SHELTER

October 2002

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Become Educated: 
Both Building Supply Houses and Window Distributors Should Protect Themselves

by Samantha Carpenter

Whoever thought an issue such as mold would dominate the news? I was at a meeting just the other night when a friend of mine said that we should keep her mom who is really sick in our thoughts. What’s wrong with her? Apparently, the doctors believe while she was visiting a friend’s house in Texas, she came in contact with mold.
WINDOW INSTALL LUMBERYARD
Left: It’s important for distributors to provide installers with specific instructions for installing windows.  Right: Ask only a mycology expert to look at your lumber if you suspect mold.

What is Mold?
You may be wondering how someone can become extremely sick from mold. “Mold is basically a fungus. Some types of mold actually are beneficial to mankind, but other types of molds want to dominate the mold world by producing toxins that kill other ‘good’ types of microorganisms that threaten to interfere with the mold’s growth. Unfortunately, these same toxins have an adverse affect upon humans. We do not have to come in direct contact with mold in order to suffer from these adverse effects as the toxins are transported through the air by way of mold spores. The toxins then can be absorbed through the skin or inhaled and absorbed through our mucus membranes, and it is believed that this causes allergic reactions, rhinitis, skin rashes and respiratory distress. Clinical data showing this correlation has been documented in laboratory animals,” said Jim Plavecsky, vice president of marketing and sales for Edgetech IG of Cambridge, Ohio, in a recent article in SHELTER’s sister publication, DWM/BCM.

The New York Times has reported a 20-40 percent increase in homeowners’ insurance premiums across the country and some carriers are excluding water damage and subsequent mold problems from consideration for claims coverage. 

“[Insurance companies] are extremely nervous,” said David Anderson, senior counsel for Risk International, a risk management consulting firm based in Cleveland, in an interview with the Indianapolis Business Journal. “They know it’s a liability they are going to have to deal with.”
Recent cases of mold claims include:

    •A case against Farmers Insurance Group in which a jury awarded a homeowner $32 million;

    •In California, a lawyer claims he is working on more than 1,000 mold-related lawsuits. The majority involves condominium residents;

    •In Texas, more than 70 families are pursuing litigation against a homebuilder and a synthetic stucco manufacturer, claiming that the material traps moisture behind the homes’ walls, causing the growth of mold.

With so many lawsuits and insurance carriers refusing water damage coverage, builders, contractors and distributors of construction materials are more likely targets for homeowners or construction property owners seeking redress, said Plavecsky.

The mold threat is a significant one to SHELTER readers who run supply houses and window 
distributorships.

How Mold Affects Supply Houses
According to the paper, “Mold, Housing & Wood,” written by the Western Wood Products Association (WWPA) of Portland, Ore., “Wood is a biological material consisting primarily of cellulose, lignin and hemicellulose. These three structural polymers make up 90 to 99 percent of the wood mass and give wood its unique properties that make it an excellent structural material … Mold fungi are rarely present inside a tree because the bark provides an excellent barrier against fungal and insect attack. Once the tree is harvested, these protective effects decline and the many spores present in the air can settle on the surface and colonize the wood.”

If you suspect that there is mold on your lumber, you shouldn’t get just anyone to come inspect the lumber. “Proper identification of molds requires that the person examining the fungi have extensive professional training in mycology (the study of fungi). Although some species produce distinctive structures or colors, it is nearly impossible to identify the fungi present on wood with the naked eye,” said the WWPA paper.

According to the WWPA, “All fungi have four basic growth requirements: suitable temperature, oxygen, food and moisture. Eliminating one of these required elements can prevent fungal growth.”
“Reducing the moisture content of lumber to less than 20 percent will significantly decrease the opportunities for mold to form on wood … Drying lumber reduces the likelihood of mold formation. But it does not guarantee the wood will remain free of mold. Lumber that is exposed to moisture after it has been dried will support mold growth,” said WWPA.

You can use chemicals, called fungicides, to help reduce the risk of mold. “These fungicides are applied by dipping entire bundles of lumber into a treatment solution or by spraying all four surfaces of individual boards … These chemicals are designed to provide a microscopic barrier against fungal attack that lasts for three to six months depending on the chemical, the concentration used, the wood species and the climatic conditions. The chemicals used for preventing mold and stain are usually very mild and include many used on food crops as well as shampoos and paints. They are not designed for long-term protection of the wood,” said the WWPA.

When and How Should Mold be Removed?
“The decision to clean mold from lumber depends on the amount of mold present and how likely it is to be disturbed. In nearly all cases, mold cleaning should be undertaken only after any moisture problems are resolved,” said the WWPA.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) suggests using mild detergent and water for removing mold. “For cleaning wood surfaces, the EPA recommends wet vacuuming the area, wiping and scrubbing the mold with detergent and water and, after drying, vacuuming with a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) vacuum,” reported the WWPA.

There are a number of commercial products that can be used to clean mold. Common bleach can also be used. “The U.S. Centers for Disease Control recommends using a solution of ten parts to one part chlorine bleach to clean mold from surfaces. When using bleach and other cleaning chemicals indoors, make sure there is adequate ventilation and wear personal protection equipment,” reported the WWPA.

How Mold Affects Window Distributors
Lumber isn’t the only building material that is being affected by mold. Window units have also come under fire because of the mold issue. Windows undergo stringent testing for certification against water leakage. However, mishandling in delivery, improper installation and the homeowner’s failure to maintain the window’s integrity may contribute to potential causes of moisture and condensation in buildings, which may lead to mold formation.

The American Architectural Manufacturers Association (AAMA) states on its website that “most likely [windows were] mishandled in the field and the installation work itself was incorrect. After all, when a tract house is put up in 60 to 90 days, thorough attention to detail, such as sealing and trim, is often lacking.”

Distributors usually have a set number of installers with which they deal. It’s important to provide thorough instructions for installers to follow, and companies should monitor installations when possible and document all activity and problems. Distributors should also help educate the homeowner by, for example, preparing a bulletin that includes a periodic maintenance schedule and checklist.

The mold issue is a complex issue. Like most class-action-lawsuit material, it’s hard to tell when customers have a legitimate complaint or not. So the best thing for your company to do is to become educated on the issue and put in steps to protect yourself. 

Tackling the Mold Issue

The nation’s largest home builders association told Congress recently that “research and information, not legislation and regulations,” is what is needed most to address the mold issue.

“The mold issue raises a number of legitimate questions that merit serious discussion and require further investigation,” Jerry Howard, executive vice president and chief executive officer of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), told the House Financial Services Subcommittees on Housing and Community Opportunity and Oversight and Investigations. NAHB is working diligently to educate industry professionals and consumers on the mold issue. Recently, the NAHB Research Center issued a paper, which can be found at www.nahbrc.org, that discusses what builders can do to help their buyers understand mold issues and how to deal with potential problems during the construction process.

But the NAHB isn’t the only organization offering mold information. The EPA also has similar information about mold on its website that can be found at www.epa.gov. To read more of the WWPA’s paper, go to www.wwpa.org

AAMA also suggests that its members visit its website at www.aamanet.org for some tips on preventing any claims of mold problems. AAMA has set up a mold-monitoring sub-task group, and at its first meeting the committee discussed its future monitoring of legal cases involving member manufacturers to see if the topic was worth further exploration and possibly a standard.

 

 

Samantha Carpenter is the editor of SHELTER.


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