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Do you own a wood home? Work in an office located in a wood building? Around the world, wood is a commonly used construction material. This is because it has a lot going for it. It looks good, it supports its own weight better than steel, and it absorbs sound which helps to reduce interior noise levels.

However, there is a downside.

When it comes to natural disasters involving water, wood doesn’t fare that well. Water, even just excess moisture, can cause severe damage to both wood residential homes and commercial buildings.

In this article, we’re going to take a look at the kinds of damage water can cause to wood buildings plus talk about how a quality moisture meter can help you with water restoration after a natural disaster.

Health and Safety Concerns After a Natural Disaster

The weather phenomenon itself may be over. However, that doesn’t mean you’re out of danger. There are a number of health and safety concerns you probably haven’t even thought about including dangers related to…

Electrical Hazards

Downed power lines are common following a natural disaster. Don’t touch them or even go near them. As a safety precaution, treat all downed power lines as ‘live’ and note their location.

If electrical equipment or circuits have come into contact with water, shut off the power and don’t turn it back on until a qualified electrician says it’s OK. If you’re not an electrician, now is not the time to start learning. Contact a professional for assistance.

If you own a generator, never use it inside a structure. Because there’s a risk of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning, always use a generator outside — in a well-ventilated area — and follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully.

Above all else, safety first.

Buildings Contaminated with Mold

Natural disasters including floods, hurricanes, and tornadoes leave a lot of standing water and water-damaged structures in their wake. This is a perfect environment for mold to form inside residential homes and other buildings. Asthma and allergies are often aggravated by mold and this could result in breathing problems for some sufferers. So, you must act quickly.

You can prevent mold by taking the measures necessary to dry out the structure within 1-2 days. Open doors, windows, and if you have power, use a wet-dry vacuum along with fans. If you don’t have power, you can still mop up as much water as you can. Power or not, it’s a good idea to remove all indoor carpeting as it’s a great place for mold to grow.

For protection against inhaling mold spores, you can purchase an N95 mask from your local hardware store. Make sure you follow the instructions and that the mask fits tight to your face.

Hazardous Chemicals and Waste

Floodwater frequently moves medical and industrial waste from where it’s safely stored and releases it into the environment. Floodwater also usually contains both animal and human waste. Therefore, stay away from floodwater as much as you can. If you come into contact with it, wash yourself immediately with soap and water. Depending on the situation, you might also need to take off your clothing and throw it away.

It goes without saying that you should not drink floodwater. In fact, even your regular drinking water itself may not be safe. So, make sure it hasn’t been contaminated before you brush your teeth, wash dishes, prepare food, etc. You may need to boil it first before you use it. Contact the authorities in your area. They will have information about the safety of the drinking water and instructions for what you should do. Bottled water is usually the safest.

Other things to watch out for after a natural disaster include anything that could fall on you. For example, damaged roofs and walls. Also, watch out for things that could cut or poke you including broken glass and nails. Make sure you wear a pair of good, sturdy shoes, gloves, and other protective gear.

How Excessive Moisture Damages Wood

Wood naturally contains a certain amount of moisture. However, during a natural disaster wood can soak up a lot of water and sustain serious damage.

This is because wood is hygroscopic.

This is just a fancy way of saying that wood is something like a sponge. When it absorbs moisture, it physically expands and when it releases moisture, it shrinks. This continues until the wood comes into balance with the relative humidity of the ambient environment.

This means that an excessive amount of moisture can cause gross physical deformities in anything made from wood including hardwood floors, furniture, doors, windows, etc.

How a Wood Moisture Meter Can Help You After a Natural Disaster

Wood moisture meters are small devices that fit in the palm of your hand and are designed to measure the moisture content of wood. They’re used by both professionals who work with wood and serious hobbyists.

Wood moisture meters play a key role in the recovery period after natural disasters. They can not only help you determine if your wood valuables have sustained moisture damage, but they can also help you monitor wood moisture levels as you begin drying everything out.

Two Types of Wood Moisture Meters

There are two types of wood moisture meters, pin and pinless. They both do the same thing — measure the moisture content in wood — but the technology they use is different.

Pin Wood Moisture Meters

Pin meters have two small pins (or probes) that need to physically penetrate the wood in order to take a moisture measurement reading. After the pins have been pushed in and the meter turned on, an electrical current flows between the two pins and measures the amount of resistance present.

The technology behind pin meters takes advantage of the fact that water (with salts and impurities) conducts electricity but wood doesn’t. Therefore, drier wood will exhibit more resistance to the current.

Because a pin meter only measures the resistance between the two pins, you will probably need to take more than one reading (and create more than two holes) to get a full picture of the wood’s moisture content.

The length of the pins determines the depth of the moisture measurement reading and for the deepest readings, you’ll need something called a hammer probe. This is an external device that attaches to the meter.

Pin-type wood moisture meters are sensitive to wood’s chemical makeup (which varies mainly from species to species, and a bit from tree to tree) and temperature. So, when you buy one it will come with temperature correction charts. You’ll also need to input the species of the wood you’re measuring before taking a reading.

One drawback of pin-style moisture meters is the fact that they create two holes in the wood each time you take a reading. Therefore, they’re not the best solution for measuring the moisture content of fine wood furniture.

Also, the pins tend to break or bend, especially when measuring the moisture content of denser wood species. This is because it’s difficult to push the pins into the wood. Since broken pins need to be replaced, this can add up, especially if you use the meter a lot.

Finally, if you’re not careful surface moisture on the wood can enter when the pins are pushed in and affect the accuracy of the reading. Therefore, always wipe any surface moisture off the wood and wait for around 30 minutes before taking a reading.

Pinless Wood Moisture Meters

Pinless moisture meters have an electromagnetic plate that scans the surface of the wood to take a moisture measurement reading. Unlike pin moisture meters, pinless meters don’t need to poke holes in the wood to take a moisture content reading. This makes them ideal for measuring the moisture content of wood furniture and hardwood floors.

Pinless meters are able to quickly scan large areas of wood. Scanning the same area of wood with a pin meter would take some time because, as we mentioned above, pin meters only measure the content between the two pins.

Pinless meters are sensitive to wood density (aka specific gravity). Therefore, you’ll want to make sure you enter the specific gravity for the wood you’re measuring before you take a reading.

Like pin meters, you should wipe off any surface moisture on the wood before taking a reading. However, there are some high-end pinless meters that are able to “overlook” moisture on the surface of the wood.

Which Moisture Meter Should You Use?

The wood moisture meter you use really depends on what you’re measuring. If you’re measuring the moisture content of fine wood furniture or flooring, you’ll probably be best served by a pinless meter because they don’t poke holes in the wood.

Whichever you choose, pin or pinless, keep in mind that the most important feature of a moisture meter is accuracy. Higher quality moisture meters are always more accurate than lower quality meters. In fact, low-end meters are usually highly inaccurate and should be avoided even if the price looks tempting.

So, let’s take a closer at the features you’ll want to look for in a quality wood moisture meter.

A quality wood moisture meter should…

  • Be accurate. Accuracy is the most important feature to look for in a moisture meter.
  • Be easy for you to check the meter’s calibration. If it’s out of calibration, it should be easy to re-calibrate, either by sending it to a service center nearby or by re-calibrating it yourself.
  • Have a good warranty. The longer the better. Some of the high-end meters have 7-year warranties.
  • Have good documentation and customer support. Problems using the device should be easy to diagnose and solve.
  • Be built to last. It should be able to withstand heavy use. So, look for a sturdy case, rugged design, etc.
  • Be able to read moisture content from 30% all the way down to 5%. (Cheap meters cannot read moisture content this low.)
  • Be easy to use. You shouldn’t have to scratch your head about it.
  • Have a battery that’s easy to install and replace.
  • Have a display that’s easy to read.

How to Use a Wood Moisture Meter to Test for Moisture

Pin Wood Moisture Meters

To use a pin wood moisture meter just insert the pins into the wood, turn on the meter, and take a reading.

Remember, pin-type moisture meters only take a moisture measurement reading between the two pins. That means that, unless you have a very small piece of wood, you’ll probably need to take more than one reading in order to get an idea about its moisture content.

Pinless Wood Moisture Meters

To use a pinless wood moisture meter just turn the meter on, press the scanning plate against the wood, and take a reading. Move the scanning plate to take another reading and so on. Continue like this until you have a full picture of the wood’s moisture content.

Why a Moisture Meter Is an Essential Tool for Everyone’s Toolbox

Nobody knows when a natural disaster will strike. However, having a quality wood moisture meter in your toolbox means you’ll be able to both spot and monitor serious wood moisture problems during water damage restoration work. Call it good disaster management before the disaster strikes.

Before you go be sure to check out our handy guide to what we believe are the best wood moisture meters available on the market today.