Data Loggers: Seeing into the Past

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Think about the last time you were called out to investigate a complaint about the performance of a wood floor, to find that you just weren’t able to determine why the floor is doing what it is doing. Everything appears to be in line with the NWFA guidelines and with the requirements of the flooring manufacturer. Temperature, humidity, installation, maintenance practices…all in perfect synchrony with the wood flooring. Yet, there are splits, cracks, or gaps (fill in the blank) in the floor that weren’t there when you initially installed it. What happened?

There are many possible causes for any of these issues, as detailed in Problems, Causes, Cures (tech publication C200). Sometimes a full-blown investigation, including destructive testing, is required to try and uncover details to discover the truth. Other times, a crystal ball with a view of the past is the best we can wish for.

As astronomer Carl Sagan once stated, “You have to know the past to understand the present.”

What if there was a way to see into the past? What if there was a way to positively identify a specific event that occurred, directly related to the concern at hand? What if there was a method in which you and your customer could be alerted any time the conditions in the home fall outside of the manufacturer’s requirements for the installed flooring?

There is a tool that allows all of this to happen: the data logger.

The old-fashioned method of data logging was done manually by constant human observation. A good example of this is placing an individual in a room to record the temperature changes over the course of a designated period of time using a timer, a thermometer, a pen, and paper. Technology today has equipped us with the tools to remove the manual aspect out of this data collection.

A data logger is an electronic device that records data over time. The data that these devices collect can vary, depending on the purpose of the device. The data collected can provide the user with information that may help them better track historical records. This data normally is made available through manually offloading the info, through Bluetooth, or through web-based technology. Regardless of how these data loggers share their data, the information that is provided is more-efficient, more-accurate, more-reliable, and more cost-effective, than it ever has been taking periodic manual readings.

Data Logger and Text
A data logger is an electronic device that records data over time The data that these devices collect can vary depending on the purpose of the device

Data loggers allow our industry to monitor the temperature and humidity conditions within the environment that a wood floor will be, or is going to be installed in to ensure they meet the manufacturer and/or NWFA requirements. Data loggers can be stand-alone devices, they can be installed into the flooring itself, connected seamlessly to cloud-based software applications via cellular networks, or they may exist in some of the newer smart-thermostats already installed in the home. Regardless of what type of data logger device is employed, as a flooring professional, these tools give us the ability to see into the past, and in some cases, even compare those real time conditions against manufacturer’s product specifications, which can generate push notifications of unfavorable situations.

Many times, the homeowner is unaware of some of their lifestyle habits (such as turning the HVAC down at night, or when out of town) that could be affecting the floor adversely. Other times, it could be a one-time blunder (such as a power outage, a broken HVAC system, clogged filters, or cranking the radiant system on high to “get things warmed up”) that caused the floor to go into shock.

Many data loggers can send alerts to involved parties when there has been an abnormal spike in the conditions. What if customers received an alert on their phone every time their floor was in jeopardy? This is a simple homeowner upsell; an insurance policy for the long-term health of the floor.

The wood flooring industry isn’t the only one that benefits from these tools. There are a variety of industries that utilize data loggers.

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Environmental Monitoring: Probably the most-common and widely-used application of data loggers is for environmental monitoring of weather patterns, seasonal changes, wildlife habitats, and facilities conditions. Data loggers can record and transmit precise temperature, relative humidity, absolute humidity, dew point, psychrometric charts, and even pressure data within the environment of a given area. Many highly-regulated industries must maintain precise environmental conditions throughout the manufacturing, distribution, and storage process. This helps ensure that the products stay effective and safe for use.

Food and Beverage: Temperature monitoring at every stage within the food industry for the preparation, storage, transportation and display of food. The food industry indicates that any organization involved in the preparation, storage, or transportation of food should be able to verify that the temperatures have been maintained at the specified levels through data loggers.

Medical: Data loggers are used in the sterilization processes for medical storage in fridges, freezers, and culture rooms. They monitor environmental conditions in hospitals and in surgeries, both of which are critical for the well-being of patients.

Pharmaceutical: The storage and transportation of medicines and pharmaceutical products are subject to certain regulations for vaccines, which are regularly monitored and kept within an adequate temperature range. Many medicines and vaccines lose their effectiveness when they are exposed to temperatures outside of their required optimum temperature ranges.

Building/Facilities Energy Efficiency Management: Data loggers commonly are used to monitor power usage, energy consumption, and HVAC systems in homes, schools, offices, warehouses, museums, and industrial premises. For some industries, this is a regulated piece of what they do. Data loggers help these organizations conform to energy management regulations.

Industrial Health and Safety: Data loggers currently are being implemented in a number of industries where the health and safety of workers can be at risk. They are used to monitor air quality through HVAC systems. In certain buildings, like medical, government, or school buildings, monitoring the HVAC systems and air quality is required by local laws and regulations.

Farming/Agricultural: Data loggers are common in the agricultural industry as well. They can provide data for farmers to help them grow greater quantities and better quality food. In farming, data loggers are used to better record the weather to help in crop growth, used to record the hydrographic conditions (things like the water level, depth, flow, pH levels), and even used to help record data on soil moisture levels. All this data allows farmers to know when to plant crops, when to harvest crops, and even what to plant.

Data loggers are not used only for crops, but also to help monitor livestock. They can collect information about their environments. Data loggers commonly are used within the living quarters of cattle to monitor their activities. This provides information on their state of health, well-being, and the associated effects on their milk production or quality of meat. Other farming uses include monitoring underwater conditions for fish farming.

Automotive: Data loggers monitor various factors of automobiles, such as vibration, temperature, acceleration, wireless sensors, and shock. Data loggers become even more prominent with rising demand for autonomous vehicles and electric vehicles.

Urban Planning: Federal, state, and local governments also are using data loggers to help provide governments with better, more-accurate data, which can lead to better, data-driven decision making.

According to Industry ARC (Analytics Research Consulting), the data logger market size is forecast to reach $10.2 billion by 2026. The data logger industry is in its infancy. In the most current updates to NWFA Installation Guidelines, we suggest the use of data loggers in some installation situations, such as when installing wood over radiant heat.

Hardwood floors can last for hundreds of years. When the interior conditions fall outside of tolerance, the floor can become damaged. Sadly, many flooring contractors find themselves on the hook for damage caused by something for which they have no control. Use of data loggers can not only help contractors to protect themselves from unnecessary claims, but more importantly, can help homeowners take control of the health of their wood floor.

Brett Miller is the vice president of technical standards, training, and certification for the National Wood Flooring Association in St. Louis. He can be reached at brett.miller@nwfa.org.

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