Water damage is one of the most devastating things that can happen to your kitchen, and the risk is high enough with all that plumbing nearby. Water damage can wear away finishes, it can seep into cracks, and it can cause mold growth. But the worst thing that water damage can do is disintegrate your cabinetry right out from under your countertop.
Most kitchen cabinets are made from particle board of varying density. Particle board is wood scrap pressed into board. It can last for decades in a dry climate, but when wet, it breaks apart more easily. This is why water damaged cabinets can turn to mush in your hands, because it started as pressed woodpulp in the first place. Even if you have beautiful carved hardwood cabinet doors, there’s a good chance your cabinet structure is still made of pressed wood.
So what do you do when water damage has put the structure of your cabinets at risk? How can you save your beautiful undamaged countertop that rests on the damaged cabinets?
The Challenge: Countertops Can’t Be Switched In and Out
Stone countertops, as a rule, cannot be removed and reinstalled. The risk of damage during the maneuver is simply too high. This is why we often recommend that homeowners rebuild their cabinetry – if they are so inclined – right before a new countertop goes in. Because once that counter is in place, so are the cabinets supporting it below.
You may well be facing the need to rebuild all or most of your water damaged cabinetry, and you’ll need to do that with your countertop in place.
Will It Dry?
If the water damage just happened, have your cabinets assessed. Particle board, if it does not begin to crumble can dry almost as strong as it was before. Avoid disturbing the water-damaged board and consult with a local carpenter or kitchen specialist as to whether cabinet replacement will be necessary. If so, make preparations to protect your countertop in the process.
Assess the Water Level and Support Structure
The first step is to figure out just how much after damage there is and whether your countertops or cabinets are currently at risk of collapsing. For example, if only the bottom of your cabinets flooded and dissolved, then you can replace just the bottoms and leave the vertical support pieces in place. If the vertical pieces are soft from water damage, you have a more serious problem and may need to – very carefully – replace these struts with new pieces.
The level of water damage likely depends on where the water damage came from. A slow leak from the sink fixtures or a flood in the house will damage only the lowest layer, while a spray of water from broken plumbing is more likely to damage a taller area, but more limited in scope. This could be a benefit to you. If only the vertical struts framing the sink lower cabinet were damaged, then the rest of your cabinet support structure is likely still intact and effectively holding up your countertop. Limited damage will be a lot easier to fix.
Place Temporary Support Struts Where Necessary
Before you start removing cabinet pieces, even soft cabinet, put in replacement struts. Replace the support that any damaged vertical cabinet pieces were providing so that it is safe to remove each strut. It’s important that your heavy countertop have support all the way across, so removing just one vertical counter piece could be risky. New struts are essential to your safety, and the integrity of your countertop.
If you are working with a professional carpenter, they will make sure all the support needs are taken care of before moving on to the next step.
Remove the Mushy Particle Board
Now you are safe to remove the damaged particle board pieces. Scoop out the mush, if necessary, with a plastic utensil or otherwise lift out the board that remains integrous. You may need to cut the tops of vertical pieces of board to leave the greater cabinet intact while removing the specifically damaged pieces.
Be very careful removing the particleboard. Do not break any of the integrous board, which might be a little soft but will dry solid again given time and airflow.
Have New Cabinet Pieces Installed
For every piece of cabinetry you had removed, be sure to have it replaced immediately. Use a sturdy choice of board and seal it against future water damage just in case. New pieces of cabinetry should replace the structural value of the pieces removed so that the heavy countertop above is fully supported all the way across its length. This is also a great opportunity to rebuild your shelves and organization in the cabinet space you are rebuilding.
Refinish Your Cabinets to Complete the Repair
Once our new cabinet pieces are installed, you have a chance to refinish your cabinetry in a new and satisfying way. If you paint was damaged by the water that melted your support boards, then now is your chance to repaint. Reclaim your cabinets after this disaster, whatever it was, to make your kitchen even more beautiful than (or a perfect replica of) how it was before.
If the cabinets underneath your beautiful stone countertop are water damaged, you can often save both the cabinets and the countertops without a risky reinstallation. Rebuilding your cabinets from below means you don’t have to remove your countertops, which can result in accidental damage, scratches, and cracks. When your countertop stays in place, you can protect it from this transition even if most of your cabinetry needs to be replaced one piece at a time.
If your countertop is at risk after water damage, contact us to consult with a team of countertop and kitchen experts. We would be proud to help you protect your beautiful stone countertop, whether it was just installed or has been with your kitchen for over a decade. Contact us and we’ll help you figure out the right next steps to save your counters.