External Influences on Internal Concrete Moisture Content
There are several external factors that influence the moisture content in concrete. They are:
- Vapor retarders
- Bond breaking agents
- Heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC)
Concrete slab construction is an exercise in convergence. Builders apply several methods of facilitating the successful curing, drying and hydration of concrete slabs. However, those processes and building materials can distort moisture content readings. While this can be troublesome, contractors and consumers can help to avoid flooring failure by simply understanding the external forces that sway moisture content measurement.
A volume could be written on this topic, but let’s keep it simple: concrete slabs require sufficient time to dry and cure (two separate processes). Moisture vapor rises from the bottom of a slab to evaporate at the surface. Ambient conditions conducive to proper drying affect overall drying time. The most crucial point is this: concrete slabs require sufficient time to cure and sufficient time to dry. Rule of thumb is that it will take approximately 30 days for every one inch of slab thickness to dry once the environment is conducive for drying.
Builders often install moisture vapor retarders before pouring a concrete slab. Put simply, vapor retarders establish a seal which impedes external moisture vapor from migrating into the slab from the ground. This focuses the drying process on the excess water in the concrete mix ONLY and takes away the potential for the ingress of seasonal moisture, when done properly with the correct retarder.
Building materials manufacturers make products with bonding agents that can deter timely concrete slab completion. Common curing, sealing, or bond-breaking compounds can inhibit the slab’s release of moisture vapor. This in essence can delay the length of time necessary for the slab to dry to a level necessary to install finished floor products and/or coatings. Doing any type of surface moisture testing on a slab with any products of this nature, without first grinding them off, will produce inaccurate results. This is one of the reasons why relative humidity (RH) testing, especially with the Wagner Meters’ Rapid RH 4.0, has become so popular. Since the RH probe is installed down in the concrete, no surface preparation is necessary to get accurate results.
Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC)
Obviously, doors and windows seal in relative humidity (RH), and that alters moisture readings. However, the same is true for heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems. Activated HVAC systems may create comfy ambient conditions for humans; moisture content assessments are most accurate when ambient conditions reflect the normal operating environment of the facility. If HVAC systems are not activated, make sure to bring ambient RH conditions into environmental compliance before assessing concrete slab moisture content.
Knowledgeable consumers and contractors can use the tools of the times to ensure accurate concrete slab moisture readings. A slab well done is a job well done.