A Look at the Benefits and Types of Automatic Moisture Tracking
Though the World Wide Web has changed this area immensely, “low-tech” options for automatically tracking moisture in the air have been around for several decades. In fact, basic electronic methods for tracking materials moisture content were produced in the 1960’s. It is truly nothing new, just immensely improved by the micro-electronic age, reducing costs and size. And with our information age capability, the sky is no longer the limit.
Two very important points here to note off the bat: First, these automatic moisture tracking systems are in no way a substitute for personally monitoring a project - not yet anyway. These units do not take multiple readings over the entire structure, they only take sample points where they are deployed. They are simply an indicator to what’s happening. Secondly, the IICRC S500 still mandates daily visits, requiring a technician to check and record multiple points in every affected room at the facility.
Noting this, use of the aforementioned moisture tracking technology has been low in the industry because it seems redundant and costs extra. So then just why do I use them?
- Have you ever wondered how well the job was set up, when the circuit breaker tripped, when the customer turned the dehumidifier off or opened the windows? These systems know. (See Image 1)
- Have you ever lost or incorrectly recorded your atmospheric readings? With these systems, you have backup.
- Have you ever had different crews taking readings with different meters in different spots, prompting the numbers to look off? These tools can be thorough, accurate and consistent.
Lastly, most billing software systems have line items for automatic tracking and many insurance companies will pay for these systems to be used. So the extra costs are not always that big of an issue, just be sure to confirm charges up front. Remember what Joey Pickett says, “Anything told up front is education, anything told afterwards is an excuse.” We all know what excuses are like!
Let’s explore the different types of systems:
The atmospheric units record temperature and relative humidity (RH) and calculate GPP, dew point and vapor pressure, among other values. Most units measure moisture content of hydroscopic materials using the wood moisture equivalent (WME) scale. Today we have some that measure materials moisture content and temperature, as well as atmospheric RH and temperature in one unit. Gotta love microchips!
How do they report or record the data? The early systems used hair for RH and a thermo-coupled metallic spring for temperature to drive two arms that held small ink pens (one RH, the other temp). As time passed the pens would leave trails on pre-printed report paper, hence the unit is called a “chart recorder.” Cheap and old fashioned, but simple and reliable. Now, of course, we have moved to the electronic data collection systems. These units work either standalone or via Web portal. With standalone units, you need to use a computer for data transfer and observation, whereas web portal systems report data over the Internet to password protected websites so anyone eligible can look at the data. Some have now advanced to the point where you can set up virtual floor plans and have the data points recording right on the plans, including equipment placement - all for anyone to see in real-time.
The remote monitoring systems save time because the office operations manager can remotely review the numbers and send crews when a problem at the site is indicated, remedying any problems before they become severe. Many systems offer alarms that can be set and alerts that can be sent out whenever a site hits a critical state and action is required.
Imagine calling Mrs. Jones and letting her know your dehumidifier in the kitchen has gone offline just minutes after she turned it off for the night. As you are talking to her, she is probably looking around for a camera! So explain to all involved up front what the monitoring systems do.
I have used these systems since the 80’s when the Chart Recorder and Motorized Psychrometer (cheapest hand held digital was $2K and gas was a dollar a gallon) were the only things out there then.
There are many options here, from simple and straightforward to mildly complex with a short learning curve. As always, examining the options, selecting the best system for your needs and then having your personnel properly employing the system in the field determine its success rate. So do not buy on impulse then look at your operations manager and say, “Here use it!” Like everything else in life, learn before you leap. You will be glad you have this tool in your tool bag.
As always, happy drying and see you in class!