Construction of a large luxury resort located in a warm, humid climate was coming to a close during the summer. Because the vinyl wall covering on the interior side of the exterior walls had an impermeable finish, it functioned as a vapor retarder (also referred to as a vapor barrier).

The HVAC system consisted of a continuous toilet exhaust and packaged terminal air-conditioner (PTAC) units. The outside air exchange rate in each guest room averaged six times an hour, all from infiltration.

In this case, problems developed both inside the building and inside the wall.

The combined effect of excessive outside air infiltration and an improperly located vapor retarder caused $5.5 million in moisture and mold damage, even before the facility was opened (Figure 1). If these same design combinations had occurred in a more temperate climate, the problems would have been limited to increased energy consumption and possible complaints about guest comfort.

This is one example of how hot, humid climates present unique challenges that are often overlooked by the design and construction community. However, challenges also occur for buildings located in other climates. Meeting these challenges depends on understanding a building’s local climate conditions and how they contribute to IAQ and mold problems.

 

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INTRODUCTION

An alarming number of new buildings suffer from moisture and mold problems. The risk of failure is highest in—but not limited to—cold, temperate, warm-humid, and hot-humid climates. The debate on why some buildings fail and others do not, as well as who is responsible for these failures and how to fix them, rages on. Instead of being aired in architecture schools and at engineering society meetings, however, this debate goes on in courtrooms and mediation hearings, among highly paid expert witnesses and lawyers—not among people who should be preventing failures, but among those who are rewarded by their occurrence.

The building industry seems baffled about the prevalence of building failures. Many wonder why the rate of building failures is not declining despite better technology, increased training, and more sophisticated building systems. It is not due to indifference or ignorance. We know we can prevent buildings from failing because we can fix them once they do fail. The primary reason we are not coming to grips with this far-reaching problem is simple: the design professionals entrusted with building performance are not receiving adequate feedback on the performance of their previous buildings.

Without that feedback, we do not know why some buildings work well and others do not, despite being apparently designed the same way. Metrics may say that the industry did a good job, yet clients keep complaining about building failure and the construction litigation business keeps growing. Until architects and engineers receive better performance feedback, they will have neither the ability nor the incentive to change.

 

Continue Reading Why Buildings Fail

 

There’s an assumption in the hotel industry that plaster walls are not susceptible to mold growth–but don’t let your guard down. Experts at Liberty Building Forensics Group (LBFG) helped guide a hotel renovation team that encountered an unsuspecting mold problem in the hotel’s plaster walls that could have cost millions of dollars in remediation and lost room revenue.

 

Mold growth is not seen as frequently on plaster walls as it is on gypsum wallboard, primarily because there are no nutrients to support mold growth (except for any dirt or dust that might be on the plaster). As a result, any mold growth on plaster walls is often not very visible or extensive, so most hotel owners and operators in this situation feel relatively safe from mold problems. It is important to realize, however, that what unexpectedly happened to this high-end hotel with plaster walls in the heart of Washington, D.C. could happen to anyone.

 

CASE SUMMARY

Hotel management was attempting to fast-track a renovation project because of a high demand for room nights in this particular location of Washington, D.C. Part of the renovation process involved removing all the old vinyl wall covering on the corridor walls and in the rooms themselves, then patching and repairing the underlying plaster with skim coats, allowing that to dry before installing the new vinyl wall covering.

 

Much to the dismay of everyone involved, mold was found growing behind the new vinyl wall covering while renovations were still ongoing. The mold was found growing primarily on the adhesive (which served as a nutrient), as well as on any dirt and dust that might have been on the plastered surface. This mold growth caused a discoloration of the vinyl wall covering, with pink stains appearing on both the room and corridor sides of the vinyl. The discoloration was noticeable to the hotel staff and would have been noticeable to guests as well, thus bringing this fast-track renovation to a halt.

Continue Reading Hotel Renovation Threatened Due to Unexpected Mold on Plaster Walls

While Legionnaires’ disease has been identified since 1976, it’s only come to the forefront for many facilities nationwide over the last couple of years. The increased attention began in earnest after the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) came out with Standard 188. Following up on that, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) came out with their edict that facilities currently receiving Medicare aid or payments needed to develop a water management program in order to keep receiving funds. This mandatory guidance was a governmental response to the lack of widespread adoption of water management plans.

Legionnaires Disease on the rise
Figure 1

The data in the Figure 1 graph was compiled by government agencies that track disease trends. Over the past 15 years, the incidence of Legionnaires’ disease has risen substantially. A variety of factors come into play as to why this may be so. The population is aging, which means there are more at-risk individuals. Additionally, building infrastructures are also aging – specifically in this case, plumbing infrastructures – and are not always maintained as they should be. Another often overlooked but likely culprit is water flow reduction measures, such as low-flow or no-flow water systems. Continue Reading Legionnaires’ Disease is on the Rise: Here’s What Can Be Done

Unique vital signs can help determine the health of a building as it relates to a mold and moisture problem, similar to measuring the health of a human body by taking vitals. This analogy is applicable to many different building types and construction phases. This kind of analysis can help locate the hidden risks of a mold and moisture problem and can also be beneficial when planning a renovation by bringing awareness to potential moisture-related problems, allowing owners to course-correct, budget, and plan accordingly.

 

In our decades of building forensics experience at Liberty Building Forensics Group (LBFG), we have seen repeated occurrences of moisture and mold damage in buildings that had previously displayed warning signs. If these vital signs had been addressed early on, catastrophic problems could have been avoided.

 

Instead, many building owners and operators rely solely on a property condition assessment (PCA) to determine if they have a problem. This prescribed methodology is intended to provide a level playing field for what every PCA will provide, and also to limit the exposure and liability risk for those performing it. However, our firm has found that these PCAs, which follow American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) requirements, are not set up to locate hidden issues and in fact often overlook potential problems. Continue Reading Monitor These 9 Vital Signs to Avoid Widespread Mold & Moisture Problems in Your Building

Over the past few months, there have been tens of thousands of Google searches for PTAC units, using keyword phrases as simple as “what are PTAC units” and “consequences of using PTAC units.” While numerous results turn up for these kinds of searches, not many are backed by 30+ years of building forensics experience in the field.

 

At Liberty Building Forensics Group (LBFG), our building experts have 30+ years of experience in building forensics and have solved, fixed, prevented, and recovered some of the world’s most complex building mold and moisture problems. They have investigated hundreds of hotel moisture problems involving over 100,000 guest rooms, and are dedicated to the individual, operator, builder, and owner in providing a safe and mold-free environment for all.

Continue Reading Synopsis of 30+ Years Working With PTAC Units

After over 25 years of figuring out why buildings end up as catastrophic mold and moisture building failures – there are some apparent truths that have remained seemingly unchanged.

 

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Buildings should not be designed in silos (but they still are). Despite advances in technical understanding and higher standards for building performance, like building envelope airtightness, the design task for the building envelope is still being completed in a vacuum of other critical disciplines. On a recent project, the facade consultant was asked how their design interfaced with the overall building pressurization requirements established by the HVAC design. The answer: “We don’t consider that in our design. They do their thing and we do ours.”

Continue Reading Three Forgotten Truths about Mold and Moisture Building Failures

Do You Know the Vital Signs for Avoiding Moisture & Mold Problems?

Will Your Brand Standards Cause You Headaches?

How Will You Recover Costs If You Do Get Into Trouble?

 

Sign up for our free July 10 webinar on “Hotel Renovations: More Than Just Minding the Dust”.

 

The time has come to perform that next renovation cycle for your hotel. You have successfully lined up your team of property staff, designers, and contractors. You are pleased with the fresh look proposed by the designers. Work is scheduled around your occupancy rate and the first wave of workers is let loose. You are ready for success – until the unexpected happens. Hidden moisture and mold damage disrupts your schedule, delays your reopening, requires redesign work, and increases the construction budget with a multitude of change orders.

If you had seen this coming, your entire renovation strategy would have been altered from the beginning. But could you have seen it coming? Most likely….if you had checked the essential building vital signs. A hotel owner/operator should assess these markers as the first step in any renovation to determine the potential for hidden moisture and mold damage. Understanding those vital signs, as well as the possible negative impact of brand standards, is critical for success.

Continue Reading Hotel Renovation: More Than Just Minding the Dust

Sign up for our free webinar on May 3, 2018“Q: Is There Really a Skills and Experience Gap Causing Failures in Today’s Construction Marketplace? A: No. Learn how recent hotel mold and moisture failures tell us what the real issues are.”

The emergence of modular construction as an option for new construction is becoming mainstream. While the reasons why have been reported on extensively, what has not been reported is that the modular construction industry has been plagued by mold and moisture problems, especially on projects located in warm and humid climates like the Southeast U.S. Both wood-frame and steel-frame modular construction units have experienced condensation problems in crawl spaces, within marriage walls, and within ceiling-to-floor cavities that have not only resulted in deterioration of the wood and corrosion of metal floor pans, but have also led to damaged wallboard and mold issues.

The greatest risk of modular construction failure has been seen in facilities that are domicidal or multi-family in nature, such as hotels, student housing, senior living, and soldier housing. The living units of these types of facilities have inherent similarities: they require both an individual cooling/heating unit, bathroom exhaust, and some sort of central HVAC make-up air system. In addition, these kinds of buildings contain many more modular “boxes,” increasing the number of marriage wall interior cavities and ceiling-to-floor cavities that might not be required in other types of modular construction.

Continue Reading Preventing Modular Hotel Mold and Moisture Problems in the Warm and Humid Southeast

Moisture damage around the bathroom exhaust fan from reverse air flow through the exterior wall cap

 

But why?! Hasn’t there been enough lessons learned through moisture/mold construction litigation in the hospitality, multi-family apartment high rise, student and military housing sectors that show that dumping the make-up air to the corridor is a risky proposition? Apparently not?! This concept of make-up air delivery to a corridor has been and continues to be a living unit moisture and mold risk because the make-air cannot reach each occupied room on each floor for purposes of ventilation, pressurization and make-up air for exhaust. Many times, it is intended that this makeup air will reach each occupied rooms across each room’s door undercut. But it can’t because resistance to airflow, the amount of required makeup airflow to each room, the size of the door undercut, and the internal and external pressures on the rooms and corridor. In addition, test and balance can’t accurately measure it.

Continue Reading Hot, humid climate makeup air conundrum: The moisture and mold risks that developers, designers and installers continue to take