Measure Twice, Dry Once: Restoring Your Moisture Measurement Practices

When is a dishwasher like a hurricane? When it causes severe water damage to a home or business. It’s not much of a punch line, but the fact is, water damage from any source is no laughing matter.

Obviously, a Category 2 hurricane in the Florida panhandle can leave the interior of a building soaking wet, saturating drywall and insulation. But more often, water damage is brought about by causes a homeowner would not necessarily expect.

If a water-supply hose ruptures or accidentally comes off a dishwasher while a family is away for a week-long vacation, the result can be hundreds of gallons of water spread throughout the home. Or consider the problem of burst pipes in freezing temperatures, a phenomenon residents of the Northeast United States are painfully familiar with. Even if you’re away for just a few hours, the damage left behind can be overwhelming.

Homes that have been damaged by fire may well have an equal or greater amount of damage from the water used to extinguish the flames. A home not completely gutted by the fire might still require demolition or substantial rebuilding from the associated water destruction.

Breaking the Mold

In all cases, the task is clear: get the water out of the structure as quickly as possible. This mandate forms the mission of the disaster restoration market. Whether from hurricanes, floods, fires, other natural disasters or simple appliance malfunction, water intrusion in a building – either residential or commercial – must be eliminated quickly and completely.

The critical concern is mold. There is an approximately 3-4 day window in which water must be removed from the structure; if this isn’t accomplished, mold formation is extremely likely.

Mold, as most restoration professionals know, is not just a minor nuisance; it poses a serious health risk to the residents of a home or employees at a business. Additionally, once mold growth starts, the next step is remediation, an expensive and time-consuming process.

If no action is taken, there is also the possibility of insect infestation.

While the 3-4 day window is a general, unofficial guideline, it is clear that the sooner the moisture is removed from the structure the better. The first step is to measure the amount of water throughout the various areas of the building. Accurate moisture readings are crucial, not only at the start, to obtain a baseline measurement, but also as work progresses, to ensure that moisture-removal efforts are effective.

If moisture readings are inaccurate or false, this can extend the time it takes to dry the structure. If a moisture meter indicates the walls are dry when they are not, the restoration contractor may well reposition or even remove dehumidifiers, air movers, and other specialized devices before he should.

Besides the obvious health risks to the occupants, there may also be legal issues to deal with down the line. If a homeowner’s child becomes ill because of mold that developed as a result of improper drying practices, the restoration contractor could potentially be held liable.

Effective drying is critical, and using tools that measure and document drying efforts is essential. If issues such as mold ever arise, you’ll be able to step up with documentation that quantifies and records your efforts.

No Calm After the Storm

Water damage can be generated by a variety of undesirable occurrences, but severe weather conditions (hurricanes, floods, etc.) often make the biggest impact. Not only do they require an immediate and effective response, the sheer number of damaged structures needing attention provides a tremendous challenge.

A Category 1 or Category 2 hurricane may break windows and damage roofs, allowing water to rush in. The damage would require immediate attention. These are the times when restoration contractors are in the greatest demand.

Restoration professionals need to think strategically in such a scenario. After a severe weather event, getting the job done right the first time means you can move on to help as many affected homeowners and businesses as possible.

Work Quickly and Effectively

When contractors are under this kind of pressure, it’s easy to rush from job to job, but a more-effective restoration strategy depends on having the right tools not only to dry out a structure, but also to measure and document that it is successfully dried out.

Yes, speed is important, but a quality job can’t be rushed. Using tools to monitor the moisture of building materials as well as relative humidity in a structure are essential to determining when a job is really complete.

Victims of hurricanes are often not fully prepared for the damage these powerful storms can inflict. In some ways, a restoration contractor can become a homeowner’s best friend before and after such a difficult time.

Behind the Scenes

Distributors are vital to the operations of the restoration companies. They will often send truckloads of instruments, dehumidifiers, air movers, and other equipment to the site prior to the event. Even distributors that don’t actually travel to the storm site will stock their warehouses in anticipation of an active storm season.

During peak hurricane season, it’s not unusual for a restoration company, anticipating a significant weather event, to place an order for 100 dehumidifiers and need them shipped within hours.

Measure Twice, Dry Once

Moisture readings play a critical role at the start of a job to assess the extent of damage and at the end, validating dryness and signaling when a job is truly complete. For most restoration contractors, moisture meters are responsible for this valuable metric, indicating whether or not materials have dried out below the surface.

Moisture meters that can extend their measuring capabilities to a variety of moisture- and humidity-related factors help paint an accurate picture of a site’s condition.

If a contractor’s meters are giving false readings, however, the entire frame of reference for “dry” is affected. As a result, a contractor can leave a site before it’s completely dry, or stay on when he could have moved on to another job.

The issue of inaccurate or inconsistent readings is largely a function of the quality and accuracy of the moisture meter, but human error and the skill of the technician play a role as well.

Here’s another factor to keep in mind: moisture meters are often used in very harsh environments, which takes a toll on even the sturdiest tools. Plus, they get handled roughly by technicians, who toss them into toolboxes and sometimes leave them behind on job sites.

This type of treatment can seriously affect the instruments’ calibration and cause them to give inaccurate readings. As a result, some contractors will rely on basic, inexpensive, low-quality meters that may be susceptible to inaccurate measurements.

With the wide range of meters available in the marketplace, it is only prudent to research and educate yourself about the best options available.

Meters and IR Cameras: Complementary Technologies

For an actual picture of moisture conditions, more and more contractors are adopting thermal imaging cameras that display a thermal image indicating temperature conditions. Since moisture typically affects the temperature of a surface, wet areas are clearly delineated, and drying is easier to monitor and verify.

IR cameras are also useful in that they can provide an “at-a-glance” view of wet areas so that a contractor can then focus on a particular spot and get localized moisture readings with a meter. As the price of the cameras continues to drop, they are increasingly being viewed as complementary to moisture meters, the two technologies working hand in hand.

Moisture meters and thermal imaging cameras may not be the biggest tools hauled out of a truck when responding to a job, but they may be the most important. Without them, restoration contractors would be subject to the significant limitations of visual inspections and guesswork.

For jobs big and small, it is essential to have a moisture measurement plan in place. From identifying prevalent moisture to documenting drying efforts, having a plan that is simple to follow and easy to implement will pay off in the short term and long term.

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