PALM SPRINGS, Calif. — Ronnie Head Sr. sees a lot of business opportunities in mold. He’s not referring to detecting or eradicating it, but rather telling building owners about its origins and what steps they can take to avoid the pitfalls of a moldy environment. Consequently, contractors should inform building owners about what HVAC equipment to buy and how to maintain it.

One of the first steps is to prevent mold from forming by taking proper precautions during the building construction process. “We need to educate builders and building owners that buildings have to be built right, and we can’t cut corners to save money,” said Head.

The Mold Problem

He listed ways that mold “intrudes” into a building:

  • Mold is delivered to most residential jobsites with the lumber and other organic construction materials. Untreated lumber grows mold when 16 percent of the weight of the lumber is water (at 80 percent relative humidity). Wood rots at 28 percent water by weight. The rotting process doesn’t stop until it is dried to 20 percent.

  • There are stacks of untreated and uncovered lumber on residential and commercial jobsites – sometimes drying and sometimes saturated with water.

  • Wood is then installed in the structure, mold and all. Time constraints often force builders to install and cover the lumber before it dries.

    Head said that by learning about a mold problem “after the fact” is serious. “If contractors wait until mold has infested the structure, it may be too late,” he said.

    Given the scenario that mold has not been introduced into the structure, Head said that HVACR contractors can recommend ways for building owners to keep mold from growing.

    The Envelope

    Head is a strong advocate of using Manual J for making load calculations. In particular, he states that it is important to know about the various building materials. “Look at the labels on windows,” he added. “Things like the ‘U’ factor are important to know in order to prepare a proper load calculation.”

    He also commented on building insulation. “The way that insulation is installed is now the weak part of getting a good job. Fiberglass foams and cellulose all have a place in our industry, but installation practices must be monitored more closely if we are going to deliver true efficiency.”

    Head said that most homes in his area are either overventilated or underventilated.

    He also noted the increased use of fireplaces in tighter homes. “Open fireplaces create negative pressures and waste energy as well as increasing excessive infiltration of moisture, mold, and other impurities.”

    He suggested that contractors can help building owners by sealing up duct leaks and “testing and balancing every home.”

    But all of the recommendations can be fruitless if a customer ignores an expert’s advice. For instance, Head was once asked by a building owner to evaluate why there was excessive moisture and cooling problems in the building. Head followed another contractor who recommended increasing airflow. Head said the problem was with the drop ceiling and the construction of the ceiling above it — two obstacles that could not be removed by increasing airflow.

    “I recommended that they put in a new ceiling — but they didn’t like my advice,” he added.

    Publication date: 05/26/2003