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How is Moisture Testing Used to Locate Water Intrusion?

Many home inspection courses deal with how to look for leaks and water damage. This is because of the top 10 most common home inspection problems, seven of them are related to water and leaks, according to Realtor.com.

Water is one of the worst enemies a home can have. Another is fire, and that’s why the No. 1 problem home inspectors deal with is electrical issues. But No. 2 is poor grading and drainage. Three through six are faulty gutters, basement dampness, roof problems and foundation flaws, and No. 8 is faulty plumbing. No. 9 is poor ventilation, which can lead to several problems, but one definitely includes condensation buildup.

Wall with water damage

You may be able to see some water damage, but the source could be hidden.

Water Damage Not Always Apparent

It’s easy enough to spot evidence of leaks or water damage on the ceiling and walls, such as stains, warping, buckling and crumbling. Peeling paint and mold are also signs of water damage and leaks.

But leaks often start out small — a tiny crack in a roof, a slow drip from a pipe. In these cases, damage can take days, weeks, months or even years to show up. As a home inspector, how can you protect prospective homeowners from headaches down the road if you can’t see any damage?

In a previous post, we talked about how to detect leaks and find their sources with infrared technology. Thermal imaging tools are unarguably useful and sophisticated devices, but they’re also expensive. You can get a moisture meter for under 50 bucks. In fact, there are at least a dozen highly rated ones on Amazon.com right now.

Is Moisture a Serious Problem?

A moisture meter is a great tool to have because it can identify moisture deep inside wood — moisture you would otherwise have no way of knowing was there. While moisture is damaging to a structure, it’s also dangerous for occupants.

Wood and other porous surfaces that stay wet have a tendency to grow mold, especially in warm and humid climates. Although mold can be safely cleaned up, if it is inside walls or other inaccessible areas, occupants may have no idea it’s there.

Mold left to grow unchecked can cause respiratory symptoms including sneezing, watery eyes, cough, runny nose and itchy skin, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Man using a moisture meter on a wall

How Does a Moisture Meter Work?

When you use a moisture meter, it’s important to start out with a baseline reading. Because you will always be in unfamiliar homes, you might want to carry around a small piece of lumber that you know is dry to do your baseline reading on. Then, as you test other areas of a house, you can more easily see any elevated levels of moisture.

While it’s true that moisture can be a problem anywhere in a home, you won’t have time to test every wall, ceiling, and floor. If you do not see any evidence of leaks or water damage, just test the areas most commonly associated with these problems — attics, basements, bathrooms, and kitchens. You also may want to test around appliances that use water, such as dishwashers, hot water heaters, clothes washers, refrigerators, etc.

Home inspection courses set you up for a successful career as a home inspector, but the right tools can help you do your best job.

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