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Moisture Meters - Types and Uses

Updated on January 15, 2015
watergeek profile image

Susette has a Masters degree in wise use of natural resources. She leads the Green Council and writes for The Sustainable Business Review.

A plant moisture meter shows whether a pot's soil is dry (red), at a good level (green), or too wet (black).This fern probably needs watering now.
A plant moisture meter shows whether a pot's soil is dry (red), at a good level (green), or too wet (black).This fern probably needs watering now. | Source

How did we ever come to the place where we have such precision in the making of things? The very existence of calibrators, i.e. meters of all kinds, indicates the need for a high degree of precision, and the variety of meters available indicates the extent to which Western culture embraces perfection in all things.

It's amazing, when you think about it, how easy and inexpensive it is to reach that perfection using tools like meters to measure moisture. It took time and research to develop them, but the end result has been well worth it. Our products now are more easily made, are generally of higher quality, and last much longer than they used to.

Buildings resist earthquakes and hurricanes. Food seldom molds when packaged and seldom spreads disease. We have to program less quality into our high quality machines or skip using meters altogether, if we want to have products self-destruct (planned obsolescence).

Nearly all of this is due to the development of meters - and in the case of liquid-using or liquid based products, water meters of all types. Of the four basic classes of water-related meters (water meters, moisture meters, ice meters, and hygrometers) this article introduces moisture meters - the different types, what they measure, and how they are used.

What is a Moisture Meter?

Moisture meters are calibrators that measure the amount of moisture within a solid or semisolid, like concrete or cheese. They consist of a sensor probe attached to a measurement gauge of some sort. They come as manual meters read on the spot, electronic sensors that transmit data through wires connected to a controller, and sensors that radio to wireless receiving stations. Some are built into machines.

Moisture meters are made for a wide variety of uses, including: Wood, paper, concrete, soil, asphalt, grain, and more. The general purpose is to see if a substance is ready to be used or ready for the next step in production. You want structures of concrete to be dry, before removing moulds. You want cheese to have the right degree of moisture when you package it. Here are descriptions of some of the moisture meters available on the market today.

Comparison of Wood Moisture Meters

This video shows how and when to use prong-type vs scan-type wood meters and others.

Wood Moisture Meter

Most wood has a moisture content of around 80% when first cut. Wood that wet is difficult to shape or burn. If dried too fast it can split, twist, or change shape. This is fine for firewood, but not so good for building construction or the making of wood products, like furniture.

Because Americans aim for speed and control we generally kiln dry, rather than air dry, wood targeted for products. All kilns are metered to make sure the wood doesn't dry too fast or too much.

Manufacturers who use wood are required to first test it with a moisture meter (as are carpenters, woodworkers, and flooring installers). The meters they use incorporate different types of meter measuring. Some use prongs, some roll across a surface, and some are made to be a component of machines.

4" Deep Moisture Test

This video shows how the moisture sensor is inserted into concrete 4" down and how to read the humidity level.

Concrete Moisture Meter

Concrete moisture meters evolved from the use of wood moisture meters, as flooring moved from primarily wood to flooring with a concrete base. There are two types of concrete moisture sensors that evolved. One is designed to measure the top one inch of concrete, the other to measure about 4" down - considered the equilibrium level of concrete.

Spot measurement of the top inch of a concrete floor let's builders know where it's best to insert the 2nd kind of meter lower down. The humidity measurement at 4" in depth tells a flooring expert how moisture will average itself out in the rest of the concrete, once covered. When the concrete has dried to the desired level of humidity, then the contractor can install the top level of flooring (wood, tile, linoleum).

Snowmelt System Activator

In the United States roads, sidewalks, and driveways in snowy locales are sometimes installed with electric heating wires under the surface. These wires, when activated, keep the surface above them warm enough to melt or prevent the formation of ice, thereby increasing the safety of roads and sidewalks. Moisture and temperature meters tell the system when to turn on and off again.

Modern agricultural irrigation systems are often controlled by soil moisture sensors sending messages to a central computer.
Modern agricultural irrigation systems are often controlled by soil moisture sensors sending messages to a central computer. | Source

Soil Moisture Meter

Agriculturalists are increasingly setting up wireless sensor networks to determine when to water their crops and how much water the crops need. The moisture sensors that signal these networks have probes that are buried in the soil throughout the farm. The sensors send signals to the central receiving station in their area, that then transmits to the network's controlling computer, which activates irrigation wherever needed.

In a regular home landscape, soil moisture sensors can be connected electronically to the site's irrigation controller to signal the need for water. This helps a homeowner use just the right amount of water to keep their landscape healthy. Sensors of both types are also used in golf courses, parks, schools, and hotels/resorts.

Moisture Meter for Plants

This is a manual soil moisture meter especially created for houseplants. It provides an easy, portable test for determining when to water.

The plant owner sticks the meter's probe into each pot to gauge the need for water, then waters only until the gauge indicates enough. This prevents plants from dying, either from lack of water or too much water.

Corn moisture meter used by the Philippine government.
Corn moisture meter used by the Philippine government. | Source

Grain Moisture Meter

Moisture meters are used to measure moisture in grains presented for sale (e.g. sorghum, corn, soybeans). The level of moisture in grains affects both the value of the grain and how well it stores.

In September, 2012 the US Department of Agriculture adopted a new type of meter as its "official" meter for sorghum, corn, soybeans, and sunflower seeds. They worked with two private companies to develop and test the meter, looking for more accurate readings and greater compatibility with the new computer technology they were just transferring to.

Where Meters Can Be Purchased

Online, a simple web search will connect you with places to purchase moisture meters. "Moisture meter store" is a good keyword phrase to use. This will give you distributers that provide all kinds of brands and types of meters. Using the keyword of the particular meter you want will send you to manufacturers, from whom you may be able to get better prices, depending on their agreements with distributors. In the section below you can also link with's meters.

Offline, you can find most meters at a hardware store like Lowe's or Home Depot. You might have to go to a farmer's store for grain moisture meters. You can also get them at trade shows. Draminski is an example of a manufacturer, located in Poland, that you would find at an agribusiness or veterinary type of trade show selling moisture meters.

Most government agencies and university research departments purchase their meters directly from the manufacturer via purchase order, as do bulk product manufacturers that use these meters.

Helping Other Countries

In developing countries all over the world technologies are used that could benefit from more precise measuring. In Botswana, where I was a Peace Corps volunteer in the '70s, bricks were made of local clay and cement and laid out to dry in the sun. They were often used too soon, which caused leaks in brick walls later on, as the bricks shrank to their driest state.

This is one example of many in developing countries, where more careful handling could save work and angst later on. How easy would it be to provide moisture meters for projects like this, along with other measurement tools and training that would help workers do higher quality work the first time? How is our military handling the construction projects they carry out in war-torn countries? Do we (or could we) leave tools like these types of callibrators behind?

Delmhorst J-LITE 6% to 30% Pin LED Wood Moisture Meter
Delmhorst J-LITE 6% to 30% Pin LED Wood Moisture Meter

This professional meter is for the woodbuilder or serious hobbyist.



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    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I knew they existed but I knew practically nothing about them. Your example of Botswana was a great indication of the value of these meters; I also like that they can be used to determine when crops should be watered. Great information; as always, thank you for the education.

    • watergeek profile image

      watergeek 4 years ago

      Thank you too, billybuc, for stopping by. I just barely finished reading and commenting on your article on How to Live Life to the Fullest. :) It was well done, also.

    • LongTimeMother profile image

      LongTimeMother 4 years ago from Australia

      The moisture meter I use in my garden also measures light and ph. It's great. Every gardener should have one. :)

    • watergeek profile image

      watergeek 4 years ago

      I agree. It helps the irrigation controller water only when needed, so plants are healthier, water is not wasted, and water bills are reasonable.

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