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Moisture meters should be essential to your toolkit

After a disaster involving water intrusion, moisture meters are crucial to assess and document the damage prior to replacement or restoration, says Del Williams.

FOR flooring contractors dealing with any disaster where water intrusion plays a role, such as faulty plumbing, water leaks, heavy rainstorms, hurricane, or fire (owing to suppression efforts), moisture meters are necessary to assess the extent of the water damage quickly and efficiently. This is vital to distinguish between salvageable and unsalvageable flooring materials in order to cost-effectively expedite needed construction.

Whether the flooring is carpet, hardwood, laminate, stone, or ceramic, the flooring and the flooring substrate can be damaged and require remediation when excess water is left behind in building materials after a disaster. Left unaddressed, the moisture can lead to mould growth and material rot long after the initial incident. The ability to provide sufficient documentation to prove existing water damage can also be stipulated for insurance claims or possible FEMA registration.

Although the flooring industry has access to moisture meters, to some extent, these tools typically require calibration, sampling, and specialised personnel. In addition, they’re not very portable or flexible in measuring various materials on the jobsite.

Fortunately, a new category of portable, handheld, instant moisture measurement devices are now available for flooring contractors that can be used on a wide range of materials with no special training. These ‘point-and-measure’ units can be used at the jobsite wherever moisture is a problem. These new tools are now helping to speed restoration and improve building quality and can be either purchased or leased.

So, today the typical flooring contractor’s toolkit needs an update. For initial assessment and throughout the rebuild process, contractors involved in work where water intrusion is a problem will need a reliable, portable, instant moisture meter, along with shop vacs, fans, and other equipment to dry and remove water.

‘Since not all water damage is visible to the naked eye, using a moisture meter can help flooring contactors determine exactly just how much of a structure has been exposed to water, so they can save what is dry and safe, and rebuild only what is necessary,’ says John Bogart. Bogart, an expert in moisture and composition analysis, is also Managing Director of Kett US, a manufacturer of a full range of moisture and organic composition analysers.

Faulty plumbing
The primary cause of most routine water damage in a structure is faulty plumbing in the form of burst or leaking pipes. Toilets and drains and can get backed up and blocked, leading to excess pressure in the pipe which can trigger a pipe burst or leak. A poorly functioning garbage disposal can also lead to a burst pipe for the same reason, and old or corroded pipes are prone to leaking.
When plumbing problems such as leakage occur within a building’s walls, structural damage can take place out of sight until it becomes evident and must be remediated.

Water leakage
Water leakage into a structure can occur for a variety of reasons. Heavy rain can soak a building’s interior during the construction of a new building or during remodelling whenever the structure is open to the natural environment.

Older home appliances such as washing machines, water heaters, dishwashers, and refrigerators can all leak water into a building’s interior when hoses or connections weaken or crack. Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) units can also accumulate moisture from the ambient environment and leak when not properly maintained or serviced.

A hurricane can loosen roof shingles enough to allow water to creep in and rot the structure of a building from the top down. Of course, flooding and storm surge can be disastrous to flooring. A contractor’s visual inspection of the flooring can quickly assess any preliminary damage. But as contractors make necessary repairs after a major storm, they’ll also want to quickly discover any moisture seeping in before it causes too much damage.

‘A contractor can use a moisture meter to learn whether or not water is working its way through flooring that has been compromised by heavy rain and flooding of any kind,’ says Bogart.

There are portable moisture meters out there which contractors have found to be effective to instantly check flooring for water damage. These can measure through flooring and deep into the sublayers to evaluate the substrate for moisture. Versatile units also measure drywall, concrete, and mortar.

Major structural damage
If powerful winds, downed trees, or major flooding have caused extensive structural issues, chances are the home or facility has been exposed to a significant amount of water from rain, flash floods, or storm surge.

When structures are ripped open or flooded, it’s important to discover the extent of the damage: Just how far did the water creep into the structure? Is only one area of the structure affected? What needs to be replaced?

If the building has incurred major structural damage, the best way to discover what’s salvageable is to check what’s dry and intact. A moisture meter will provide many of these answers.

According to Bogart, moisture meters utilising near-infrared (NIR) light are a fast, effective way to quickly measure a wide range of materials for moisture content to access water damage. The approach is a highly accurate, non-contact secondary measurement method that can deliver immediate, laboratory quality moisture readings.

‘NIR moisture meters follow the principle that water absorbs certain wavelengths of light. The meter reflects light off the sample, measures how much light has been absorbed, and the result is automatically converted into a moisture content reading. Flooring contractors can use the NIR meters on anything where measuring surface moisture is important,’ says Bogart.

Extinguishing a fire can require using large volumes of water which can prove to be just as destructive to a structure as the fire itself. So, on first inspection it can be helpful for a restoration contractor to use a universal moisture meter or a NIR meter to determine the extent of water damage in plain view and behind the scenes.

Is the base floor too water damaged to salvage? Wood that has been exposed to water and flooding can be susceptible to dry rot. So, using a wood moisture tester to check that wood has properly dried can prevent losing structural integrity as a result of dry rot.

While initial assessment may be the primary focus of moisture measurement for disaster recovery, it can also be invaluable during the rebuild process as well.

‘A moisture meter is good to use not only for assessment but also throughout the entire rebuilding process as well since it helps flooring contractors monitor moisture levels along the way to document building quality and compliance,’ concludes Bogart.

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