ARLINGTON, Va. - Cutting-edge radar technology may soon make obsolete the slow, destructive, and expensive methods now available to detect hidden moisture and mold behind wallboards, according to a report released by the Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Technology Institute (ARTI).

Existing technology to detect mold behind walls requires stripping wall coverings to inspect hidden surfaces visually or boring holes into numerous wall sections to extract and culture samples. The disassembly and drilling must be done slowly and carefully to avoid spreading mold spores and fragments through the building, which increases the cost of remediation, according to the report.

"The economic problems created by hidden moisture are enormous," said Steve Szymurski, ARTI's director of research. "Real estate property damage from mold growth has cost millions of dollars and the price tag for this problem is growing because of costly mold litigation. Therefore, developing better detection instruments that can locate hidden problems quickly, inexpensively, and nondestructively is an important research priority."

In their feasibility study, Atlanta-based Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) investigators soaked gypsum wallboard, used in most homes today, with water infused with mold spores to encourage mold growth, and allowed the spores to germinate in a humid environment. Using a radar system, researchers scanned the wall and found the technology to be effective in accurately pinpointing areas of hidden moisture behind the wallboard. While this research indicates that the technology can feasibly provide an image detecting mold growth on the back of wallboard, additional research is still needed to develop the technology so that it can unequivocally distinguish mold growth from moisture alone.

In their report, GTRI researchers said the future challenge is to develop a system small enough to be taken into the field by a mold remediation practitioner.

"The researchers considered testing several other technologies including gamma-ray imaging, X-ray imaging, T-ray imaging, and neutron beam analysis; however, all but radar had cost, safety, and portability limitations," said Szymurski.

This research was conducted with funding from ARTI, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and Munters Moisture Control Services. ARTI funding for this project was provided in part by the U.S. Department of Energy through Cooperative Agreement No. DE-FC05-99OR22674.

To download the executive summary, go to

To download the full report, go to

The Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Technology Institute is a not-for-profit corporation established in 1989 by the Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Institute (ARI) to undertake precompetitive scientific research related to heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and refrigeration.

Publication date: 05/15/2006