Aspergillus, Stachybotrys, Cladosporium, Fusarium and Penicillium are the mostly commonly known molds.
It is probably safe to assume that everyone has at least heard of mold.
However, everyone may not know what causes mold, how it impacts a building and its occupants or how to get rid of mold.
Mold grows when organic dirt and moisture come together.
This commonly occurs when excess water enters a building from broken pipes or leaks in the building envelope or roof, or when humidity remains high in a building for extended time.
It is essential that investigators and facility executives not ignore mold problems or moisture and water damage, which are strong indicators that a building is prime for indoor mold growth.
These problems will not go away by themselves.
Left unchecked, indoor mold growth can cause serious damage to building materials and furnishings and may cause people to get sick, which can be a serious liability issue.
Mold and moisture impact the indoor air quality of a building which in turn affects the health of building occupants.
Short-term health consequences include asthma and allergy attacks, irritation of the eyes, nose and throat, headaches and flu like symptoms, while long-term health consequences are potentially more serious.
These alleged consequences include respiratory and neurological disease and even cancer.
Mold and moisture also impact the building financially.
The monetary costs of remediating IAQ problems can reach into the millions depending on the size of the building and the cause of the IAQ problem.
Identifying and addressing poor IAQ problems early can save money in the long run.
Poor IAQ can also be costly in terms of lost productivity, health care and absenteeism, costing an estimated $20 billion annually in worker’s compensation and health care expenses.
If the losses associated with absenteeism, illness and decreased productivity are included, the total exceeds $120 billion.
For these reasons, establishing a Mold and Moisture Management Plan (MMMP) is necessary to maintain good IAQ.
The MMMP is created to protect the facility from moisture intrusion and subsequent mold growth.
An effective MMMP is coupled with a clearly defined chain of command.
Mold and moisture prevention is both proactive as well as reactive.
Best practices for building operations and management define who is responsible for reacting to moisture issues and who will proactively check and maintain the various components and systems that affect IAQ in buildings.
These people could be part of the housekeeping staff, facilities management staff or a third-party contractor.
Defining the responsible parties will help streamline responses to moisture issues and ensure that the MMMP continues to be employed throughout the life of the building.
In addition, it is far less disruptive and expensive to clean up mold as soon as a problem is found than later when the infestation may be more extensive.
Further, any cleanup efforts will be for naught if the underlying moisture problem is not identified and eliminated, which puts building owners at even a greater risk for repeat problems and in a weaker position for defending against charges of negligence.
When cleaning up mold, one should be aware that it can look dead, but the spores can still spread and colonize other building materials.
Without proper containment and removal, the risk of spreading mold spores throughout the building is very high.
There is also a higher risk to the workers cleaning up the mold-infested area of inhaling enough mold spores to possibly cause health problems.
Facility managers are advised to find a knowledgeable drying company before one is needed, as there may not be time to do a good search in a crisis.
When selecting a qualified drying company, look for those that have expertise in operating large-scale dehumidifiers, documenting activities for insurance claims and employing appropriate drying techniques to protect building integrity.
Also, be sure to hire a firm with extensive experience and credentials to manage the remediation process.
The GREENGUARD Environmental Institute (GEI), a non-profit ANSI standards developer that creates and promotes standards for indoor air quality, offers a “Mold and Moisture Management Plan.”
Building projects can sign up for the program which certifies newly constructed and renovated commercial and multi-family buildings that have incorporated design, construction and ongoing operations principles to prevent indoor mold growth.
The GREENGUARD standard that incorporates these principles has been introduced as a National ANSI standard.
It has been successfully piloted at Emory University’s School of Medicine building.
The uniqueness of GEI’s efforts is that the standard covers practices throughout a building’s lifecycle and it will certify that the building complies with the ANSI standard.
The lending and insurance industries are trumpeting the program as an effective way to reduce the risk associated with moisture and mold.
Here are some basic practices in preventing mold and moisture.
- Minimize water used in mopping activities to prevent leaving excessive amounts of water along the baseboards at the edges of the floor
- Check for and immediately clean spills and water leaks, and fix the source of the problem
- Dry any damp areas and any other visibly moist areas, including condensation on windows and windowsills
- Ensure that carpet is dry within 24 hours after cleaning
- Use mold resistant materials
- Clean bathroom areas routinely to reduce or prevent mildew growth
- Keep shower curtains open after cleaning to help ventilate the area
- Routinely check the caulking around showers, bathtubs and sinks for cracks or shrinkage; re-caulk as necessary
- Routinely check for leaks at plumbing fixtures; repair leaks and dry the area immediately
- Routinely check ceilings, walls and floors for discoloration or water stains; these potential indicators of water leaks should be immediately reported
to the appropriate party and fixed
- Keep return air vents clear of furniture for proper airflow
- Close all windows and doors, especially during periods of inclement weather
- Do not over-water indoor plants
- Check emergency overflow pans for signs of water
- Check plumbing and HVAC system pipes for signs of leakage
- Routinely inspect the insulation around the ductwork for damage or moisture; if a problem is detected, notify an HVAC professional for inspection and
- Routinely check exterior walls, skylights, windows and sliding doors for discoloration or water stains; note any unusual odors around the envelope
of the building
- Routinely inspect the integrity of the weather-stripping and its seal around windows, skylights and sliding doors; replace as needed
- Observe balconies or outdoor gardens above occupied areas (such as green roofs) during periods of wet weather; note any areas of water accumulation
and report them to the appropriate party
- Perform functional tests of the heating and cooling equipment
- Perform visual observations and moisture testing
- Prepare a list of deficiencies and record of tests performed
- Review operating and maintenance plans for the building systems, specifically related to moisture management.
For more information, visit the GEI website at www.greenguard.org.