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Heavy-duty inspection

Richard Renouf gives us an exclusive peek inside his inspection kit, which is heavy enough
to have recently given him a nasty bump on his shin.

I KNEW my inspection kit was heavy, but got a painful reminder of this when I returned home late one evening and walked into it in the dark as I was reaching for the light switch. A week later, I still have the damage on my shin and it will take a few more weeks to clear.

My inspection kit isn’t a fixed list of items, and over the past few months I’ve added four new items to my kit and they’re proving useful, so I’ll update you. I’ve bought them all for myself, they’re not freebies, and were bought because of a specific situation where they would have been helpful, so I hope you’ll find my thoughts about them are helpful and unbiased.

As a matter of course I always carry two good moisture meters but I’ve now added a third, and it has consigned one of my previous meters to reserve position. It’s a Tramex MEx5 which is made for the non-invasive moisture measurement of wood. It gives an instant reading the moment you lay it on a flat wooden surface and it has three coloured ‘traffic lights’ which are really helpful when you’re explaining things to a customer looking over your shoulder.

But it has alternative settings that allow you to measure other building materials and to alter the depth of the reading. So, for example, you can limit the reading to the flooring and eliminate any effect from the subfloor.

I used to carry a CMEx5, one with sprung pins on the bottom, but that is the one that is now only brought out on the odd occasion when a check reading is necessary.

On a recent inspection I got an unexpected surprise, or rather, a shock. I needed to get right into a corner of the client’s kitchen where there was an assembly of electrical plugs and sockets that looked precarious. ‘Just unplug them.’ said the client. I did, but was careful to switch off the wall socket first. As I pulled out the first plug there was a flash and a bang, but worse was the jolt that went up my arm and the stars that I saw in front of my eyes.

Fortunately (I hope you agree) the main trip switch saved my life, and when I investigated, it became clear that the plug I had removed as matched by a plug on the other end of the same cable, and the cable was being used to bring electricity from another socket.

Completely against electrical regulations and common sense. The client pleaded ignorance. I made a point of ordering a live wire detector to ensure I would never be caught like this again.

The third item was the most expensive, but has become necessary owing to the increase in the use of underfloor heating. Homeowners rarely understand it, can’t explain where the pipes run, or how hot the floor is – they simply assume the room thermostat is the same as the floor temperature and they couldn’t be more wrong.

I’ve therefore added a good thermal camera to my inspection kit. It has a lot of uses. I can spot zones which are not working or which are over temperature. I can find the path of the feed and return. I can alter the sensitivity to enable me to find hot and cold spots that could be due to moisture problems and the device will overlay the thermal image onto a normal photographic image so it’s easy to see exactly what the temperature information relates to.

I’ve always had a point-and-shoot thermometer but this takes things up to a much higher level.

Of course, not all underfloor heating pipes are in use all the time, and there are many other pipes and metal objects buried in some floors which can give odd moisture readings and can affect things in other ways. So I’ve upgraded my metal detector to one which will scan to a depth of 100 mm, but which can be tuned to work in various materials.

Now I need to review everything else in my inspection kit to see if I can lighten it and create a bit more space. I’m sure there must be a few things in there that can be rooted out as they haven’t been used for a year or two. My arms (and possibly my shins) will be grateful.
Richard Renouf is an independent flooring consultant

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