Preventing damp and mold is a key responsibility for building operators. However, in a study of 100 office buildings in the United States, 85 percent reported past water damage, while 43 percent have current water damage. Moreover, 45 million buildings across the country have unhealthy levels of mold. Exposure to mold can have serious health impacts on building occupants, including, eye, throat, nose, and skin irritation, and asthma attacks. By working to prevent excess moisture and mold, building operators can better maintain safe and healthy buildings.
Why is mold growth such an issue in buildings today?Although mold plays an integral role in the wider ecosystem, it’s detrimental to health if left to flourish indoors. Unfortunately, organic building materials commonly used today — including, plywood sheathing, wood framing, and paper-faced drywall — all function as a food source for mold. Moreover, the gradual shift towards constructing energy-efficient buildings also has an impact on mold growth. Whereas previous construction methods typically included escape routes for moisture generated by general occupant activities and conditioned air, that’s no longer the case. Nowadays, buildings are as much as 50 percent more energy efficient than three decades ago. A well-insulated building envelope prevents air loss and ensures good energy performance levels. However, when the moisture and humidity levels are left unmonitored, problems can occur.
If you have a building with a serious mold problem (spanning an area of more than one square meter), you’ll need professional help to remove it. A restoration company will first form a containment to work in, which allows surrounding building occupants to continue working safely. Porous materials with mold damage will then be removed before the team uses a HEPA vacuum, air scrubber, and dehumidifier to remove mold and create a dry environment. Smaller areas of mold may be removed by building operators or custodial workers themselves. However, personal protective equipment (including gloves, goggles, and an N-95 respirator) must be worn to provide protection against mold spores. It’s important to identify sources of moisture and control them to prevent mold from growing again. Permanently damp areas should be monitored with a regular cleaning schedule.
Controlling moisture and condensation levels
Building operators should act to repair any leaks and overflows as soon as possible to maintain healthy moisture and condensation levels. You should also install a humidity meter to check humidity levels in indoor environments. Ideally, it should be anywhere between 30-50 percent. Indoor humidity can be reduced by allowing cool and dry outdoor air into the building. Alternately, when the outdoor climate is hot and humid, indoor humidity can be lowered with a dehumidifier. Additionally, cool surfaces should be insulated to avoid condensation, which forms when warm air hits cold surfaces. By insulating cooler surfaces, you can effectively increase their temperature and avoid condensation.
Moisture and mold pose serious risks to the health of buildings and their occupants. By controlling moisture and condensation levels and removing mold, building operators can maintain safe and healthy buildings.
This article was authored and contributed by Jackie Edwards. Now working as a writer, Jackie Edwards started her career in Environmental Health in the Public Sector, but after becoming a mom refocused and decided to spend more time with her family. When she’s not writing, she volunteers for a number of local mental health charities and also has a strong interest in ecology, wildlife and conservation.