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Mold damage can sneak up on you very quickly. Many of the conditions for mold damage exist year-round, however when seasonal weather introduces humidity and moisture to the equation, mold can quickly grow and become a problem.
It’s times like these that monitoring environment conditions becomes very important, as it’s more than just one factor that contributes to mold damage. Many organizations monitor temperature for employee and facility protection, but humidity, water, and even air flow can all contribute to mold growth and damage. Some geographic areas, such as the southeastern United States, have climates that are very hospitable to mold growth, and building owners need to be particularly sensitive to ensuring mold conditions are kept at bay.
Mold conditions are almost always present in every facility. In fact, mold growth has become even more of a concern in recent years due to newer building construction. As buildings become more energy efficient, they have reduced natural air flow; this causes moisture buildup which leads to mold growth in the right conditions.
We’ve talked about relative humidity before when it comes to monitoring data centers and working conditions, and in the case of mold damage once relative humidity stays at 70% and above, the conditions for mold growth are perfect. Wet, humid summer air helps contribute to the overall relative humidity of your facility, along with other factors like heavy rain, inadequate HVAC units, and more.
An oversized HVAC can also lead to the conditions that promote mold as well. Sometimes organizations will install a larger HVAC unit than is necessary for their space, thinking “bigger is better”. This can lead to short cycling, a situation where your air conditioning constantly turns on, runs for a very short time, then turns off again. HVAC short cycling not only keeps too much moisture in the air which promotes mold growth, but it also can lead to shorter HVAC life and higher energy bills.
Temperatures that are consistently in the 70° to 90°F range help add to the conditions conducive to mold growth. Once conditions reach the right range, mold can grow quickly – in just 4 hours mold spores can begin to germinate, and harmful conditions can exist in just 24 – 48 hours.
Mold, left untreated, can cause multiple health issues within the workplace. One of the biggest concerns with mold is that it sensitizes people who are exposed to it. Once you are exposed, you become more sensitive to the effects of mold on your body.
Symptoms of mold exposure can vary based on the person, but allergic reactions can range from mild to severe, especially in people who already suffer from respiratory issues such as asthma. Running noses, watery eyes, and headaches are all common afflictions reported from mold exposure.
When buildings become affected with mold, the liability usually lands on the building owner, together with any local superintendents or facility managers. Mold exposure that leads to health issues can result in lawsuits against owners that do not properly resolve mold issues. A number of years ago, a court in California awarded a $2.1 million verdict when leaking water lead to mold growth and health issues for a family.
Workplace lawsuits due to health issues resulting from mold aren’t uncommon, either. A former Georgetown University employee has a pending case against the university due to employment issues caused by mold complaints, complaints that were shared by other employees at the university as well. Mold damage can not only cause costly repairs and unwelcome health issues, it also opens your organization up to potential legal concerns as well.
The biggest key to preventing mold damage is to make sure your facility’s environment doesn’t contain the combination of conditions that promote mold growth. Moisture is the biggest environment factor that encourages mold growth, so if you maintain indoor relative humidity of less than 70%, you’re removing the biggest factor that mold needs to take hold.
Proactive maintenance on HVAC units helps to make sure that they are operating properly to keep humidity at the proper levels within your building. Installing flood sensors throughout the facility will help you detect water leaks as soon as they occur. This step will also help you prevent extensive water damage, in addition to preventing mold-growing conditions.
Proper air flow is also an important component in keeping mold conditions at bay. Make sure your building’s air ducts are regularly checked, and any air filters are replaced on a regular schedule.
If you are a building owner or facilities manager, you have a lot of issues to protect against. Headed into muggy, humid weather in many parts of the world at this time of year, mold growth needs to be a priority to keep your employees and facilities safe. By monitoring temperature, humidity, and flood/water you will help ensure the best conditions to prevent mold growth and potential organization downtime as a result.