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November 15, 2018
Control Water – Control Mold
There is no single universal way to eliminate all mold growth. But the single most effective method of controlling mold is to eliminate their source of moisture. Moisture doesn’t just mean actual water; it can also be high humidity. Few molds grow when the humidity is under 70%. If they do, it is very slowly.
It is safe to say that you cannot stop mold growth until you stop the moisture. Cleaning, paints, replacement of sheetrock, and new wood and new ceiling tiles won’t do much good except as a very temporary solution, until the moisture problem is corrected. Leaky roofs, damp basements, leaking windows, plumbing leaks, condensation, poor draining and water ponding on the roof are typical problems that must be resolved in any type of building whether residential, office, warehouse, or manufacturing.
Each of the aforementioned groups of buildings has their own special problems, that can contribute to mold growth.
Mold growth is the important element since all molds come from outdoors. When they are carried indoors by HVAC systems, doors, windows, on the clothing of occupants, and on supplies brought into the building and find the right combination of heat, moisture and food mold growth can be rapid and extensive.
Residences can have poorly ventilated kitchens and baths. Damp carpets, especially with pads and over wood subfloors are a great source of molds. Bathtubs and showers that have old caulking, water ponding, or accumulated dirt and soap residues will hold moisture and nutrients. Poorly draining room air conditioners can drain into the house, behind the walls, down the outside of the building, or into the ground, and then back into the house through walls or the basement. Condensate in poorly ventilated attics is not uncommon. (The recent increase in the use of ridge vents is solving many of these attic problems).
Office buildings have their own special problems as well. Keeping offices icy cool feels great in the summer but leads to condensation on the interior of windows and in walls between warm and cooler offices. Humidifiers seem to cause as many problems as they alleviate. Not keeping them clean allows the humidifier’s water reservoir to become a culture plate. Allowing the relative humidity to get too high especially during the seasonal transition (fall to winter, spring to summer), due to daily temperature changes of 30, 40 even 50 degrees results in office fog, (I’m referring to the physical, not mental type). These humidifiers must be meticulously maintained so they don’t create more problems than they correct.
Manufacturing and production facilities have their own unique problems caused by water used in their processes or for temperature control (whether heating or refrigeration). Also, many manufacturing operations have offices under the same roof but the air handling system is not adequate for this completely different environment. The consequences are often too little air movement to deal with the office activity, resulting in dampness, condensation, or inadequate drainage and mold, mold, mold!
Warehouse buildings can have problems with leaking roofs or poor drainage, which dampens stored goods where molds can grow undisturbed for long periods of time. Leaking or damaged raw materials or product can soak packaging. Cellulose (cardboard or paper packaging) is an excellent food source for mold.
Offices in warehouses have the same problems as those in manufacturing facilities. The buildings are not designed with a dual purpose in mind. Thus they are not environmentally controlled to meet office air quality guidelines.
The objective of this article is not to identify every possible source of moisture that can create an environment where mold can grow. Perhaps another time. The important facts are two: First, prevent accumulation of water or high humidity and second, if prevention fails, correct the water/moisture problem before anything else. Other remedies will only offer temporary relief.
In further articles, we’ll talk about remedies for those who live or work next to a swamp, at the waterfront, or next door to a power plant cooling tower, where moisture control is not a real option.
Written by Robert E. Sheriff, CIH, CSP, President
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