The importance of time of install moisture testing on concrete slabs

Video Link

Tramex Talks with Larry Marvel

In this episode of Tramex Talks, Larry Marvel shares his experience with implementing time of install moisture testing with the Installation Quick Check for concrete slabs.

With a lifetime of experience in flooring installations, Larry has known for years that conditions at the time of installation greatly affect its success.

With the introduction of the CMEX5 and the installation quick Check kit by Tramex, installers now can instantly determine the %MC of the upper 3/4” of a concrete slab and check Ambient conditions to qualify the readiness of a slab to accept a floor covering or coating.


Here's the transcription of the video:

David: So, today we have joining us on Tramex Talks Larry Marvel, in California. Thanks for joining us this morning Larry. How
are you doing?

Larry: Oh I'm doing well getting through these winter storms and I appreciate being here. Thanks for the invite.

D: Had been kind of crazy out there. Thanks for joining us uh after all those floods and you guys had an earthquake, all kinds of stuff going on in California these days.

L: Yeah, well, you know, it's a good time to be indoors and do a recording. 

D: There you go. Maybe, Larry, you can tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do.

L: I've been in the Floor Covering industry, on the installation side, professionally, for a little over 45 years. Out of high school, of course, was military, but then all the installation side. Prior to that, I am a third-generation installer, so to speak. You know, my father and grandfather were in hardwood flooring and floor covering, so and now currently I work as technical support for Tarkett, and on the side, I have what's called Installer Certified, which is a consulting business where I just work personally with installers on questions and answers and getting them through some certifications.

D: Excellent. So you got a pretty good clue what's going on, out in the field, these days. Can you tell us what kind of situations you're running into? I know that you've been implementing this time of install moisture testing with our Tramex Concrete Moisture Encounter, and the Installation Quick Check, can you tell us what you're seeing out in the field these days?

L: Yeah. Well, good question David because here's the thing is, I go back to asbestos days when we weren't having these issues, and now here we are today where everything has to have, according to ASTM standards and Rh test, prior to the installation.

D: Right.

L: But what I'm seeing on most sites, especially with our smaller shops and small jobs, is the money's not there sometimes for the Rh test, or the time isn't there for the Rh test, and I get calls from installers with what should they do, what kind of tests should they run, what should we do for, you know, moisture testing the slab prior to the installation of a resilient or some kind of vinyl back other vinyl back product? 

Just yesterday I received a phone call from a gentleman who does not want to drill holes in a PT slab and wanted to know what he should do to test that slab prior to installing, what he's going to install because it needed a moisture test of, I think 86% RH and, you know, he was at a standstill a little fearful of drilling holes into a PT slab. So, yeah, those kinds of questions. Good fun.

D: So, what was your advice to that guy yesterday?

L: Well, I mean that Tramex did a pretty amazing thing with this new MEX5, did I pronounce that right meter?



D: Correct.

L: Day of install Kit which is the one that I primarily use when I go out to sites to check the concrete slabs and stuff with installers, and what that kit does is it gives us the information we need on the day of install. That's hard to get from just about anything else you have in front of you. You really need that kind of instant information. With that Tramex meter, I'm able to determine the slab temperature with the thermometer and after determining the slab temperature it immediately gives me the readout on the dew point temperature. 

D: Yeah.

L: Knowing that I need the slab temperature to be about 10 degrees warmer than the dew point temperature in order for most adhesives to start curing. 

D: Right.

L: Not all adhesives.

D: Right.

L: So that's one critical reading that meter will give us right away along with the relative humidity and the ambient relative humidity and then, of course, the percentage moisture coming out of the surface of the slab.

D: Right.

L: That it gives us with that test. So, with those tests, what I'm seeing, and from what we've heard Bob Higgins talk about, is the most important part of that concrete for us is installers is around that top three-quarters of an inch of the slab to be the surface we need to adhere our product to. To get that good Bond.

D: Yeah.

L: That's the surface that we're concerned about and that's what this meter is testing, and that's what this meter is telling us, whether we're going to get that bond number one, and two, and especially the adhesive will start curing under our product that we set into it.

D: Yeah you could say this installation Quick Check plus kit helps you see where the rubber meets the road so to speak. Because that bond line is critical. 

So you were mentioning, you know, guys using this test, you know, when they weren't able to do initial RH testing for warranty or whatever, obviously you know, I'm sure when you can you'd advise people to do what's recommended for warranty coverage. Have you seen any instances implementing this, even when they're doing the necessary warranty testing F2170 or F1869? 

L: Great question David because really that's what matters is, you know, I mean, up to the point where they get to the site prior to their installation, it's either been a third party or somebody in their company who certified did the Rh test.

D: So basically they're coming in beforehand doing these tests and saying "okay site is good to install" they're setting up a date and then, so now these guys are going out to the site and what they encounter is the next question.

L: Yeah, I'll give you a really good example because I got a call about one in the morning from an installer who knew me well, and they're installing a vinyl-backed product with a pressure-sensitive adhesive, and the call kind of went like this, you know, and all the RH up to that point or prior to that point, all the RH tests had been done and completed, what they didn't know that sometime in between the Rh test and when they arrived, somebody had turned off the HVAC system, it was in the winter time, and the slab had dropped to a pretty cold temperature, and without knowing that they came into the building with the HVAC running, probably two or three hours prior to getting there, and they called saying "hey, your adhesive isn't working, it's not setting up, it's not drying" and so, you know, I had them run through the steps that you would take, normally, and we realized that the slab was about eight degrees colder than dew point, and it was drawing moisture out of the air putting it into the adhesive and not allowing the adhesive to cure.

D: Yeah, that's interesting and...

L: That's the importance.

D: Yeah. So that's one, you're giving one scenario, obviously, where obviously it's important to be cognizant of conditions at that time of install because, in this case, somebody turned off the HVAC, and turned it back on. So we know that a slab's not going to heat up as fast as the air and therefore your problem. Do you see that kind of situation, or that scenario, where it's setting up for a dew point issue in other settings, I mean, I would imagine in settings where there's no HVAC, and there's a cold night and a warm morning, you'll get the same kind of situation.

L: Yeah, you know, I come from kind of old school, you know, because at one point in my career, I had to manage a bunch of installers, and manage a bunch of installation sites, where we had to figure out dew point without these meters, so I mean, if I could give advice to an installer today, someone who's running their job site, this is one of the most important tools they can have today in regards to moisture testing for concrete. I'm not saying go against, you know, any ASTM standards, I'm saying this is a tool in your toolbox that will give you an immediate response back to you, what you're dealing with on the substrate, it'll give you immediate information, it'll give you the information you know you need to continue or stop that installation until you get the right environment, and I call it basically, the journeyman is controlling his installation environment, and that's what you need. 

You know, because in my experience the slab temperature, your Sundries temperature, and your product temperature all first should be somewhere in the neighborhood of five degrees within one another.

D: Correct.

L: Of what you're working with.

D: Right.

L: And for everything to work correctly. So, you've done all this, you've done your acclimation, you've done all you know, everything you've been told to do. This is just that next tool that Tramex did an amazing job coming out with this meter to give it right instantly in your hand to determine whether you're going to get it easy that's going to either give you trouble or it's going to cure. 

Nobody wants to sit around for two hours for open time, trust me. 

D: No doubt, I mean, that's the beauty of the meter is that it is going to pick up, so, it's giving you a percentage of moisture content of that top three-quarter inch but it is going to pick up a dew point issue as elevated moisture content. So it does recognize that moisture in the top of the slab and then you can discern what is the cause of that high moisture content by eliminating dew point or citing dew point. 

In the cases where you've had job sites where they realize it's a dew point issue they're having problems what is the general advice to them?

L: Well, it depends on what problem they're having. For instance, if I got a call and somebody said "hey Larry, I'm using the day of install kit and I'm getting five percent off the slab when I press this meter down," on this level I'm getting five percent and, you know, they know they need around four percent for their adhesive to really start curing up. I, you know, I immediately tell them "hey go get a couple of fans run the air, start moving the air in the room, wait about 45 minutes to an hour, test the slab again and you'll see it'll start dropping to around four percent. Once it drops down to that, start your install. Do not turn the fans off, keep them on during the install and after the install in that room, and all you're doing is moving that air because that air is withholding the moisture and getting going into the slab or the adhesive and it's not curing.

D: For sure. That air movement is pulling the moisture back out of the surface and putting it into the air, as long as I guess the parameter for that is as long as the air can take the moisture. So you might have...

L: That's correct.

D: You might have a situation where you'd have to implement something else if you're in a closed situation with, you know, a high relative humidity creating that dew point, but would you say it's more common that you get other conditions that create that dew point, that's a problem? Or do you think...

L: Yeah, I would say so.

D: Yeah.

L: I would say so. I mean there are other things you can run into that are problematic, I mean, you know, the porosity of a slab. If you walk onto a side and your slab is 20 years old.

D: Yeah, yeah. I mean...

L: You might have other issues you're dealing with here. You see what I'm saying.

D: Yeah, that's a good point, Larry. It's always good to be cognizant if you're dealing with new concrete or old concrete because there are some different nuances. Generally at Tramex, we consider old concrete anything that's already been covered and you're recovering, whereas for new concrete you're dealing with the batch water and the drying, essentially.

L: That's correct. Yeah, it's good to be mindful of all that and understand all that because even with a 20-year-old slab with porosity issues, and other issues, most of the time, you know, you can work around those by doing the proper mitigation if you need to.

D: Yeah.

L: But you know, just understanding that and being mindful of that, knowing that the age of the slab, you know, where you're at with that slab that day, yeah.

D: And that's an important point you touched on, is moisture mitigation. So using this time of install testing, do you feel it enables the installer to better conclude when to do that, or, you know, how to implement or understand when that moisture mitigation is needed?

L: Well, I mean, for me and this is my opinion, you know, most of the time mitigation is only necessary when your adhesive won't cure or won't bond to either the substrate or the product. Because I really, what's our goal as an installer is to get the material to bond to the concrete substrate, the slab.

D: Correct.

L: Now, and stay bonded.

D: Right.

L: That they, yeah I very seldom ever after, in fact, I can't even think of a time when an adhesive as 100 percent cured and then re-emulsified itself, most of the time that it's being re-emulsified...

D: Never really cured.

L: After the installation, and we, yeah, never really cured it, never really set up, and the moisture was always there under that product and we didn't know it as installers.

I think mitigation is necessary on some substrates, you know, as in my experience without understanding, you know, the slab very well, in my experience, I know that there are times when you'll need mitigation, especially on older slabs.

D: Yeah.

L: But we are doing a lot of mitigation on currently on slabs today that don't need to be mitigated.

D: Yeah. So, obviously, if you're doing testing at the time of install and you're getting, you cite a high reading on the meter, and you don't see a dew point issue, at that specific time, what do you recommend at that point? Do you go to, say it's an older slab?

L: Right. If it's an older slab, you know, I would come back to what's causing that moisture where is it coming from, that's a slab problem. That's not something a flooring installer can correct that day.

D: Correct.

L: That has to do with the concrete slab. 

D: I guess unless you're taking into account what conditions are around. I get, I'm not, I'm imagining say, I guess the only possibility of that is if you have a no HVAC condition and the conditions are changing, but that moisture is lingered in the slab as that dew point is correcting itself, kind of thing. Do you know what I mean?

L: That's correct. Yeah.

D: So, you might see, so a case like that I might get a five but it was six and it's on the way down and my Ambience is already adjusted, and it's naturally taking longer, so would you run fans anyway to see if it's gonna help, I guess, in that case, and get it done? 

L: Absolutely.

D: And then if it doesn't, if...

L: Yeah. One of the things that the meter does that the installers have needed for a long time is it gives the installer, the lead installer at that job site, the correct information for him to walk up to the GC and say, or the homeowner whoever it might be, and say "look I have to pull off this site" and tell "I know I have these conditions in your concrete otherwise I can't guarantee my installation that it'll bond and that my adhesive will cure" and that's, you know, I mean, to pull off a site for a day or two is a lot less money than having to replace something.

D: Yeah.

L: So, you know, getting to that place where you know it's ready.

D: Yep. So Larry, what we're going over here kind of we're definitely considering ambient conditions and how they affect the concrete slab and I think sometimes, you know, when I go out and work with installers and such it seems like a lot of guys aren't cognizant of that relationship between ambient conditions and concrete, whereas, you know, if they're dealing with wood they're definitely cognizant of ambient conditions in wood. So, what do you see as a step forward and trying to educate guys in this way, and how much it can help them?

L: Well, I mean, Tramex has done a great job with this meter by putting a solution in the palm of their hands who control their environment.

D: Yeah with the hygrometer. 

L: Already, yeah, already from the manufacturer they know they need a certain temperature in the room, they know that there are certain things they've got to meet as far as acclimation of the products and things like that, what this does is this allows them now to look at the concrete and know the ambient conditions, and know the dew point, and know within five-ten minutes they'll know this site's ready to install with the assurance that their adhesive is going to not only bond but start curing.

D: Yeah.

L: And what you know that's controlling your environment. In the past, we've never trained installers on how to control their environment, their ambient environment. 

D: Yeah.

L: Because what most installers don't realize is that, and what we've been told for years, is the moisture is coming from underneath. That's not the case. There's moisture everywhere and there's ambient moisture we need to deal with the understanding that you know, is where some of your installers who understand that have no issues with bond and with moisture.

D: Right.

L: Where other installers who haven't, don't truly understand this, they're the ones having to rely on other people's information to get their bond, where they could be just in the palm of their hand.

D: Yeah, that is the beauty, that it's always there. So you don't even have to press a separate button to see that information, it's just right there on the meter, and this addresses, I think, a place where there's been some lack in moisture testing. Is the, you know, time of install testing, and like you said, considering ambient or dew point. 

I know within ASTM currently, there is some wording coming forward in F06 regarding dew point and some guidelines regarding dew point that they're trying to move through ASTM. So that is there, but before now there hasn't been any reference to this, to dew point, or the importance of time of install testing, even though we see that you know, again, that the F2170 or 1869 within both of those standards it mentions that the results are only good at the time of the test. 

L: Yeah, that's right.

D: I think it's a big gap that this time of install testing can fill and just, you know like you said put some power back in the hand of the installer.

L: Well, and from a manufacturer's perspective as well knowing that if an installer, now I'm gonna come to you with information like as if an installer called me as a manufacturer's tech support, one of the first questions I'm going to ask them is if it's a bond issue or if, you know, they're having issues with something with our adhesive, you know. I'm going to start asking the questions, you know, how old is the slab, what was the temperature of the slab, or what is the temperature of this lab, and what's your dew point temperature. 

And I'm not the only one that's asking these questions, and in the near future what installers are going to see on installation instructions from manufacturers, I believe, is a request for these same answers, is "hey did you take this slab temperature at the time of install or the day of install, and what was the dew point temperature, and what would your relative humidity.

D: Right. 

L: That they'll start asking those kinds of questions actually, recommending them in their instructions, you know, it's just a matter of time you're going to start seeing, and it's coming because it matters. 

D: And it seems logical progression that if you can do this to make an installation successful then that should be part of the installation instructions.

L: Absolutely. I mean, if I have an installer who calls me and says "you know Larry, your adhesives, let's say your adhesive goes up to 95 percent RH and we have, you know, according to the ASTM standards, we've run these RH tests which they should have done on their site and all our readings are correct but we have about three readings that are like 96, 97 percent RH, what should we do?" And this is where this day of install Kit really comes in handy because then I can take that information they've already given me, which is critical, and we can go into those areas and test those areas and see what the true reading is coming out of the surface, or the top three-quarter inch, and make a determination there whether our adhesive will actually start curing or not, and that, you know, that's really what matters. 

It's not replacing RH, you know, it's not replacing calcium chloride testing, what it's doing is just putting another really valuable tool in the hands of the installer on the day of install, and that's what's most important because that's when it really matters.

D: The one point that you mentioned there was, which leads me to question, is we see adhesive manufacturers continually giving higher numbers for the tolerance of the adhesives, and I think this is something that might as you get, you know, 95, 98, 99, the tendency would that might make installers feel like, well, there's no need to moisture test.

L: Yeah. Unfortunately, it's kind of a catch-22 in our industry. So we know that most of our larger commercial sites especially, but most of our larger sites, are going to have RH tests because that's the standard set by the industry, and they should be testing for that, right?

D: Correct.

L: But the problem is what it's done now is it forces manufacturers who either make adhesives or have adhesives manufactured for them, for their products, it's forcing those manufacturers to take adhesives up to 95 all the way up to 100 RH, our adhesives are approved for 100 RH. That's great, except it still doesn't tell us on the day of install, is there an ambient condition that might get in the way of that adhesive curing? And that's where the state of install is going to be critical. 

D: Yeah, and that's a good point because these in situ RH tests, again are looking to the depth of the slab, so we acknowledge that that's important, and that should continue to be done, but this test we're looking at a different part of the slab, again, where the rubber meets the road up in the top portion of the slab, where it can be affected by ambient, and even if it's an adhesive that goes to 99%, you're saying you're going to have an issue with a dew point problem, that you're gonna have an issue with that adhesive curing. 

L: That's a great point David because here you can have an issue, a moisture issue, after mitigation, because of ambient conditions. If your slab temperature is 10 degrees below your dew point temperature and that slab, that's been mitigated, is drawing that Vapor, that moisture out of the air and putting it on the surface of that slab, that adhesive is not going to be able to cure properly. So even though it's been mitigated, they're still dealing with it. So, you know, this is just like a final step for the installer to actually know on that day of install, "man I know my adhesive is going to start to cure and it's going to bond." 

We know it all bonds to the products because the manufacturers did their share of testing through their RD departments, so we know our adhesives are made to bond to our products. What we want it to do is bond to the
substrate and one of the things that get in the way of that bonding is the cure time, the surface of the slab, of course, how clean, contaminants, etc.

D: Right.

L: But moisture, surface moisture. Is critical. So, that's where this meter is a pretty valuable tool. 

D: Excellent. So Larry, when you're seeing this time of install testing implemented, what kind of results are you getting from it?

L: You know David, it's been great because over the past two-three years I've been working with half a dozen installers across Northern California area, Nevada area, and we've been on some sites that started out with a pretty high RH reading, they didn't want to mitigate the slabs, so we used this day of install kits to walk us through the day of install to get, you know, the moisture readings down to four percent, get the slab temperature, dew point temperature, everything correct, and to this day we've had no issues, no claims, no moisture problems, the adhesive cured and things work correctly. So, you know, it's really given us some good direction. One, how to use the kit properly, you know, when to use the kit, you know, on the first day of installation, and to take that information and to get it back to the right people so you can determine what's the next step.

D: Yeah.

L: It's been good.

D: Excellent. 

L: Yeah.

D: Is good to see when something works.

L: Yeah, it's just another, again, I keep saying it, but it is a really valuable tool to have in your box on the day of install, you know, when you want your "easy to set up" the way it's supposed to.

D: Oh yeah, for sure.

L: Yeah, I wished I had it when I was younger and installing. I don't install them anymore.

D: Yeah, probably like a lot of other technology.

L: Oh yeah, you know.

D: [Laugh] It would have made your life easier.

L: Yeah. I love that it puts the control of the environment into the hands of the installer, where it belongs, because installers have the biggest target on their back in our industry, and we all know that, I mean, everybody looks to them when there're issues and problems, and this really, not only that, but I like the fact that Tramex has the cloud, where you can save all the information on the day of install. You can go back to that information if something's happening if anybody questions what you did that day because it could be that there are other moisture-related issues other than the surface that might cause future claims or problems. That information saved on that file from that cloud will give the installer what it needs to protect his back because he's got the target on it. So.

D: Yeah, yeah. That's a good point Larry because the Tramex Meters App makes it really easy to document that installation quick check, so the guys can, you know, take screenshots of readings, they can do a little map that'll, you know, record the readings that they take without even having to physically write them down, they can just tap and they go into a grid, and then they're saved. But like you mentioned, the other feature of the App is the cloud. So, you know, for small firms that have multiple installers, everything that's put into the app is accessible from the Tramex Cloud. So it could be pulled up on a desktop from a project manager, you know, or the installation manager that's controlling the different jobs, and he can see what testing is going on and what the results are, but also, as you said, to be able to document it. 

I did a Tramex Talks with William Thornton from Target a year or so ago, and he told a story about receiving moisture testing information on a paper plate that was stained with barbecue sauce. 

L: [Laugh]

D: You know, so yeah, so this is taking you to another level where you can't just give a paper plate, you got something that's geotagged, it's saying where you were, when you took these readings, what time it was, and what the address was. So this is another way for manufacturers to be able to make sure that this testing is done and it's documented. And for the installers, it helps them to save it, like you said, for any future problem that arises they can show that they were checking the conditions at the time of install.

That's a point to Larry, is this usually if guys aren't documenting ambient conditions and there's a failure, and somebody goes back to detect what caused this moisture failure, it's hard to determine if it's a dew point issue.

So I think this is one of the reasons that dew point has gone so long without being flagged as a big problem. 

L: That's correct and you know just, I mean, just saying you did an RH test doesn't remove you from the claim, you know, you're still responsible for that installation whether you did the RH test or not, whether the RH reading at the time or the day it was done, on a lot of manufacturer's instructions it's going to state that was good on the day it was done, not on the day of install. So it does give the installer the muscle he needs on that day, you know, and the information he needs on that day to protect himself on that installation and that's what...

D: 100%.

L: Yeah, that's what we've needed for a long time when it comes to dealing with things like this. 

D: So is there a way Larry that installers can um find out how to learn more about implementing the installation testing?

L: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, the first thing I would go, as an installer, is that Tramex has great communication with YouTube videos that they've already put out. It's really good information and you can find that through the Tramex website. And if you're interested or have questions, feel free to please email me at [email protected], that's [email protected]. It's that simple, my name is Larry Marvel, and give me a couple of days to answer your emails, then I'll get right back to you. If you have questions on anything you want to know about using these "day of install meters," or anything installation related, I'd love to help.

D: Excellent. And we did some, I was fortunate to come out to California and we visited the Union Hall in Sacramento, and did some training there. We're hoping to get back to San Francisco and do some training, so we're looking to get out and educate installers when we'd encourage installers. You can contact if you're a Union installer, you can contact your Union Hall and ask them about training in the "time of install testing," or like we said, you can contact Tramex or you can contact Larry. Larry is a very knowledgeable guy so he can definitely answer questions related to flooring installation much better than I can. [Laugh]

L: Yeah, you can also contact me through Tarkett at [email protected] on all things related, you know, I am doing this video with and for Tramex, because I've seen the results and heard Bob Higgins talk about the science, so I think it's important information for the individual installers to have, this is not a Tarkett related video, it is a Tramex related video, you know, I have to throw that out there because I do work with Tarkett as technical support. 

D: Yeah.

L: But I have seen the great results and the much-needed results at the job sites. Yeah.

D: On that point Larry, we do seem to get some, you know, we'll get some resistance from some and say "well, is this an ASTM standard? I don't see?" you know, and so forth, so on, like that. What kind of, are you seeing some of that in the field?

L: Oh, absolutely. Every time, you know, the conversation comes up about using a Tramex meter or something else, one of the first questions people are going to ask is it ASTM standard, and you know those are really important questions to ask because the standard is what we live by. But I always say "there's not a standard for about 95 percent of the tools in my toolbox." There's no written standard for that tool but the tool makes me successful. So my reply to them is, I'm sure at some point you're going to see an ASTM standard with this type of meter being used on the day of install, but what I will tell you right now is it's an important tool to have in your box. 

D: They're solving problems and satisfying warranties. So, and creating successful installations. So...

L: Yeah, get your target off your back. [Laugh]

D: Yeah, there you go. And I know from your side of things what you want to see is successful installations and Tramex is, you know, happy to be able to provide something that helps that happen, for sure.

L: Absolutely. I appreciate the work you guys have done on these meters, they really give us a lot of great information.

D: Yeah, and we appreciate you, Larry, you know, seeing them implemented in the field and relaying the success that you're experiencing, and hopefully others can start to implement this process, simple, instant, easy process, to ensure successful flooring installations.

L: Yeah, and maybe we can all meet with William Thornton someday and make our own barbecue plate mess. [Laugh]

D: There you go. [Laugh]

All right Larry, well thanks for joining us today on Tramex Talks and we wish you all the best, hopefully, seems like the weather's shifted in California, we hope things start to dry out there, and not too many of your insulation sites got flooded.

L: Well, thanks for the invite David, and again I thank everybody involved with Tramex and the company, and what you guys are doing for installers. I appreciate your time and efforts, thank you.

D: You're very welcome. Excellent, thanks, Larry. 

L: you got it.