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.”

Damp buildings are more troublesome than wet buildings. While wet buildings get a lot of focus in our business, damp buildings are the “bad hombres.” Damp buildings are a reflection of a chronic moisture problem. These kinds of problems may occur at a low frequency but the consequences are usually high. These kinds of projects tend to be catastrophic in damage, costs, loss of business, and maybe even your reputation, and potentially your job, as a professional in the industry.

The cost of the fix has a lot to do with if the building occupants trust in it (and you). Dr. Peter Sandman, famed expert in risk perception and outrage factors, has developed the equation:

Hazard = Risk + Outrage

In a mold and moisture building failure the cost of said fix follows this same pattern. Ultimately, the cost of a fix can be multiples of the actual cost of the technical fix. The difference is the level of trust the customer has in the fix and in you.  Another way to put it:

Cost of the fix = cost of technical fix + level of distrust

So how can designers and contractors avoid these problems? Here are three project pinch points every architect should be aware of that can cause a catastrophic mold and moisture building failure:

  1. Avoid silo design from happening on your next project. This takes more than something like BIM. Sure this kind of tool is good, among other things, for making sure field conflicts don’t occur, but they don’t do a whole lot to address multidisciplinary building performance. Careful coordination between disciplines like the architect and HVAC designer must occur to ensure problems like wall systems, building air infiltration, and dehumidification do not become catastrophic.
  2. Dampness is a sign of a chronic problem. Most damp building performance problems aren’t “seen” unless the impact of building systems are tracked over time, under various seasons, and in differing operating conditions. This is where things like air meets its wicked friend condensation.
  3. Occupant outrage is one of the greatest influencers on the cost of fixing a building that you can encounter. J. David Odom and George DuBose, both Senior Consultants with Liberty Building Forensics Group (LBFG), found this out in the early 90s with projects like the Martin County Courthouse. Handling occupant confidence (or lack thereof) is one of the key areas any designer or contractor needs to get good at. If they don’t, they will see costs that are multiples of what the fix should cost.

Authors:  Mr. George DuBose-CGC, Mr. Steven Gleason-PE, and Mr. Nate Sanders-CIH, are all experts for Liberty Building Forensics Group (LBFG). LBFG has provided mold and moisture diagnosis and solutions for buildings to owners, contractors and developers worldwide and has project experience in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America, the Middle East, Southeast Asia and Europe.