It appears that as the the building and construction industry comes out of the hibernation that has been the norm since 2009, that it is deja vu all over again. Buildings are being built repeating the same design and construction deficiencies of the past and this is leading to mold and moisture problems. How could this industry still find itself making these basic mistakes? Certainly the answers to these issues have been well published and known for many years.

Nevertheless, it seems that many of the largest design and construction firms lost many of their key employees and the institutional knowledge that kept their projects out of trouble during the Great Recession. Jokingly, when the work dried up, we find that some of these key thought leaders were forced to run putt-putt attractions in Branson, Missouri or open coffee shops in places like Deland, Florida.

As an industry, we know that we can prevent buildings from failing because we can fix them once they do fail. Building performance can be highly predictable, and tools like a peer review can help to address these issues from the earliest phases of any building project.

This new round of catastrophic mold and moisture building failures is an unfortunate repeat of history .

Firms can no longer rely upon the legacy partners to deliver this information to the next generation, firms must find good alternatives quickly for the sake of their projects and the viability of the firm’s future. One of the best and quickest fixes is the implementation of third party peer reviews. A peer review makes sure that design and construction firms get the right information to the right people at the right time.

When a firm establishes specific written design and construction guidelines at the project’s inception and distributes them, and when periodic peer reviews are used throughout the design and construction process to compare results against the original design and construction guidelines, then these practices become the foundation for a practical model for improving the performance of renovated buildings.

The premise of this model is that at each stage in a project’s life (design, construction, and operation), crucial decisions must be made to avoid problems and control costs. When applied properly, the incidence of building problems substantially decreases and the initial construction cost or schedule is not affected. This is made possible by eliminating many overly redundant and unnecessary building system components or procedures that often add nothing to the ultimate performance of a building.

Imagine this scenario:

  • A hotel battles through 3 years of a massive 9 figure mold problem in a large hotel complex.
  • Many experts involved identify the cause and offer solutions so that the problem does not return.
  • Finally, two years later, a room renovation is planned, model rooms approved, and the program is set.
  • All of this in a vacuum of the knowledge that had been discovered just a couple of years earlier.
  • The room design, the HVAC design modifications, and the remediation plan have gone in the opposite direction of the lessons learned from the 3 year battle to resolve that last problem.

This super large hotel complex had experienced a massive mold problem that stemmed from HVAC pressurization problems, poor MUA and FCU dehumidification due to chilled water problems, and incorrect wall design allowing air leakage and the potential for condensation on the interior side behind VWC. Fast forward to the room rehab, conducted by a different team and under different leadership. The pressurization problems are not solved and in fact could have been made worse due to the hotel D&C standards that require very high ACH in the bathrooms. The proposed wall finish is a VWC product that has some changes to make it more breathable but still will not perform as well as the finish that it is replacing. Fortunately, the chilled water and air leakage problems had been resolved and these areas were not being touched during the room rehab program.

It remains to be seen if we will see a return of the problem, but all indications are that there is a high likelihood of a return. The combination of negative pressure, wall finish, and a lack of FCU dehumidification cycle, could result in not only damage inside the walls but also in the room.

How can this be avoided? Afterall, it is not uncommon for corporations to undergo significant changes in teams and leadership over even short periods of time.

Here are some suggestions that can avoid the impact of corporate amnesia amongst the corporate design and construction teams:

  • Develop a set of design and construction guidelines specific to the project and in this case to the problem that has analyzed and where solutions were provided. This will allow for lessons learned to be pushed not only forward to new team members but also allow for a transfer of knowledge from past expertise to be a part of future decisions. This is getting the right information to the right person. It does not do any good for all of the lessons learned to stay with only those that attended depositions of experts – this information needs to get to those can need it most, the design and construction team of the room rehab.
  • Bring forward the experts that solved the problem to begin with. Use periodic peer reviews to make sure that the information provided above to the team is provided at the right time, at those critical project pressure points that can virtually guarantee success or failure depending upon what decision is made.

At this point we can only hope the room rehab will be successful. Hope is good for a lot of things but when you are in the design and construction business, to hope for something to work is never a good premise for your project.

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