When it comes to building projects, the problems you can’t see are often more insidious than the ones that you can. And in fact, those seemingly small bumps and cracks can belie a much bigger structural issue. One of the best ways to test the structure of everything from wood to drywall to masonry is with a moisture meter. These allow you to see how much moisture is in the material you’re testing, which can help you pinpoint and prevent water damage. These meters come in handheld varieties, making them easy to take on the go if you’re a contractor, DIYer or even just a savvy home shopper.
One of the best kinds of moisture meters is a pin-type meter. These have two pins at the top which look like little horns. These pins get inserted into the surface of whatever you’re testing, and they provide a percentage readout. Most modern moisture meters are digital, making it easy to get a quick and exact readout. There are also pinless and combination pin/pinless meters.
A pinless meter detects the level of moisture by measuring electrical impedance. The benefit of these is that you don’t have to puncture a hole into the surface. This can be beneficial in that they can be used to measure harder surfaces that you may not be able to penetrate with a pin-type machine, and can prevent damage to your machine and to the surface you’re testing. However, they don’t give as exact a reading for a specific location.
Water damage is a very costly problem, but thankfully, the best preventative measure is not costly at all. The best moisture meters are affordable, reliable and easy to use. Plus, they can be used for woodworking and testing firewood. These are the ones to get.
1. General Tools Digital Moisture Meter
This affordable tool from General Tools is designed to be intuitive and quick to use, and it can be used on wood or soft materials like drywall. You can switch between modes for “wood” and “bldg” which are both precisely calibrated to either wood or building materials. Plus, the “low”, “medium” and “high” color-coded lights make it easy to quickly tell if the amount of moisture indicates water damage. It comes with a protective cap to protect the pins when not in use.
Pros: Good for measuring wood and drywall. Lighting displays for “low”, “medium” and “high” make it easy for even an amateur to tell if the structure is water-damaged.
Cons: The display can be hard to read when looking at it from an angle.
2. Klein Tools Pinless Moisture Meter
This option is pinless, allowing you to gauge the moisture level without puncturing holes in the wood, drywall or masonry that you’re working with. It can be used to test moisture that is up to 3/4″ below the surface of the wall. You can toggle between softwood, hardwood, masonry and drywall, and the screen indicates which mode you’re in by showing “masonry,” “drywall”, etc. To make interpreting the results easier, there are nine LED lights below the screen that acts as a scale between “dry” and “wet.” There are three large buttons to control the settings, making this device intuitive and easy to use.
Pros: Bright and easy to read display. Screen displays which of the four modes you’re in, and there’s also a light-up scale to tell how wet or dry the surface is.
Cons: Since it’s a pinless meter, it can be harder to get a totally accurate reading for a specific spot.
3. Tavool Wood Moisture Meter
This moisture meter from Tavool has a large display screen with several metrics displayed, making it easy to quickly get the complete picture. This option has modes for eight different groups of wood, so you can test different kinds of wood for a more accurate readout. There’s also a mode for testing building materials like drywall. There’s also a temperature gauge on the unit, and the large buttons allow you to easily find your desired settings.
Pros: Good option or measuring different kinds of wood. Has designated settings for everything from teak to cedar.
Cons: Included calibration table is somewhat tedious, making finding the right setting somewhat challenging.