Mold: The Unwelcome Houseguest

mold on ceilingMold is a frequent and unwelcome guest in homes across America. So much so that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has designated September as Mold Awareness Month.

We at CertainTeed agree that mold is an issue worth addressing. As a manufacturer, we are able to help reduce the threat of mold by developing products that discourage its growth. We also devote significant building science resources to keep building professionals apprised of new information on this complex issue. Perhaps it’s this education, which ultimately trickles down to the homeowner that has the largest impact on mold. After all, it’s not just good materials and proper construction that keep a home mold-free. Good home maintenance is a key defense against the pesky guest.

We often refer to mold as the four-legged stool. It grows easily because it only requires air, water, a food source like dust, paint or fabric, and for the temperature to be between 41 to 104 degrees. In a home, these elements come together frequently so mold has the potential to flourish. Flooded basements or attic space beneath a leaky roof are high-risk areas for mold proliferation, but so are less obvious spaces like carpet near a wet potted plant. Mold spores can also enter a home through open doors, windows, heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems with outdoor air intakes. Spores can even attach to pets and people who unknowingly bring them inside on their bodies, clothes, and bags.

Homeowners are often able to remediate small areas affected by mold. A solution of one cup of bleach to one gallon of water can remove the unwanted fungus from nonporous surfaces. It’s important, however, that homeowners know to be careful to not mix bleach with other household cleaners and to wear disposable gloves and a protective N95 respirator during the remediation process.

For larger mold removal projects, or those affecting porous surfaces like drywall or insulation, building professionals with a solid understanding of building science should be the ones to clean away the mold. These professionals will also be able to safely remove materials and replace them with mold-resistant materials like fiber glass insulation or mold-resistant gypsum wallboard.

The good news is mold does not have to happen. Our building scientists often tout the five Ds to controlling mold. De-leak fixtures and holes, de-bubble wallpaper, dehumidify the indoor air, dry wet furnishings within 24 to 48 hours, and de-odor or fix the source of musty smells.

For more information on mold or Mold Awareness Month, visit http://www.epa.gov/mold/preventionandcontrol.html.

 

Managing the Biggest Building Challenge – Moisture

We have reached the dessert portion of The Art of Building Science webinar series and it is definitely apple pie a la mode because it is jammed packed with information. A large portion of this session is focused on Moisture Management because that is the number one cause of premature service life in our built environment today. It is the one thing that we never, ever find a way to live with.

Moisture management is critical to everywhere we build because we build with water and water surrounds us. I have taken part in mold remediation projects in East Los Angeles so even in drought-ridden California you can experience excessive moisture at times. The only place on the planet that does not have moisture issues ever (at least for a very long time now) is the Atacama Desert in Chile.

Even if you haven’t been able to participate in the earlier sessions, join us Tuesday, May 6 at 5:30 pm EST. Of all the topics we cover in building science, moisture management seems to generate the most questions and the most confusion so it’s always a good time to refresh our memory and augment our knowledge. You can register right here for The Art of Building Science Part III – Moisture Flow. This course is AIA approved for 2 CEUs.

As we continue to see devastating weather systems throughout the US, designing and building to manage moisture is becoming increasingly important. Don’t miss this opportunity to learn more about controlling moisture in the built environment.

Tips for Checking for Mold Following a Wet Winter

Mold-in-basement2

Following this incredibly wet winter, it is a good idea to check to make sure that mold growth is not beginning inside or on your home. You may have noticed that the media has been talking about this on news programs of late.

Mold needs four things to thrive and liquid water is perhaps the most critical as it is the only one we have a chance of controlling. Having liquid water coupled with available oxygen, food and the temperature sweet spot, 41° to 104° F, is the perfect storm for mold growth. Here is what you should do:

  • Inspect your basement for damp walls or cracks where moisture can come in and seal them.
  • Fix plumbing leaks and other water problems as soon as possible. Dry all items completely. 
  • Scrub mold off hard non-porous surfaces with detergent and water, and dry completely.
  • On porous surfaces, in addition to surface cleaning you need to completely dry the material in order to prevent its reappearance. If that can’t be done, you may need to remove the material.
  • Inspect the exterior of your home at ground level. If water is collecting there, divert it away from the foundation.
  • If you find mold, make sure to cover your face and hands to minimize exposure when cleaning the area. It is also important to put a fan in a window and blow air from the room out of the house when you are working around the mold or you may disturb it. If it is a significant area affected or if you begin to feel “allergy type” symptoms when working around mold, call an expert to clean it out.

What humans typically react to are the mold spores which become airborne when it is in its “happy place” with food, water, and a cozy temp or when the mold is physically disturbed.  

We’ve made a lot of changes to how we build in recent years in order to conserve energy and live more sustainably. Many of the things we’ve done to improve our habitat have unfortunately created an ideal environment for mold to thrive. The only chance we have to keep mold from becoming a full-time member of our households is to eliminate the presence of liquid water in or on the materials we use to construct the dwellings.

 

IBS Insights: Water Damage Woes

NormAbramNorm Abram from This Old House made a special visit to the CertainTeed booth today and answered questions from IBS attendees, which included the question:

What is the number one downfall that destroys homes?

Water. And it’s not just homes that are built with wood. There are buildings that I have seen over the years that were made out of metal and because of moisture they are destroyed. In some ways, you really need to treat a house like a human being. It’s similar to the clothes we wear that keep us warm or the athletic wear that wicks water away. Why not learn from that?

We agree wholeheartedly with Norm, which is why CertainTeed had a dedicated building science team to tackle moisture management issues. And, there’s a host of resources at www.certainteed.com/buildingscience to help builders address the mayhem caused by unwanted moisture.

IBS Insights: Keeping Moisture out of Walls

KellyWarrenKelly Warren, CertainTeed Insulation Product Manager, participated in a live Q&A session at the International Builders’ Show. Here’s a recap of the discussion:

Q: Are there new approaches builders can use to reduce the liability of moisture and mold in wall cavities?

Yes, one of the main concerns we hear from builders is how to keep moisture out of your walls. And that’s what our new product SMARTBATT does. It is a kraft-faced fiberglass batt insulation that has an integrated smart vapor retarder — which offers additional, enhanced drying capabilities in the wall cavity. In the summer, when it’s warm, moisture tries to get into your house. When it’s winter and it’s cold outside moisture tries to escape. The smart vapor technology that is incorporated into SMARTBATT opens and closes in the right areas and keeps moisture out. And, it rounds out the complete equation when it comes to comfort — thermal efficiency, air tightness, moisture management, and acoustics.

 

Wall Assemblies for Maximum Efficiency: How Many Layers is Too Many?

SimplexOPTIMABuilding professionals spend a lot of time dealing with production construction which has dialed in efficiencies and productivity to provide the maximum assembly for the cost per square foot.  The reality is in standard construction you build things in five or six layers. This is the standard in terms of building a wall system more efficiently and we have gotten it down to a science.  Generally a six layer home will give you a solid, energy efficient, comfortable home.

Occasionally, I work with builders on projects that remind me of possibilities beyond what is the status quo.  I recently had an opportunity to work with a builder who was building a custom home whose wall systems had 13 layers.  This wall had so much redundancy and robustness built into it that I just had to ask for a chance to visit the project and see this masterpiece being built.

This was the homeowner’s instruction: They wanted a thick wall, they wanted a silent wall, they wanted a highly efficient wall for them to own.  That’s one of the key’s to this discussion- the owner is focused on what comes afterwards- not what happened before. To achieve this goal the builder is employing a combination of traditional masonry materials and cutting edge products and systems.   

In a similar fashion, a project that CertainTeed has been involved with at the Navy Yard in Philadelphia with Penn State achieves a similar goal but in a lighter and perhaps less massive assembly – to create a highly efficient wall system that can provide comfort, improve indoor air quality, better acoustics but, and here’s the rub- to still be affordable by more typical consumers.  This was done by using a 2 x 8 construction – providing a deeper wall cavity – A Blown-in-Blanket Insulation System, Weather Resistant Barrier, a Smart Vapor Retarder and Air Barrier System, a Wallboard Solution, Rigid Insulation on exterior and Insulated Vinyl Siding. This created an R30.5 exterior wall.

In both homes, products were used to address acoustics, indoor air quality and moisture control.  Do you need 13 layers?  Probably not but the pressure is certainly going to be on what layers remain to do more than they have in the past.

Thoughts?

 

Beware How You Finish Your Moisture and Mold Resistant Drywall

CTG_FibaTape_Mold-X10_Details_ImageWhy are you spending all your effort and resources on moisture and mold resistant drywall and then finishing it with a standard, drywall paper tape? 

That is what often happens. In high moisture areas such as bathrooms and kitchens you need to make sure that you do not erode the added value of the drywall by finishing with standard tapes. There are fiberglass mesh drywall tapes that provide the best defense against mold and moisture when used with mold-resistant treated paper and paperless drywall. 

As I have pointed out before, you want to remove the presence of food which is one the four legs needed for mold to grow:  right temperature, oxygen, moisture and food – in this case – the paper drywall tape.

Always keep in mind that everything is a system and you need to consider all aspects of the wall assembly and how you want it to perform or you may not get the outcome you were striving for.

Don’t Stop at the Surface with Moisture and Mold Damage

1316551358_254450912_4-Residential-and-commercial-Flood-Water-Damage-services-free-est-8888110187-ServicesMold Awareness Month Tip #2: When you see signs of moisture damage either on the exterior or interior you can’t just address this at the surface.  You have to keep digging until you get to dry materials.  If that means tearing out the drywall and the insulation until you get to something dry, so be it. You can’t just fix the surface because it was wet. If you have to replace materials following moisture damage consider using a mold and moisture resistant drywall and a smart vapor retarder with your insulation to add protection to your wall assembly. You will be building in more robustness to an area of your home that is apparently susceptible to moisture intrusion.

That’s from the outside too.  If you find some water damage around your window and you tear it out you can’t stop there.  Take your screwdriver or awl and probe the wood behind it to find out how far the damage goes. If you don’t correct the problem at the source and replace all the damaged materials, the chances of mold occurring in this area are very good..

So, don’t stop at the surface or just treat the symptoms.  You have to exhaust the symptoms and get to the source.

Remember, if you see moisture damage whether inside or outside the building don’t stop digging and probing until you get to dry.

Tips For Rebuilding Following Hurricane Sandy

Aerial view of New Jersey shoreline

Aerial view of New Jersey shoreline

Many of us in the Philadelphia area have been recuperating from Hurricane Sandy although we did not get hit as hard as our neighboring state, New Jersey. Some of our co-workers do have family members with shore homes so I have had a chance to look at the building codes and other guidelines for rebuilding in flood prone areas. I wanted to share some information about rebuilding and the things you need to keep in mind.

Many of the houses have damage to the first floor and what we are seeing it is not the ‘business as usual’ building codes that have previously been acceptable in New Jersey. There are new building codes that are in effect that follow more closely the FEMA guidelines. For example, the guideline requires that you:

  • Remove the drywall and insulation to two feet above the high water mark.
  • Dry out and treat the entire cavity.
  •  Following the gutting of the cavity – remove all the drywall and insulation exposing all the studs to the back side of wood sheathing or house-wrap – this area must be treated with a mold inhibitor.
  • When you reconstruct the wall you can only us certain insulations:  either closed spray foam insulation or extruded polystyrene foam boards foamed into placed.  While anyone can install the extruded foam panels (if they can find the right thickness- remember you need to be an R13 in New Jersey now so that will be an XPS board at least 2.6” thick).  Spray foams need to be installed by a certified contractor.
  • The wall needs to be finished with a paperless drywall – it can’t be the mold and moisture resistant drywall – and the drywall needs to be stopped with a ½ inch space between the new and old drywall to create a capillary break. The gap can then be finished off with a chair rail or other element to hide the wallboard gap. I think the reason they are requiring a gap is so that in the event that a flood happens again, the water can’t wick up the wall and affect the old wall structure.

When I saw this I thought ‘this is not normal.’  Because it isn’t normal – it is an exceptional code being applied to flood prone areas as designated by FEMA. These are what townships are putting into place to minimize the damage if another storm hits.

It is clearly not business as usual for East Coast communities affected by Hurricane Sandy.

 

 

 

Saint-Gobain’s Expert “Throw Down” at the AIA 2012 Convention and Design Expo

 
 
The excitement for this year’s American Institute of Architects (AIA) Convention and Design Expo is growing for Saint-Gobain and its family of businesses! We will be heading down to the nation’s capital from May 17 – 19 to help architects and designers solve problems they are having on specific projects and introduce them to the expertise within Saint-Gobain.

You might ask yourself—who is Saint-Gobain and what do they have to do with CertainTeed?  Well, Saint-Gobain is CertainTeed’s parent company and also the largest building materials company in the world.

You already know Saint-Gobain, it may not be that obvious though—our roots start in France where 350 years ago, we made the glass that adorns the Hall of Mirrors in Versalles.  Today, we make beer bottles for Budweiser, manufactured the new roof on the Dallas Cowboys stadium and through CertainTeed, manufactured the ceiling tiles in the Denver airport and made the roof that adorns Henry Ford’s home.  This is a mere, and I mean mere glimpse into this massive company, but, also a glimpse into the possibilities.

That’s why Saint-Gobain is bringing all of its businesses to the AIA show this week, and not just to show off products.  Saint-Gobain features the largest and smartest collection of building scientists and technical experts in North America from its trusted North American companies:  CertainTeed, ADFORS, Grenite, Norton, SAGE, Saint-Gobain Glass, Saint-Gobain Solar, Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics and SolarGard to help architects “solve the unsolvable problem.” We urge design professionals to bring your unsolvable problems to our booth and try to stump out experts!

This year, we’re talking moisture, indoor environmental quality, aesthetics, thermal efficiency and solar and our experts are ready to talk.  If you can’t make the show, check us out virtually Trade Show page that will share show updates through Twitter so that non-attendees can feel part of the action.  Through this page you can also ask questions or present unsolvable problems that our experts can tackle. If you submit an unsolvable problem you will be entered into a prize drawing.

During AIA 2012, we will be blogging here about show events and observations from guest bloggers.  Should be fun and entertaining!

Please join the conversation at AIA from your desk by bookmarking the Trade Show page. We want to help you feel part of the AIA Convention and to help solve your design challenges.