RH Best Testing Practices Explained

When it comes to floors covering concrete, contractors and flooring installers may not have the same understanding of drying requirements. They need to coordinate their knowledge of concrete drying conditions in order to keep project on track and on budget. Communication between subcontractors is key.

Concrete Moisture Conditions

Moisture’s migration through drying concrete can vary greatly depending on ambient conditions: air humidity, temperature and surface conditions (when the slab is not at service conditions). If, for example, a slab has been power-troweled, its surface loses the ability to release moisture in the slab. Drying time will slow or even halt completely. According to ASTM standards, the concrete stabilizes at service conditions for a minimum of 48 hours to meet ASTM Standard F2170 for conducting valid moisture (relative humidity) testing.

Test Methods

There have typically been three major types of tests for measuring concrete moisture. Each has a specific use that may or may not be best suited to monitoring a concrete slab as it dries.

I. Calcium Chloride Kits, which have been historically used, produce unreliable results. They only measure moisture migration at a very shallow depth. Although this method is covered by ASTM F1869, the standard has been amended to exclude calcium chloride (also known as MVER) as an acceptable test method for lightweight concrete. Some specs still include calcium chloride kits, but this may not meet the ASTM requirements for your project.

II. Hand-Held Concrete Moisture Meters are a valid general survey tool, but they do not read deeply enough to truly depict a slab’s moisture content (MC). Hand-held electromagnetic fields only penetrate about one inch into the slab. They can also interact with metal (ie. steel) in the concrete to give a false reading of the moisture conditions. Hand-held moisture meters cannot be reliably used to determine when to install a floor covering.

III. Relative Humidity (RH) Testing is conducted through the use of in-situ probes which measure RH within the slab. Their depth-specific application has proven to accurately represent moisture conditions. Their very location within the concrete means they are less susceptible to environmental or ambient changes at the surface. And contrary to some opinions, RH testing is not a long and involved process.

Calibration variables need not complicate moisture content measurement. The process may seem cumbersome when we consider equilibration times as well as meter cables and programming. But not all RH systems are cumbersome. The Rapid RH 4.0, from Wagner Electronics, is pre-calibrated. It stays equilibrated, because the Rapid RH meter is installed directly into the slab.. It quickly and accurately tracks the relative humidity (RH) in the slab’s multiple test locations. After an initial ASTM-required equilibration period, the Rapid RH 4.0 requires only minutes to ensure that the concrete is ready for the flooring application. The pen-style Reader has “touch-and-go capabilities,” so you’re not wasting time at each test hole. If the results indicate installation conditions, the probe is simply skim-coated into the slab.

Conclusion

ASTM F-2170 RH testing is the recommended test method for monitoring moisture conditions in a concrete slab, because it is the best predictor of concrete dryness. Test methods like calcium chloride kits, or hand held surface meters, cannot present a vertically-integrated picture of overall “moisture” conditions. On-site concrete moisture management relies on an understanding of changeable conditions, testing methods and timing. Armed with tools such as the Rapid RH 4.0, general contractors and flooring installers can deliver quality results on schedule.

Jason Spangler

Article by Jason Spangler

Jason has 17 years experience in sales and sales management in a spectrum of industries and has successfully launched a variety of products to the market, including the original Rapid RH concrete moisture tests. He currently works with Wagner Meters as their Rapid RH product sales manager.