By George H. DuBose, CGC; Steven R. Gleason, P.E.; and Charles Allen, Jr., AIA

While it’s accurate that truth can certainly be stranger than fiction, it is equally strange that so many in the design and construction industry perceive myths as truth, especially after they have been disproved as false time and time again.

In our work resolving mold and moisture problems in hotels and resorts, Liberty Building Forensics Group (LBFG) experts have discovered certain faulty beliefs surrounding hotel performance in coastal zones that are leading to building failures which are often catastrophic in scope. Below is one such myth related to waterproofing, followed by an explanation of why it is false as well as a first-hand case study supporting this position.

Figure 1
Figure 1: Despite the presence of a waterproofing membrane on the elevated concrete slabs, water intrusion occurred through the terrace levels into the spaces below, infiltrating via penetrations and cracks in the slab.

Myth – Water damage can be avoided in hotel design as long as some type of waterproofing membrane is installed over a concrete slab.

Truth – Unfortunately, the issue is not as simple as that. In fact, many factors must be considered when waterproofing a concrete slab base. Using a waterproofing membrane over a concrete slab, which is often topped by a mortar bed and stone or similar overburden, is just the starting point. Continue Reading Fact vs. Fiction: Hotel Waterproofing in Coastal Zones

Building Envelope & HVAC Interaction
in Warm, Humid Zones

By George H. DuBose, CGC; Richard Scott, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP; and Donald B. Snell, P.E., Cert. Mech. Contractor, CIEC

building failures
This high-rise resort in Central Florida underwent a $9.5M remediation only to have the problem come back the first summer after it was complete.

Certain faulty beliefs surrounding building performance in warm, humid zones continue to persist in the design and construction industry – and the interaction between building envelopes and HVAC systems is no exception.

Unfortunately, the fact that many architects and engineers rely on such myths as gospel truth during building design has inevitably led to building failures that are often catastrophic in scope.

Below is one prevalent myth our experts at Liberty Building Forensics Group (LBFG) have encountered through their extensive work resolving mold and moisture problems in hotels and resorts. The myth is followed by an explanation of why it is false, as well as a first-hand case study supporting this position.

Myth: A building envelope can perform effectively on its own without any help from the HVAC system. Continue Reading No Building Envelope is HVAC Failure-Proof

Myth―An unproven or false collective belief

By J. David Odom and Richard Scott-AIA, NCARB, LEED AP of Liberty Building Forensics Group and Norm Nelson of CH2M

If PTAC units were a federally regulated drug, then each equipment sale would include a list of side effects and cautionary notes. Unfortunately, the opposite is true—each PTAC buyer is provided with a list of unproven expectations and myths. It is these unproven PTAC performance myths, enduring for decades, which have contributed to an outsized number of moisture and mold problems.

Over the past 30 years, our building experts have investigated hundreds of hotel moisture problems (involving over 100,000 guest rooms) and in the process, have seen three repetitive problems that appear to be ignored by the hospitality industry:

  1. PTAC units cannot ventilate interior spaces.
  2. PTAC units cannot pressurize hotel guest rooms.
  3. PTAC units are often ineffective in dehumidifying hotel guest rooms, especially when outside conditions are hot and humid.

Even though PTAC units cannot provide these features, the myths are that hotel industry, including owners, operators, developers, contractors, and designers, believe that they can. Continue Reading The 3 Myths of PTAC Units

By George H. DuBose, CGC and Steven R. Gleason, P.E.

Certain faulty beliefs surrounding hotel performance in warm, humid coastal zones continue to persist in the design and construction industry – and waterproofing is no exception. Unfortunately, the fact that many architects and engineers rely on these myths as gospel truth during building envelope design has inevitably led to building failures that are often catastrophic in scope.

Below are two myths our experts at Liberty Building Forensics Group (LBFG) have encountered through their extensive work resolving mold and moisture problems in hotels and resorts. Both myths are followed by an explanation of why they are false, as well as a first-hand case study supporting this position.

hotel waterproofing myths
            Figure 1

Myth #1 – Water damage will be avoided in hotel design as long as a waterproofing membrane is installed over a concrete slab.

Truth – Many issues must be considered when waterproofing a concrete slab base. Using a waterproofing membrane over a concrete slab, which is often topped by a mortar bed and stone or similar overburden, is just the starting point.

In addition, the membrane must be sufficiently robust to do the job, and drainage must be adequately thought out. Installing a marginal membrane or an inadequate drainage system will often lead to membrane failure and cause the building to leak, especially in climates with heavy rainy seasons.

Case Study – LBFG observed a failure of this sort at a resort built into a mountainside in Mexico. The entrance to the resort was located at the top of the mountain, and the remaining portions of the facility were built down the side of the mountain utilizing multiple terrace-like levels. As such, most of the common areas were open-air terraces over occupied space below.

Waterproofing over occupied space is a critical but often misunderstood and overlooked aspect of building envelope design in hotels and resorts. Despite the presence of a waterproofing membrane on the elevated concrete slabs, water intrusion occurred through the terrace levels into the spaces below, infiltrating via penetrations and cracks in the slab (Figure 1). The extent and magnitude of the leaks were such that an elaborate system of gutters and drain piping had been installed below the slabs in an attempt to intercept and manage the leakage (Figure 2). Continue Reading Myths about Hotel Waterproofing in Warm, Humid Coastal Zones

moisture problems

Suppose there was a tool that could predict, before a single penny was spent on construction, the likelihood of whether your building would fail. Not only that, but this tool could also provide you with enough information to make significant design changes that would dramatically decrease any risk factors. Would you be interested? Of course you would.

At the risk of oversimplifying a complex process that contains multiple variables, we believe we have created such a tool. The following moisture prediction charts have been adapted from a mold and moisture manual Liberty Building Forensics Group developed for Disney Corporation in the early 1990s. Over the past two decades, they have been beta-tested on literally thousands of hotels, and have proven time and time again to be as true today as they were 20 years ago.

Although the charts were created with hotel guest rooms and wall cavities in mind, the general principles demonstrated would hold true for most buildings. Hotels just happen to be the simplest commercial building structure, so they were the easiest to beta test. Continue Reading The Incredible Predictability of Moisture Problems

When Your Student Housing Property has Water Intrusion and Mold,

the Last Man Standing Could Be the Loser!

 

An increasing number of legacy buildings, including aging student housing complexes, are experiencing water intrusion and mold-related damage that can be traced back to fundamental design and construction defects. The buildings have experienced water intrusion that, in many cases, results in hidden damage to the structure.

While there may be some signs of the water intrusion inside the student apartments, the damage may not be obvious to the management firm. Unfortunately, by the time the damage is found, the statute of limitations for original designers and contractors is long gone. As a result, the buck often stops with the liability insurance of the current student housing management firm. This firm will be considered the last man standing.

Regardless of where the root problem originated, management firms are being held responsible for these defects if they haven’t taken steps to protect themselves. Managers of older student housing complexes who find themselves in this precarious position should understand the ways to manage their risks.

 

Continue Reading Campus Community Management Firms, Beware!

Avoid Catastrophic Mold and Moisture Problems in Hot, Humid Climates Due to Air Barrier Standard Confusion

 

By George DuBose, CGC; Richard Scott, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP; and Donald B. Snell, PC CIEC

 

Imagine the following scenario: you just designed your newest project to meet the most current whole building air leakage standards, and your mechanical engineer subconsultant has designed an HVAC system that includes one of the latest energy recovery strategies. Both factors are intended to meet high energy efficiency goals, making you proud that your firm is doing its part (amongst other things) to minimize your impact on the climate change problem.

Continue Reading Till Death Do Us Part: Preventing a Facade and HVAC Divorce When It Comes to Air Barrier Performance

As the building and construction industry continues to come out of the hibernation that has been the norm since 2009, it unfortunately appears that it’s déjà vu all over again when it comes to water-related building failures. As new buildings are being constructed, the same design and construction deficiencies of the past are being repeated, leading to (often catastrophic) mold and moisture problems.

 

It may seem somewhat unbelievable that the industry still finds itself making these same basic mistakes time after time. After all, preventative solutions to these issues have been understood and well-published for many years.

 

Continue Reading Design and Construction Amnesia: We Have Lost our Minds and it is Causing Catastrophic Mold and Moisture Building Failures

photo credit: Scott Ehardt


 

You are a defendant in a lawsuit. The crime? A moldy, moisture-damaged building. What you don’t want to have to say during deposition while under oath, “Lordy, I hope there is tape!”

 

Continue Reading Lordy, I KNOW there’s tape!

The emergence of #modular construction as an option for new construction is becoming mainstream. The reasons have been reported on well. However, what has not been reported is that the modular construction industry has had mold and moisture problems, especially, when used in a warm and humid climate like the Southeast US. Both wood frame and steel frame modular construction have experienced problems with crawl space, marriage wall, and ceiling to floor cavity, condensation problems that have not only resulted in deterioration of the wood, corrosion of metal floor pans, deteriorate wallboard and mold.

 

The greatest risk of modular construction failures has been seen to be when this type of construction and delivery is used for hotels, student housing, senior living, soldier housing, type facilities. In general, facilities that are domicidal or multi family in nature. This is because these types of facilities have inherent similarities in a living unit that requires both an individual cooling/heating unit, bathroom exhaust, and some sort of central HVAC make up air system. In addition, there are many more modular “boxes” in these kinds of buildings increasing the number of marriage wall interior cavities and ceiling to floor cavities that otherwise might not be required in other types of modular construction. The nature of modular construction makes it difficult to repair once it is found to be damaged. Sometimes, the damage can be such that the modular building has to be deconstructed to remove damaged materials and then re-designed and re-constructed using conventional methods. This essentially makes the modular construction advantages dissolve away as the building gets converted to a traditional “stick” building.

Continue Reading Deja Vu All Over Again: Risks for Moisture and Mold Problems in Modular Construction