Building Pressurization

 

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.

 

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.

 

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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