Episode 2

In Episode 1 of A New Home for Relequa we ended up with a shell of block walls as the canvas for the layout of our new facility. Episode 2 takes us to a new roof and a concrete floor. Of course, this is a blog about my world of moisture and not something more suited to Builder’s magazine.  Without being at all contrived, there is an interesting moisture aspect to the next stage of the garage renovation…..

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The logic to the next stage of the build was to put on the roof timbers and roofing felt, followed by laying of the concrete floor. Michael the Carpenter, with circular saw set up in the driveway and nail gun in hand, set to work on the timbers. Things were going well and I was amazed how quickly the roof was taking shape. Then, there was the knock on the door, “We’ve been thinking”.

As I explained in Episode 1, the other part of ‘we’ is John the Builder. So off we go round to have a wee discussion with all of us staring up to a row of timbers. “We were thinking that instead of having two tunnels coming down from the Velux windows, Michael can put the Velux windows flush with the slope of roof, raise the ceiling and fix the plasterboard directly to the roof timbers giving a high and interesting shape to the room. What do you think?”

A decision above our heads

“Sounds good, go ahead”. That got us to completion of the roof timbers and then it took only one more day to attach the roofing felt. Now it would have only taken another day to fix the roof tiles, but there was that knock again on the door “We have a problem”. Michael the Carpenter explained that the building materials supplier had said “yeh, we have enough of those in stock”. Often they say this when they haven’t, but know that going by the delivery date they will have them ordered in with time to spare. You’ve guessed haven’t you? Yes the chap behind the counter at the builder’s supplier forgot to order the extra amount of tiles. They offered to deliver what they had, but Michael said that wasn’t any good to him as he can get all the tiling done in one day. So off Michael the Carpenter went to another job and we waited a week for our tiles.

Meanwhile, John the Builder appeared with Eugene, a younger and fitter helper, who seems to know no pain. Eugene got to work on the garage floor with a Kango Hammer Drill. After several wheelbarrow loads of rubble had been dumped on the front lawn, the floor was level. Massive sheets of thick plastic were laid for the damp-proof course (DPC). A DPC prevents moisture movement known as rising damp. You may be thinking, “ah this is the bit where moisture comes into the story”: it does, but not in such an obvious way.

The spade meeting

Next to arrive on site was the most enormous cement mixer ever! Talk about overkill. This is good time to introduce the “spade meeting”. An important moment in any building work is where the work stops and everybody gathers together, rests on their spades, and discusses what happens next. Our participants for this vital meeting were John the Builder, Eugene and Cement Mixer Driver. Finally, after a nodding of heads, John the Builder comes over and says, “We’ve been thinking. Because it’s a lot of concrete, rather than use wheelbarrows, we want to use ‘the shoots’. But the mixer, being out on the road, is too far from the garage, so the driver thinks he can back the mixer in”.


So, we had Cement Mixer Driver in his cab, John the Builder directing from the road, me watching the clearance to the walls in the driveway, and Eugene directing from the rear. Eugene’s main function was to make sure the mixer didn’t take the roof of the house……it was a close thing.

Mixer was now in place, the shoots were set up and the concrete was run onto the DPC and levelled by John the Builder and Eugene. The openings to the garage shell were boarded up to keep any rain out and the concrete was left to set, or as they said “to go off”, a strange term to use, I thought.

Now this is where the moisture bit comes in. I’d always thought that with concrete, when you add water a chemical reaction takes place, then it dries hard. Which, on the face of it, that’s what you see happening, apart from the chemical reaction of course. There are different ways of working out when concrete has set. One way I heard about a long time ago, was that moisture in the concrete can be measured by placing a Water Activity meter onto the surface of the setting concrete. When the Water Activity value gets below a specific value the concrete is ready to be built on. I’m just mentioning this method because another name for Water Activity is Equilibrium Relative Humidity, something I described in Chapter 3 of my eBook A Wet Look At Climate Change.

What I didn’t know, until researching for this blog post, is that it is not simply a matter of concrete drying off for it to set. The chemical reaction depends on a high level of moisture remaining in the concrete for a length of time. If the wet concrete dries too quickly the bonding of the materials is incomplete and the concrete is “weak”. In the situation of our garage floor keeping the humidity high for several hours was not difficult. The wet concrete would have released moisture into the air as it was laid. By sealing the garage shell openings the moist air was trapped inside above the concrete.

Water cannot evaporate from a damp material into the surrounding air unless the relative humidity of the air is below a certain level. So just like where I talk about drying clothes on a damp day in Chapter 2 of A Wet Look At Climate Change, a high level of moisture will have stayed in the concrete. The level of humidity needed to get something dry depends on the type of material and how much moisture it contains. So the wet concrete was left to “go off” doing its own chemical thing in a world of moisture.

A base to build on

By the following day the concrete was hard enough to walk on. Now we were moving to next phase of the renovation. During this phase the garage shell was opened up to work on various other parts. When the weather allowed, the opening was left open to dry the concrete. It would be some time before a floor covering was to be laid, and for that to be done the concrete cannot be releasing moisture. If a floor covering is put onto the concrete too soon, moisture would build up under the covering, causing mould to grow and other problems.

Watson’s thinking that somethings changed…….

Coming next: Episode 3 ……….The Beast from The East

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Welcome to my world of moisture

Episode 1


A big hello to my follower in the UK after my very long absence from blogging. She says my next blog is eagerly awaited. I hope this one doesn’t disappoint. Before I launch into the next episode in my world of moisture, there has been a reason for my lack of regular insights into moisture. About a year ago, building work started on our old garage. Window frames were rotting and gaping holes were regularly appearing. Panes of glass were falling out of the door. Actually, we had lived with our ever-disintegrating garage, a home to local wildlife, since moving into the house 16 years ago. Circumstances over 2017 kind of dictated that we should do something useful with the garage…..

All the preparation and ongoing decisions on the garage renovation needed a lot of focus. I just didn’t have the time to attend to my bog. So it’s a happy return and to a topic I’ve covered before: “deliquescence”. It’s a natural process involving moisture that fascinates me. Indirectly, it was a consequence of renovating the garage that led me to stumble upon another example of deliquescence.

My obsession with moisture goes a long way beyond just writing a few hundred words every now and then. In 2007 I came up with an idea for a business and we gave it the name “Relequa”.  A name extracted from Relative Humidity and Equilibrium.For the uninitiated, I describe what these terms mean in my eBook A Wet Look At Climate Change.

But what circumstances in 2017 caused us to start thinking about doing a garage makeover? Around about the middle of 2017 we started to look locally for premises for Relequa in order to assemble and package my new invention called the MP-1000 (watch a video). It is a precision built machine involving electronics and electromechanically controlled parts for measuring the moisture status of materials. Our first instrument developed during 2007-2009 taught me in the intervening years a lot about the way materials interact with moisture. I developed a technique called “Moisture Profiling” and built the MP-1000 around this.   

A home for Relequa

No suitable commercial business premises were available, but, it just so happened, that the Enterprise Centre had a room about the right size for our needs. As a Government funded establishment the Enterprise Centre had its own set of rules and board of management. When the Centre manager told us that we were an ideal company for tenancy we thought it was a shoo-in.

An application to the Enterprise Centre was carefully crafted and answers to the difficult financial questions, such as,“how are you going to pay the rent?”, were prepared. A wait of four weeks ensued. Eventually The Board got their act together and the call came from the Centre manager, “I’m sorry, we cannot offer you a place because of the Five Year Rule”. We knew about the ‘five year rule’ but were led to think that this could be waived. Basically, if a company has been established for more than five years then they cannot be offered a place in the Centre. Thanks lads.

The not so Alpine Lodge

Our electronics engineer who was working on the final bits of the MP-1000 suggested looking at a new style steel framed shed.We located a supplier just outside Dungarvan and went to look at their show sheds. Immediately we set our hearts on an “Alpine Lodge”. The company suggested we demolish our old garage and they erect our “Alpine lodge”. This could be done quickly and without planning permission. Just the one hitch, we’d need to get someone in to lay a concrete base to pin the supports for the “Alpine Lodge”.

The steel shed people gave us the name of a builder they worked with who would demolish the old garage and lay the concrete base. Enter onto the stage a really nice man called John. After taking measurements and having a look around, John says “I wouldn’t demolish this……the walls are double blocked with the required airspace between…..and then there’s the cost of disposal of the rubble”.

We had in hand an outline of how we saw the layout for the “Alpine Lodge”. John got his tape measure out and we planned what came to be known as the “Alternative Alpine Lodge”. Just one little hiccup, the roofing felt was crumbling to bits. Introducing the next member of the cast, ‘Michael the Carpenter’. Michael was contacted by ‘John the Builder’ to come round and give us an estimate. So far, so good: we agreed with Michael about replacing both the roofing felt and the old tiles that were from the 1970s.

“We have a problem”

First things first, the roof had to be done before the concrete base was laid. Less risk this way with the Irish weather being what it is at that time of year in November. Michael the Carpenter was onsite to begin work one fine day and after not more than ten minutes there was a knock on the door. I heard one of the two phrases to which I was about to become accustomed: “we have a problem”. The other phrase is “we’ve been thinking”, the ‘we’ being John the Builder and Michael the Carpenter. A dynamic duo! Well one not quite so dynamic due to his age and dodgy hip.

So back to “we have a problem”. This required a demonstration at the roof. Michael took a hammer and banged one of the rafters where he’d started removing the soffit. A cloud of dust surrounded him. “That”he said “is woodworm”. Thanks to the work of hundreds of little beetles and their progeny the whole roof had to be replaced. Every cloud of dust has a silver lining and that’s where “we’ve been thinking” comes into the story, but that comes later.

So we were left with a shell.

I’m leaving the story of the “Alternative Alpine Lodge” here and will continue in my next post.

Silver Spoon but other makes are available

Getting back to deliquescence and where it fits into this story. In preparation for the garage revamp, we had to sort out a lot of stuff. Most of it was focussed on the garden tools and the usual junk that accumulates. A freezer and tumble dryer had to be relocated into the house.Generally things were moved into new places or dumped. Taking this opportunity to organise our stuff better, we emptied a cupboard that had in it, hidden behind other containers, a bag of jam sugar.

We use standalone open wire shelving in the cupboard. Our forgotten about jam sugar was on the second top shelf of four tiers:well, most of it was. Some sugar had made its way over the contents of the lower shelves and all the way down to the floor. You know when a simple job turns into nightmare?

This particular cupboard was built against an outside wall and it’s in a kitchen. Every time its door is opened, warm moist air enters in from the kitchen. During winter the wall is cold all of the time and it cools the air inside the cupboard. Moist warm air, that has arrived and closed in, cools and the relative humidity shoots up. Just like the sugar in an open sugar bowl, high humidity caused the jam sugar to take up moisture.Eventually over time, including an usually cold winter, enough moisture had been adsorbed to cause the sugar to dissolve into a sticky liquid at the walls of its paper wrapping. “This” I’m telling you “is deliquescence”.

You probably haven’t thought about this, but the paper around bags of sugar is not meant to hold liquids. After soaking through the paper this sticky liquid dripped down over whatever was underneath and then dried. No matter three hours later, what was cleanable was saved, what wasn’t, was dumped.

So there we have our story of consequences, anew home for Relequa Analytical Systems Ltd., a garage renovation and deliquescence of jam sugar. More to follow……

If you would like to hear more about moisture and humidity in everyday life, please sign up for email alerts of my blogs.

Welcome to my world of moisture

Candle in the Moisture

I always finish at the end of my blog posts with the words “Welcome to my world of moisture”. A simple thing happened in my world of moisture that would have most people guessing “what’s gone on here?” or maybe “who’s done this?” That thing was a pool of clear liquid around a candle holder, shown in the picture, which was sitting on a glass table. Where had this liquid come from? Who had split water or something on the table? Nothing had been split. The candle holder had been left untouched for weeks. Magically this liquid had appeared out of thin air! A mystical apparition materialising from the ether? Help, somebody call a medium. A “sign from above” warning of looming storms and flooding. Or maybe we can find an answer from science….. Continue reading

World’s first moisture specific seminar?

“The impact of moisture on yield & quality”

This could be the first ever moisture seminar that is not focussed on a particular analysis technique or application area.

I’m giving two talks!

A brief introduction to relative humidity explaining some of the terms and concepts for an understanding of how humidity works.

The story of the progress made at key points in our understanding of the way materials interact with moisture. This leading to my development of Relequa’s Moisture Profiling.

To view the moisture seminar flyer click on MORE Continue reading

Water Mining – Something in the Air

I could have predicted writing about this topic on my blog. In fact I kind of did see into the future. One of the last topics I came across for my eBook “A Wet Look At Climate Change” was a new piece of technology developed at the Frankfurt Institute in Germany. The scientists at Frankfurt built an instrument running on solar power that removes water from air, turning it into drinkable water. One possible application was to generate a source of water in a desert. I’ll explain how this works below but before I do, let’s think about new discoveries and the technology of “nanomaterials”……….. Continue reading

Relative Saturation in Transformer Oils

About a year ago I posted on this blog an article that looked into what can happen when moisture gets into the oil used in electrical transformers. This was a completely new topic for me and something I had never come across before. My ignorance in this area surprised me. With the real possibility of moisture causing catastrophic and spectacular failure of transformers and loss of power supply, I thought I would have picked up on this somewhere along the way. It was, however, a webinar on “Moisture in Transformer Oils” that captured my attention. Here we are one year on and there’s been an updated webinar on the same subject that was very, very interesting and significant in a number of ways…….. Continue reading

In the Pink with Moisture

I am very fortunate to be living in beautiful County Waterford in Ireland. Of course I don’t feel fortunate all of the time. Just like growing up in the beautiful city of Edinburgh, I didn’t really appreciate it until I left. So it takes little reminders every now and then, away from everyday life, to regain that sense of appreciation. Like some of the spectacular sunsets we’ve had in the past few months. Glowing red, orange and pink clouds on a background of vivid blue stretching across the nearby estuary and surrounded by black silhouetted mountains.  Then only a very short drive into the countryside to be immersed in fields. Although, a lot of fields look like no more than a lot of fields, until one day something big and pink is seen sitting in them.…….. Continue reading

Thinking Humidity Outside The Box

So there I was, standing in front of an audience, wearing a headset and my voice booming out through large speakers, when suddenly, two minutes into my talk, the screen goes blank! I was giving a presentation called “Fidelity of Moisture Status in the Pharmaceutical Supply Chain” at a conference in Dublin. Nothing else for it, with no slides to show, I switched to talking about “Moisture Matters”. After a few minutes talking about the way materials interact with moisture, I brought my talk back towards the theme of my presentation. With about five minutes left, the screen came back on and I flicked through the key slides at speed, highlighting the points I had just talked about. A further twist in events was that the next speaker, who was talking about getting the right packaging for transporting products, started showing pictures of cardboard boxes and mentioned that magic word to my ears “humidity”.…….. Continue reading

Printing and the Birth of Air Conditioning

It’s been two months since my last blog article. That sounds like a confession of a sin and in some ways it is, as I have deliberately stayed away from blogging over the past weeks. I was told by Sophie who set me up for blogging, that I “must” write one, or better two articles, a week. Sorry Sophie but two articles a week is just too tough for me. My reason for the recent lapse is I had to focus, even over Christmas, on my company Relequa. We are at a very exciting and very busy stage of developing and launching a new instrument for looking at the way moisture interacts with materials. During this activity I visited a printing company in Belfast. The owner of the printing company asked what Relequa was about and when I explained he said “air conditioning was invented for the printing industry”. Immediately that comment was lodged in my brain with a label “must investigate if that’s true”.…….. Continue reading

Moisture in Tea and Coffee – Part 2

Now for the second part of my little exploration into moisture in tea and coffee. This time I’m focussing on coffee. Unlike tea, there is a lot written about the impact of moisture on coffee and this splits generally into two issues. One is the growth of fungi, a favourite topic in my blog articles, and the other is an effect on flavour that makes coffee taste bitter. Have you heard about either of these two issues? There is a very good chance that you have….. Continue reading