It seems like mold in our schools is making the news on almost a weekly basis these days. This recent CNN Article, Are Schools Making Kids Sick?, is a prime example and tells the story of a third grader in Connecticut who missed over 50 days of school in one year likely due to poor indoor air quality in general and mold in particular. As someone who is very concerned with indoor air quality and human health and as an architect who designs schools, I am very concerned with this growing trend. So, I wanted to take a little bit of time to try to dig into the issue a little bit deeper and try to understand some of the factors that are likely leading to this abundance of recent cases. The following conditions seem to be at least potential contributors to the problem:
- Building envelopes are now being designed to be very tight and may eliminate air flow into and within the wall cavity. If no airflow is possible, moisture that gets into walls will remain and use materials in the walls as a food source for mold growth instead of evaporating.
- Wall assemblies with high R-values that are not properly designed can cause condensation to occur within the wall system and if the water produced by condensation does not have a path out of the wall, it will enable mold growth.
- Some schools, in particular, shut off HVAC systems during unoccupied times or even the entire summer to save money. Not operating HVAC systems can lead to a build-up of humidity and moisture in the building allowing mold growth
- Floods and minor water issues often occur in places that are not easily visible to building occupants often go unaddressed fostering mold growth. This issue has been made worse by the bad economy as schools try to cut back on staff and may delay or defer maintenance
- Humans are spending more and more time indoors: 90% of our time on average! It may be that mold has always been prevalent in buildings but that extended exposure without fresh air has made the prevalence of problems for humans more apparent.
Mold is a big, complex issue. At the basic level, if you control moisture you can control mold growth. That, however, is much easier said then done, since moisture is present pretty much everywhere. There are some great resources available if you want to learn more about this issue and the steps to prevent problems. My favorite resource is the Environmental Protection Agency’s IAQ Tools for Schools Program (click here for a link). This program is meant to help schools create Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) management programs to provide a healthier indoor environment.
LEED has also placed a special focus on the issue of mold in schools by creating a “Mold Prevention” credit that is specific to the LEED for Schools Rating System. This credit calls for the development of an IAQ management program which will be used during the life of the school. I have developed a program for the schools we design that is based on the EPA’s IAQ Tools for Schools Program and meets the requirements for the IAQ Management Program required by the LEED Mold Prevention credit. Since I am in a very generous mood today, you can view/download my program be clicking here: SHP’s IAQ Management Program for Schools.