboards and other trim items (the trim around doors) that get lots of abuse.
  • Shoe molding. Also called a “base shoe,” shoe molding is a strip of material that attaches to the bottom of the baseboard. It’s usually thin, curved (or rounded), and gets painted the same color as the baseboard.
water damage on baseboards - examples of base shoe molding
Two examples of base shoe molding that attached to a sample baseboard. Notice how both the baseboard and the base shoe can have decorative molding.

Considerations Before Repairing a Water-Damaged Baseboard

Consider these recommendations to make your project go smoother and faster.

  • Before you do anything else, find out how the baseboard got wet and damaged. The source of the problem needs to be fixed immediately. Once the leak has been fixed, you can move forward with a baseboard repair.
  • In most cases, you’ll need a professional water damage professional to check behind the walls for moisture damage and mold. Proper remediation isn’t always possible with residential fans and humidifiers. Often, more powerful commercial models are needed.

Now that we have those important considerations made clear, here’s how you would fix just the baseboard.

  1. Take a piece of the old molding when shopping for a replacement. Older homes often have different styles of baseboard. Newer homes tend to stick to just one style. Make sure you find a suitable replacement.
  2. If it doesn’t already have it, consider adding base shoe molding. It will protect the baseboard from scuff marks. And it’s flexible enough to rise and fall with uneven flooring.
  3. When cutting miters, bring your miter box close to the job and set it up beside the angle you are cutting. It will allow you to orient the angle in the miter box to the angle needed for the baseboard.
miter box for cutting wood at an angle - water damage on baseboards
A miter box (also spelled “mitre”) is an inexpensive device that allows you to cut materials at an angle. You’ll need to do this when replacing a baseboard that attaches to a corner piece.

Replace a Water-Damaged Baseboard in 7 Steps

You’ll need intermediate carpentry skills to handle this project. It will take you about 45 minutes plus some time for finishing (painting, etc.). Also, you’ll need a hammer, finish nails, putty knife, pry bar, pliers, miter box, and a backsaw.

  1. Make sure the wall is dry!

    Be absolutely certain that the wall behind the baseboard is dry and the plumbing leak has been repaired. Do this before you do anything else. Again, you should call a water damage professional to make sure you don’t have water damage and mold behind your walls (it’s a really good chance that you do). This can lead to a dangerous health situation.

  2. Save the existing base shoe

    If you want to save the existing base shoe at the bottom of the baseboard, you don’t want to try to remove the nail. Instead, drive the finish nail all the way through the base shoe with a nail set.

  3. Remove the baseboard

    Pry off the baseboard and top molding by inserting a putty knife, then a pry bar. Pull out the nails with your pliers.

  4. Measure

    This is important. Measure carefully. Add 1/16-inch to the length and spring the molding into place so it fits tightly.

  5. Cut new baseboards

    You can cut the baseboards with an inexpensive miter box and backsaw. Again, make sure you measured at least twice before cutting.

  6. Attach baseboard to wall.

    Drill pilot holes and drive the finish nails into the studies and sole plate. Glue the outside corners.

  7. Attach the base shoe molding

    Place the salvaged (or new) base shoe molding at the foot of the baseboard and attach it. Drill pilot holes and nail it to the baseboard or floor — but not both! The base shoe will cover any unsightly floor irregularities and protect the baseboard.

attaching baseboard to corner wall - water damage on baseboards
Example of an unfinished baseboard being measured to fit a corner wall.

Final Thoughts: Water Damage on Baseboards

Baseboards are tricky to repair because water damage almost always creates problems that can’t be fixed. This is especially true if they have swollen or warped. In those cases, replacement is the only solution.

But more critical, you really need to call a water damage restoration specialist (or a plumber with water damage experience) if you experience this problem. It is highly likely that you have more (and bigger) problems on the inside of your walls than on your baseboards.


Call 1-Tom-Plumber

Don’t hesitate to contact us here or call us at 1-Tom-Plumber (1-866-758-6237) if you need help with any kind of flood or water damage in your home.

1-Tom-Plumber’s certified team of plumbers and drain technicians respond immediately to any emergency plumbing, drain cleaning, or water damage problem. We also handle the excavation of underground water lines and sewer main lines. Our immediate-response team is available every day and night of the year, even on holidays.

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