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

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.


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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.
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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.


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Just months after completing refurbishment on a 300+ room resort, the owner of a luxury coastal vacation resort began to wonder if he had entered into the Twilight Zone when mold and moisture problems suddenly emerged in numerous guestrooms. He was perplexed that this problem was cropping up now despite the fact that he had owned and operated similar properties for many years. Never in all that time had he ever experienced moisture-related issues.

Why was the problem occurring at this point? What was different?


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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.

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.”


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Here is an all-too-common scenario: A design and construction team is awarded a new hotel project. The design and construction standards are passed on to the team. The team adheres exactly to the requirements of exterior wall design and HVAC system design only to discover during final stages of construction that the actual performance of the design is vastly different than expected.  Unsuspecting hotel design and construction teams need to heed the warning: “Rigid adherence to hotel design and construction standards without factoring in specific regional and climatic conditions can result in significant mold and moisture issues in new hotel construction.”


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The theory behind design and construction (D&C) standards is to provide assurances that the hotel is built to requirements that meet the brand’s expectation for aesthetic, operational, and building performance. D&C standards portray themselves as a repository of lessons learned and of what should be done (and, by implication, what should not be done) to make the hotel work. However, theory proves contrary to actual practice in this case because D&C standards are developed on a global basis. They typically do not take into consideration specific needs and limitations of regional climates. In fact, it has been found that these  D&C standards often don’t comply with recommended building practices for certain climates at all. These violations in the D&C standards have been shown repeatedly to result in extensive and costly mold and moisture problems in hotels.

In the case of a 140-room hotel in a warm and humid climate in Texas, the hotel began to experience significant mold and moisture problems that resulted in more than $5 million of damage claim against the general contractor. D&C standards for the hotel required that the mechanical system provide roof top units (RTUs) for conditioning of the corridors with 10% additional outdoor air for building pressurization. Liberty’s measurements of relative pressurization confirmed the cause of visual evidence of mold growth behind the VWC. With all HVAC systems operating (RTUs, PTACs, and toilet exhausts), the guestrooms were and wall cavities were under high negative pressure relative to outdoor air. Even with the toilet exhaust fans turned off, guestrooms were barely under positive pressure, and some were still under negative pressure (see Figure 1). Negative pressurization, as a result of misapplication of brand standards, results in drawing in of warm, humid air which leads to mold growth.


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The immediate future looks bright for South Florida as it basks in a revival of new construction. But Florida-based Liberty Building Forensics Group (LBFG) cautions designers, engineers, and contractors not to let history repeat itself.

A significant number of condo projects built in Miami in the early 2000’s ended in litigation due to building failures such as new product failures, humidity and mold problems, air conditioning failures, and even falling stucco off the building. Despite being a lengthy, costly, and hostile learning method, litigation is unfortunately construction’s only true form of feedback.


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