Managing Mold and Moisture

July 9, 2009
Large-scale moisture problems and subsequent mold growth can have significant infrastructure, financial, health, and legal impacts on those who design, build, own, and operate buildings

The terms “water damage” and “mold” strike fear into the hearts of building managers and owners. Large-scale moisture problems and subsequent mold growth can have significant infrastructure, financial, health, and legal impacts on those who design, build, own, and operate buildings. These impacts may manifest themselves in a variety of ways, including increased insurance premiums and litigation, decreased property values and occupancy rates, and, most importantly, a negative impact on the health, well being, and productivity of building occupants. While buildings located in warm, humid climates face the greatest threat, no building is exempt from the risks posed by moisture and mold. The scale of the problem is staggering, with water-damage repairs in new construction alone projected to rise to $3.4 billion by the end of 2009, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Proactively managing moisture and mold has gained significant traction in the design community, construction industry, and green building movement. In fact, the GREENGUARD Environmental Institute (GREENGUARD) has developed a proposed American National Standards Institute (ANSI) standard for prevention and management of mold in new construction.

Based on the valuable input from these experts and the public at large, the standard seeks to strike a balance between protection of the building infrastructure/health of its occupants and the economic feasibility of implementing the standard’s core requirements which include:

  • A review of the building design prior to initiation of any construction activities. This design review focuses on identifying any elements, processes, or materials that might trigger moisture problems during construction or following building occupancy.
  • A review of all design and construction documents, ensuring that moisture and mold specifications are included for contractors.
  • Conducting regular on-site inspections and monitoring during the construction phase to assess conditions conducive to mold growth, take prompt action to prevent potential problems from becoming a reality, and address any observed problems while they’re small and more easily managed.
  • Performing moisture mapping of the building and conducting building clearance testing.
  • Developing O&M plans that incorporate mold and moisture elements. Train building maintenance staff on effective implementation of the O&M plan.

Recognizing the importance of mold and moisture management, GREENGUARD established the GREENGUARD Building Construction Program. This program awards certification to buildings that comply with all elements of the proposed ANSI standard.

In addition to GREENGUARD, other building programs now include mold prevention and moisture management plans as part of their indoor environmental quality (IEQ) requirements. Not only has the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED rating system begun to do so in its 2009 programs for schools and commercial interiors, but others, such as the Green Guide for Health Care, the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) green building standard, and the Collaborative for High Performance Schools (CHPS) in California and Texas, now include criteria for moisture management.

There’s no question that moisture and mold management will continue to play a critical role for building designers, constructors, owners, and managers. It’s difficult to argue the value of a tool that helps reduce the overall financial risk posed by large-scale moisture and mold problems. Further, these programs complement the emerging green building movement and support developers and building owners who position themselves as progressive providers of high-quality construction. Finally, standards, such as those developed by GREENGUARD, provide a comprehensive, practical blueprint for preventing major moisture and mold problems during the life-cycle of a building. For more information on mold and moisture management, and other indoor air quality topics, visit www.aerias.org.

Tony Worthan is head of the GREENGUARD Building Construction ANSI Consensus Board, and Taylor Gonsoulin is general manager at Air Quality Sciences in Marietta, GA.

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