Most prospective owners involved in the process of acquiring a hotel property understand that some renovations may be necessary, but aren’t prepared for hidden moisture and mold damage that will exponentially escalate repair costs. Unfortunately, this kind of oversight happens repeatedly during hotel transactions because the due process that is followed doesn’t include the interaction of building systems that actually cause moisture and mold damage. This common industry mishap causes many new owners to make a wrongful assumption during their purchase, potentially costing them millions of dollars in unplanned renovations and room outage costs.

When it comes to uncovering hidden mold, significant gaps exist in the due diligence process leading up to a hotel transaction, increasing the purchaser’s risk.

A typical hotel transaction process includes a property condition assessment (PCA) and can also include a Phase 1 Environmental Report. Unbeknownst to most, significant gaps occur in the process because, while these assessments usually identify the existence of damage, they never identify the extent, cause, or cost to recover the damage.

Buyers negotiate the purchase price for a hotel based on the information available from the PCA and Phase 1 Environmental Report, but often fall short because these assessments do not cover the true extent of the damage. As a result, many new owners acquire a property that requires significantly more money than expected to remediate the hidden damage, in addition to taking on the costs associated with extended room outages. They are left with the choice to either pay for the extra remediation costs out of pocket, or else file a claim with the insurance company in the hope of recovering the cost after the sale.

HOW TO PLUG THE HOLES IN THE TRANSACTION PROCESS

Evidence of a moisture problem that existed prior to hotel purchase.

An investment group purchased a high-rise guest tower hotel in the Southeast United States. The hotel was over 30 years old, and its major equipment was in the run-to-failure mode. The PCA identified the major building systems and their remaining useful life. The Phase 1 Environmental Report identified (on the surface, through non-destructive testing) that there was some physical damage in the form of moisture and mold.

The hotel transaction process is very prescriptive in regards to the PCA; an ASTM standard for the PCA requires it to identify and communicate physical deficiencies of the property. However, it does not uncover any failures that have occurred due to the interaction between the HVAC and building envelope systems, nor does it recommend how to fix them other than equipment replacement. Replacing equipment is not always the best solution because this strategy doesn’t address the cause of the deficiency, which means the same issues will likely recur again. This widespread industry problem has reared its head for decades and needs to be brought to light and addressed.

In this particular case, because the equipment and systems were in the run-to-failure mode, surface damage was masking more widespread damage. The evident damage was just the tip of the iceberg; the full extent of damage as well as its underlying causes were never detected.

Mold damage due to the absence of supply air above the top-floor ceiling in areas where the designed thermal and air barriers were on the underside of the roof

The new owners hired the same company that had performed the Phase 1 Environmental Report to conduct a more extensive investigation of the problem in an attempt to pinpoint the cause and provide solutions. After this company performed their additional (and expensive) investigation, they provided the owners with a list of symptoms determined by taking the hotel’s vital signs. As an environmental firm, they specialized in taking readings and measurements of the rooms, which confirmed the damage but didn’t provide the owner with the cause or, more importantly, the solution. Thus, after this additional assessment, the owners were still left with unanswered questions, and with little direction about what to do next.

Once Liberty was retained to investigate, we were able to bring the multi-disciplinary resources required to solve complex mold and moisture problems similar to the conditions found in their hotel. Our extensive experience in hot and humid climates, as well as our intimate knowledge of the interactions between the building envelope and HVAC systems, allowed us to not only strategize a work plan and method statements that confirmed the defects leading to the failures, but also to identify the extent of damage to help support cost recovery after the sale.

SOLVE + FIX = PREVENT RECURRENCE

If remediation efforts are not methodically planned and executed, the consequential effects of these types of failures can drive costs up into the seven-figure range. Our client’s two most important objectives were coincidentally our two biggest challenges. Our first task was to identify the root cause of the issue and strategize a solution that would FIX and SOLVE the existing problem efficiently and PREVENT it from recurring. Every day that went by with unoccupied rooms was compounding lost revenue for our client, so the pressure to get these rooms ready for occupants was severe. Secondly, our client’s goal was to MAXIMIZE their insurance recovery after the sale. Since the prior assessments didn’t identify the full extent of damage, the discount negotiated in the purchase price wasn’t enough to help offset the needed repairs.

SOLUTIONS REQUIRED BOTH FACADE AND HVAC FIXES

Our multidisciplinary team of mold assessors, HVAC experts, and building envelope experts was able to identify the complete extent of defects that led to the failures, allowing them to SOLVE, FIX, and RECOVER the building’s mold and moisture problems and PREVENT future ones. They determined that a number of the major systems and equipment in run-to-failure mode were far beyond their service life. Additionally, the watertight integrity of the facade had been compromised, resulting in widespread hidden moisture damage on exterior walls.

The following defects contributed to causing the damage: negative pressure by the HVAC; a leaky building envelope; inadequately dehumidified make-up air that did not effectively reach guest rooms; inadequately sealed chilled water pipe insulation transverse and longitudinal joints; and the absence of supply air above the top ceiling in areas where the designed thermal and air barriers were on the underside of the roof. None of these major issues had been uncovered by the PCA or the Phase 1 Environmental Report. Had our client known about these issues prior to purchasing the hotel, they would have negotiated a better price to offset repairs.

Hidden mold can impact walls as well as buildings systems like piping

Our client now realized that the systems and procedures in place to supposedly protect their investment during a hotel transaction had, in fact, failed them. Their goal had been to incorporate the cost of renovations into the transaction, but because the new owners had already exceeded that amount, they were going to attempt to self-fund the repairs. Since the necessary repairs had been grossly underestimated, the cost continued to escalate far beyond their insurance policy deductible and they needed guidance to maximize their insurance recovery.

Understanding the interaction between the building envelope and HVAC system, Liberty experts were able to diagnose the failures and determine a solution for recovery. The proposed solutions were provided in a matrix form, offering “good,” “better,” or “best” options that all met the dehumidification requirements for the space but allowed the client to make the best business decision that aligned with their goals for the property. For example, provided options to minimize conditions conducive to negative pressure within the guest rooms ranged from installing constant flow regulators in the rooms, to converting the continuous exhaust system to a non-continuous exhaust system.

An additional challenge was that the hotel had to remain operational during remediation. Very rarely do hotels shut down because of moisture and mold. The remediation approach had to address the mold while simultaneously making repairs to major mechanical equipment without inconveniencing the hotel guest. For example, the vapor retarder on the insulation of some chilled water lines was damaged beyond repair. The working sequence during replacement was very important, and condensation had to be controlled to prevent further mold growth. There were very specific requirements for both the type of insulation to be used as well as the types of mastics and sealants that were conducive to the environment in which this work had to be done.

HIDDEN MOLD = HIDDEN COSTS

The buyer’s primary goals were to maximize recovery costs, minimize room outages, and get rooms operational again in a short amount of time. They worked with Liberty and their insurance company to maximize recovery, going off a set of options to mitigate the problem using information provided to them in the initial assessments.

Through the process, they gained a heightened awareness of the patent and zombie defects that did not rise to a level of concern during the initial assessment phase. The remediation project was successfully moved along to get the rooms operational quickly and help maximize the new owner’s insurance recovery.

 

Band-aid fixes are often applied to a hotel prior to selling to make the building more appealing. Catching these masked issues early on can prevent a catastrophic mold and moisture outbreak in your hotel.

 

CASE SUMMARY

Even though the mold growth was found behind the newly installed VWC the root cause could be traced back to a decision made just before the purchase of the hotel.

A mid-rise hotel in Tampa, Florida had recently undergone a sale. The new owner, who was changing flags, was updating the Furniture, Fixtures, and Equipment (FF&E) to meet the brand standards for the new flag. This 400+-room hotel, located in a commercial district of Tampa, was fairly basic in design, with a corporate feel. Though there were no major influential factors present that would elevate the probability of a mold and moisture problem (such as being located next to a large body of water), the hotel was unexpectedly impacted by a severe mold problem behind new vinyl wall covering (VWC) during the renovation process.

What makes this particular case study so interesting is the fact that the Property Condition Assessment (PCA) had not detected any mold in the building, nor had the construction team observed any mold as renovations began. The mold was only discovered after the new VWC had been installed. Ironically, even though the mold growth was new, the root cause of the problem could be traced back to a decision made just prior to the purchase.

Continue Reading DON’T LET A SIMPLE BAND-AID FIX CAUSE A MOLD OUTBREAK IN YOUR HOTEL

 

The Super Bowl was right around the corner, and much was at stake for this hotel. It was undergoing a room rehab with a hard deadline when an unforeseen mold and moisture problem brought work to a screeching halt..

 

Hotel renovation projects are often scheduled around upcoming events like large conventions or sporting events. For obvious reasons, these types of renovations typically have a hard deadline that cannot be missed. This puts a lot of stress on the construction and project management teams, who know that no matter what surprises may unfold during the rehab, the scheduled deadline must still be met. They must be able to overcome any obstacles while still keeping costs to a minimum.

 

CASE SUMMARY

This Midwestern project was a fast-track renovation of a 600-room hotel with a hard stop deadline of Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis. The renovation was intended to be a simple FF&E (Furniture, Fixtures & Equipment) project to upgrade the hotel’s appearance and give it a fresh feel for patrons coming to town for the Super Bowl.

During rehab of the first few rooms, the construction team pulled back the vinyl wall covering only to discover an unexpected mold issue on the vast majority of exterior walls. Panic and uncertainty immediately ensued as the project team tried to determine what needed to be done, how much it would cost, and whether the deadline would still be able to be met.

Continue Reading HOTEL RENOVATION FOR THE SUPER BOWL HALTED DUE TO MOLD OUTBREAK

 

When it comes to building performance, too much of a good thing can become a bad thing. Humidification to provide medical patient comfort is a good thing. Frost and ice damage due to that same humidification is not so good.

When new building code requirements require high performance and innovation incentives, such as those found in green building rating systems, significant confusion and some building failure will ensue. This is the current situation that designers and contractors are facing in wall system air barrier design and performance. Overly complex and problematic exterior wall systems due to a market-driven design emphasis on energy savings, high performance, and innovation inevitably lead to increased risk and liability in all climates, and concern about mold and moisture damage in hot/humid climates.

Significant in 2012 was the issuance of the International Green Construction Code (IgCC). This provided a vehicle for codifying many elements of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED)® rating systems and ASHRAE standards that have been issued over the last decade. (Most of them have been released in just the last two years.)

The development of codes such as the IgCC are often based on collaboration through cooperating industry professional society sponsors. Despite the benefits of collaboration, high performance and innovation initiatives are often driven by code empirical laboratory analysis, which sometimes does not translate well to field applications. This codification is then pushed out to contractors, who unfortunately must then face the task of interpreting sometimes puzzling requirements that don’t always make sense or work in the field.

Continue Reading AIR BARRIERS: EXPECTATIONS VS. REALITY
 — THAWING A FROSTY RELATIONSHIP

 

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.

 

CONTINUE READING

 

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