Water Damage Restoration and Meters: Where Do I Go From Here?
For the beginner, the part-time restoration professional, or the dedicated restoration contractor who has been at it for 20 years, the options for water damage meters and instruments is almost endless.
I just looked at a newly released catalog for professional carpet cleaners and restoration contractors. Averaging six meters per page, there are 16 pages of meters to choose from – almost all of them useful for water damage restoration. But how do you choose?
I then looked at the prices on the various meters. The least expensive was a moisture pin meter with little lights indicating the level of wetness by how many lights are on. This tool sells for $18.50. Not too many pages later, I came to a remote monitoring system that sells for $3,500. I also perused thermal or infrared (IR) cameras, a great tool for the professional. In this catalog the different models sold from $1,195 to $7,495. (Note: we will take an opportunity in a future article to discuss the amazing abilities and advantages of IR cameras.)
So which instruments are best for you? What do you really need? Does a quality instrument cost you money, or make you money? I don’t have all the answers, although my wife would disagree (“Gordon, you always think you know everything!”) but I will attempt to help you on your search for what is right for you.
Life was much simpler when I started doing flood restoration in the 1970s. I didn’t care about grains per pound (GPP), dew point, moisture content, or vapor pressure because I didn’t really know they existed. I didn’t have ways to measure them even if I had known about them. Our customers didn’t care, adjusters didn’t care and I didn’t know enough to care. When a washing machine leaked into the basement carpet and pad, that’s what we dried, carpet and pad. We didn’t think twice about the wall and what was inside of the wall because we didn’t know it was wet.
With knowledge comes responsibility. Also with knowledge comes liability. What we know now and choose to ignore, or simply don’t know, can really hurt us. Recently I talked to a professional restorer who expressed relief to me that he was finally, after 7 years in business, fully covered, insurance-wise. He has been walking a tight rope for a long 7 years. Likewise, if you attempt to restore water damaged property without proper instrumentation and documentation, you are walking a tightrope and you’re bound to fall off, and that fall could be catastrophic to you and your business.
Our knowledge and understanding of the forces of water, how it damages, how and where it moves under different conditions, and where it hides, has grown exponentially since I did my first flood restoration in the early 70s. The processing of water damage must include technical instruments that constantly inform us about the current conditions of our job.
Where Do I Buy My Equipment?
I tread on delicate and dangerous ground in trying to answer this question, but I am willing to give it my best shot. For the most part, you have two choices:
- The Internet
- Your local or national industry distributor.
Just about everyone has purchased something over the Internet. It is certainly a growing channel, and good buys are available there. I believe Amazon is the top Internet seller of just about everything in the world. I just did a search for moisture meters and even within this category, Amazon, through its affiliate sellers, appears to be very strong.
I then compared the price of several items from different manufactures and different Internet sellers to the pricing of a couple of our established distributors in this industry. I found what I think you will find if you take a look yourself: Most of the prices were within 10% plus or minus of each other. Only the unrated or poorly reviewed sellers came up with a substantially lower price.
For this reason (and an admitted bias to supporting my local supplier who I need to keep in business) I suggest you support your local or national industry specific supplier. I believe it is in your best interest – and the interest of the industry as a whole – to support them.
Just this week I had my built- in microwave at home fail. I pulled it out, got the item number and researched it on the internet. This model was no longer available, but I found the replacement model with the exact specs that would fit into the void in my cupboard space.
I noted the best price and then called the original supplier of my appliances to see if he had it and at what price. He did and quoted me a price that was $20 more than the one I could get off the internet. I picked it up the next day.
Why was I willing to pay more? He was a local business. He was established and I knew he would stand behind it if something was wrong. It might be broken right out of the box or break six months later. By having a local supplier who is first and last name I knew, I had immediate access for repair or replacement. I had an advocate with the manufacturer if something did go wrong and wouldn’t be trying to get shipping and service done half way across the country. If you’re buying a $500-plus meter – or any other expensive piece of equipment, for that matter – buy it from someone who you know will back it up and someone who can get service on it if needed.
Your professional distributor can offer you the variety, and price when choosing the meter right for you. In addition, he can make suggestions based on the success of his other customers. What meters do professionals like you prefer? He will know.
What Instrumentation do I Need?
Buy one of everything and then you will always be ready for anything…or, if you don’t have $100,000-plus just laying around, let’s take a different approach.
My first suggestion is to think of your customer. Your customer, of course, is the property owner who experienced the water damage. In addition, your customer may very well be the insurance company and adjuster servicing the claim.
I would suggest that you supply them with a small penetrating moisture meter. Perhaps something like the one I described above for $18.50. It is certainly debatable whether to loan the consumer this tool when they may go poking it places that shouldn’t be poked, but often it is advisable to engage your customer in the drying process. Customers are potentially less critical if they feel like they are involved in the job and can actually measure some progress.
It goes without saying that an adjuster visiting a job site would appreciate a small pocket meter for checking moisture intrusion and drying progress. If you want customer satisfaction, include them in the process.
If times are tight, you may be tempted to suggest that since meters don’t actually produce drying results, they are simply an expense, and you want to buy the least expensive meter you can get away with. Without a doubt, there are some functional meters that perform to a respectable level. But don’t expect an $80 meter to give you the reliable, fast, and accurate measurements of the pro models that are designed to be used day in and day out, adjusting to different job conditions in seconds.
Whether starting out in the business or processing water damage on a daily basis you will need, at a minimum:
A Thermo-Hygrometer. This instrument will read the air temperature and relative humidity. Generally you will pay more for quicker response time. Bringing the instrument in from a cold van and waiting for 10 minutes for it to acclimate to inside conditions can be pretty inefficient. The better units will be accurate to 2%-3% of actual RH. Thermo-hygrometers may have additional features that can benefit you. You may like having a built-in infrared thermometer that can measure the surface temperature on the ceiling without climbing a later. Additionally the meters may read and display dew point, and GPP.
Penetrating Moisture Meter. It is always necessary to ascertain moisture reading on materials you can’t see. In walls, floors, subfloors, insulation, ceilings and more, water can be trapped and you must find it and dry it. The penetrating moisture meter will have built in pins that probe into a surface, usually about ½” in length. Most professional models will include remote pins that can be attached to the meter, are insulated and can probe deep into the wall and/or insulation. A hammer probe is another essential accessory to the meter that allows you to penetrate hard wood. Drying a hard wood floor without testing the moisture percentage below the surface is asking for trouble.
Pinless, Non-Invasive Moisture Meter. These meters are used to assess and monitor the relative moisture level of building materials such as plaster, drywall, masonry, concrete and fiberglass. They will even detect moisture behind floor and wall coverings such as wallpaper, ceramic tile and vinyl flooring. The great news, they do this with no surface damage, measuring at depths from 0.25” up to 1.6” deep. Using these meters will increase your efficiency as they measure quickly and accurately as you move through the job.
With these three meters and the accessories that go with them you are ready to handle most jobs professionally. However, there are several other instruments that can work to your advantage.
Combination Meters. Available are some very nice meters that offer both penetrating (pins) and non-penetrating methods of measurement in the same meter. Carrying things a step further are the meters that include the thermo-hygrometer with the penetrating and non-penetrating features. Some professionals love to have it altogether in one meter, while others rely on the single function units they trust.
Many of the full function meters will include IR thermometers for reading surface temperatures at a distance, and logging capabilities – it is important to offer your customer and their adjuster data logging so you can document that you are drying correctly to justify your charges and protect yourself from liability.
Standalone Data Loggers. These small devices can be place around the job site and will measure relative humidity and temperature throughout the drying process. They will log and time their readings over hundreds of hours if necessary. They often have a USB connection built right in they can plug into a computer when the job is finished and create reports that graph the complete drying job, start to finish.
It may be due to a hard freeze that has frozen and burst many pipes, ice dams, regional flooding or other causes, but water damage claims often come several at a time. Features that save you time are critical; advanced meters allow you to enter basic information about your readings when you start the project (for example: living room, west wall, painted gypsum board). Each time you return to monitor the progress that information and past readings are stored with the latest data. This saves much time in recording data and making sure drying is taking place.
I would be remiss not to mention the unique abilities and functionality of remote monitoring systems. With two or three systems now on the market and more to come, these systems will bring greater control and efficiency to our drying process. These systems offer constant real-time remote job site monitoring from practically anywhere. Wireless sensors collect temperature and humidity information at the job site and transmit the data to a secure website. You can get instant alerts via e-mail and/or text messages sent to your cell phone when action is needed!
Also available in the remote monitoring systems are control modules with advance power management which can optimize job site conditions. Should the job conditions of 85% relative humidity occur while drying the module will temporarily power down the air movers that are attached. This will allow the dehumidifiers to lower the excess humidity, eliminating the threat of condensations. After relative humidity drops below 85%, the unit will then power up the air movers and resume drying.
All of the remote monitoring systems have software that offers comprehensive summaries and documentation from start to finish.
You can see that proper instrumentation is needed to process water damage work. Yes, it can be a fairly extensive investment but I believe it will return its value over and over. Your customers (consumers, adjusters, agents, etc) want to believe that they are hiring top tier professionals. If you would like to do work for them again, prove that you knew what you were doing in the first place. Measure and track your progress on the job. Verify that structure and material is back to its pre-flood dry level.
Both your business and your confidence will grow as you apply and use the best instruments our industry has to offer.