Bowed flooring in front of refrigerator

Q: We have lived in our home for one year. When we moved in we had our red oak hardwood floors refinished. We also had our crawlspace treated so that it is clean and dry. Now, over the past 3 months of summer, an irregularly shaped area of flooring has become bowed, starting with a couple of feet and spreading to become about 20 sq ft. The area is in front of the refrigerator and extends into our pantry, which is beside the refrigerator, separated by a small drywall.

We have had the appliance repairman out (fridge works fine), the crawl space guy out (no evidence of moisture anywhere), the plumber (no evidence of leak), the foundation expert (nothing). All meter readings say floors read at 8% and crawl space humidity is very low and dry. Floor guy ripped up boards in pantry. We found evidence of staining on subfloor! However the color of the floorboards is yellow, not black or dark as would be expected from water. We are assuming (?) there has been some previous spill, oil-related (?) that seeped into subfloor. Either way we are having floors replaced in the area, but I’m asking: do you agree with this assessment, and is there anything we should do to prep the subfloor before laying new floor over it? It appears dry now.

A: Cupping is caused by excessive moisture imbalance on the underside of the floor. As soon as I saw the sentence ‘in front of the refrigerator’ I thought ‘oh no. his ice maker is leaking’. Or the pan under the appliance that catches defrost water has over flowed.

The only advice I can offer at this point is that ‘appear dry’ isn’t enough. The sub floor and new floor need to be checked with a moisture meter and not be more than 4% difference between the 2, with 7-9% generally considered normal for hardwood such as oak. Have the new flooring in the room for a week before installing.

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