Top 10 Concrete Moisture Questions
At Wagner Meters, we do all we can to provide information and resources to answer all questions from the field. We work to supply concrete and flooring professionals both the answers and the tools they need to ensure their installations and reputations survive the tests of time.
Jason Spangler, our Rapid RH® product manager, shares some of the top questions people ask about relative humidity (RH) testing and the Rapid RH®:
1. What is the connection between RH and MVER?
Not to put it too bluntly, but there isn’t one. MVER refers to Moisture Vapor Emission Rate and is determined by calcium chloride testing. A traditional “moisture test,” MVER is regulated by ASTM F1869 and has proven to be an unscientific and problematic test method, primarily because it tests only the surface conditions of a slab. In fact, calcium chloride testing has been specifically disallowed for lightweight concrete applications.
RH testing for concrete determines internal moisture levels of a concrete slab at 40% of its depth, as is covered in ASTM F2170. Because of the natural drying process of concrete, only accurate RH testing can determine the final moisture conditions of a slab if it were sealed (i.e. a floor covering installed) at that point in time. Our Rapid RH® 4.0 EX is the latest in field-tested, scientifically-backed, industry-proven RH testing for concrete and flooring professionals.
You can learn more about the differences between RH testing and MVER at www.f1869.org.
2. Do flooring industry manufacturers specify the RH test method?
Currently, many of them do. We’re working hard to educate the industry, and many manufacturers understand the benefits of RH testing in improving the longevity of their flooring products and in preventing moisture-related flooring failure. We’ve assembled a list of the floor covering and flooring adhesive manufacturers that provide RH specifications for their products at www.rhspec.com, along with some helpful articles and resources to help provide best practices for installing and testing concrete slabs.
3. What type of documentation do you recommend for flooring contractors to maintain as proof of proper moisture testing?
ASTM F2170 describes the job site and testing information necessary to meet its industry standard. We provide everything possible to make the documentation easier for you:
- Each Rapid RH® Smart Sensor comes with traceable NIST Certification for immediate calibration compliance verification.
- Each pack of Rapid RH® Smart Sensors comes with an ASTM F2170 test results sheet to provide simple documentation of the required data, including a floor map of sensor location, sensor recording, depth, and dates and times of RH readings. This form can also be downloaded here. A longer version of the form, including an ASTM F2170 checklist, can be found here.
- If manual paperwork is not your style, Wagner Meters also developed the Rapid RH® DataMaster app, an innovative handheld device that connects touchscreen capabilities with Bluetooth™ technology for automatic data recording that can be used in conjunction with the site www.f2170reports.com for simple reporting, file sharing, and archiving.
4. Does my HVAC need to be on for RH testing to be accurate? Do I need to document these ambient conditions and why?
In order to meet the ASTM F2170 standard, the concrete slab and the occupied air space above the slab must be at service conditions for a minimum of 48 hours prior to testing and for the entire 72 hours while the test is conducted. However, even not considering the ASTM standard, it’s a best business practice to have the slab at service conditions before testing. Ambient conditions play a key role in the drying time of a concrete slab, and any change to those conditions will affect the moisture movement through the slab and will change the internal RH. Testing at non-service conditions can become a pointless exercise if drastic changes to the environment will ultimately skew the test results and, ultimately, slow the drying process.
5. This 6” concrete slab was poured 9 months ago and is reading 95% RH. How can it be that high after all this time?
There are a number of reasons why RH can remain high in a concrete slab:
If the initial mix ratio (water, cement, admixtures) was high in water, the drying schedule will take much longer to allow that initial moisture content to dissipate.
If ambient conditions do not allow adequate air movement or include low temperatures or high RH levels in the surrounding air, the evaporation process necessary for drying the concrete may be inadequate.
If an adequate moisture barrier has not been installed under the slab, moisture may be accessing the slab from subsurface sources, including groundwater, defective plumbing or inadequate drainage around the slab.
If the slab surface was hard troweled too aggressively, burnishing the concrete surface and the natural capillary pathways that allow moisture to move to the surface and evaporate may have been obstructed, severely limiting the surface’s ability to release moisture from the slab.
Obviously, identifying the cause of the high RH will determine the correct remedial action. Alternate drying methods may be necessary, the slab surface may need grinding, or alternate floor or sealant options should be chosen based on products with a high moisture tolerance. RH testing with the Rapid RH® is the best way to get the correct information in order to make an informed decision regarding the situation.
6. How can I get the concrete to dry faster?
If all the pouring procedures were done accurately (see #5 for some possible problems) and you’re just looking to hurry the drying schedule, a number of possibilities are available:
- Reduce the water in the initial concrete mix. Your ability to do this will be limited by the admixtures specified.
- Incorporate a desiccant during batching. During the hydration process, some available materials, like silica fume, will absorb and retain initial mix water. Be sure to understand the risks and directions provided by the manufacturer.
- Don’t rush troweling. If a slab is hard troweled too quickly or too aggressively, it can lose its capacity to dry efficiently.
- Dehumidification relies on a number of different methods (desiccant-based, heat-based, condensation) to change ambient conditions and allow moisture to leave the slab more efficiently. In conjunction with dehumidification, air movement in the environment is critical.
The best option really is to plan the entire project to facilitate a faster drying schedule. As part of that, the Rapid RH® can help monitor the actual results for informed decisions at every step.
7. Can Smart Sensors be recovered and reused?
One of the unique features of the Rapid RH® 4.0 EX is the innovative design that sets the sensor directly into the concrete slab. This allows the sensors to have a “one-time” equilibration period that allows accurate readings without a constant re-equilibration period. The unique redundancy isolation ring system on the Smart Sensor seals it from ambient air in the drilled hole to ensure accurate readings every time.
However, this technologically-advanced design also means that once Rapid RH® Smart Sensors have been installed inside a concrete slab, removing them from the test hole increases the risk of damaging the sensor or the first stage ring system. There is also the additional reality that re-use would require recalibration of each sensor before it could be used again.
Fortunately, the cost per test of the Rapid RH® 4.0 EX system is so reasonable that reuse or recovery is simply not cost effective.
8. Does the Rapid RH® Easy Reader ever need to be calibrated?
No. The Easy Reader does not have any parts that require calibration. Each Smart Sensor has a calibrated unit embedded at the factory (and comes with an NIST-traceable calibration certificate), and all the Easy Reader does is simply display the information the Smart Sensor provides. It’s part of what makes the Rapid RH® an intelligent system that’s simple to use.
9. Does the application of a moisture remediation product resolve, alleviate, or mitigate the effects of RH in concrete slabs that are in excess of recommended maximums?
A mitigation product MIGHT help to limit the effects of high RH in concrete slabs BUT there are a number of important factors that will determine the ultimate outcome:
- The cause of the high RH levels
If additional moisture is being drawn into the concrete slab from any external source (groundwater, leaking plumbing, etc.), the internal RH levels will continue to rise even after a surface encapsulant is applied. A rising RH level may eventually exceed the moisture tolerance of the product and still cause moisture-related problems.
- The mitigation product’s specific moisture tolerance
If the product’s moisture tolerance ratings are insufficient for the actual slab moisture content, then the high RH of the slab will likely cause encapsulant failure, along with the failure of all the flooring or finish products applied over it.
- Ambient conditions around the slab
If the ambient conditions around the slab (air humidity, temperatures) are prone to significant changes or seasonal shifts, the high initial RH levels of the slab may be the result of poor drying conditions. Best practices would suggest ensuring drying conditions are optimized before applying any sealant or product to the concrete slab. If RH testing continues to show high RH levels, be sure that any products are chosen with appropriately high moisture tolerances, and always consult these manufacturers directly to discuss your specific situation. For a list of manufacturers that provide RH specifications for their products, visit www.rhspec.com.
10. I just tore up a floor that had no issues and was adhered to the concrete fine. Now I am getting ready to install a new floor and the concrete is testing high RH%s. How is this possible?
Again, there are a number of factors that might be at play here:
- Moisture intrusion that has not yet impacted the flooring
If moisture has begun to impinge on the slab from a new source, it’s possible that the slab RH has been on the rise but that it has not yet reached critical levels. Moisture seepage through a vapor retarder with an insufficient perm rating, leaking plumbing, new groundwater sources, and other possible moisture intrusions can impact a concrete slab over time and will require remedial steps to correct before installing a new floor over the slab. Testing with the Rapid RH® can help spot potential problems before a new floor system is adversely affected.
- The moisture tolerance of the original adhesive
With the move to newer, “greener” products in the building industry, moisture tolerances are not always as predictable as they once were. Products heavy in petroleum-based components, for example, are inherently less susceptible to moisture. When re-installing the floor, however, it’s important to either take remedial steps to bring the RH levels down or to be sure that all the new materials specified meet the current RH levels of the slab. The Rapid RH® system makes sure that the slab moisture readings inform those decisions for the best results over time.
We saved the best for last (Yes, this has been asked and commented on in our forum):
11. Does Jason REALLY wear those hideous orange shoes?
Yes. Yes, he does.
And with pride too.
For more information, resources and quality concrete moisture measurement products, including the Rapid RH® 4.0 EX, visit us at www.wagnermeters.com/flooring-moisture-meters/concrete-moisture/.
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