John R. Hall

“FORT WORTH, Texas - Black mold has Bryson Elementary School’s entire third grade - teachers and students - fleeing to the new Comanche Springs Elementary School for the school year. The Eagle Mountain-Saginaw school district discovered Stachybotrys chartarum - a black-green fungus known as black mold - earlier this month in a wing of six classrooms that had been added onto Bryson in 1991.”

Sound like a story you have heard before? It sure does, and one that has been repeated many times over.

It wasn’t too long ago that black mold was making big headlines in newspapers across the U.S. There was the Melinda Ballard case in Texas. Her family won a $32 million judgment against her former insurance company. The jury in the case ruled that Farmers Insurance Group had improperly addressed Ballard’s water damage and mold claim and committed fraud in its handling of her claim. The NEWS reported on this in the June 25, 2001, issue.

Other high profile names, like Ed McMahon and Erin Brockovich, also filed claims over mold in their homes. Comedian Dom DeLuise was also a victim of mold. The NEWS reported on DeLuise’s case in the Nov. 27, 2006, issue. (See the Video Spotlight on our home page.)

For the most part, though, the “sexiness” of the mold issue has died down thanks, in part, to the general media, which hasn’t found a lot of high profile so-called “victims” to write about. But the HVAC trade knows better. There are still a lot of problems related to mold and HVAC systems as witnessed by the lead-in article above about the school in Fort Worth.

In other words, the “mold is gold” cliché still rings loudly for HVAC contractors who choose to step through the mold minefield.

DISTANCING THE RESIDENTIAL PROBLEMS

I recently reported on a moldy home in suburban Detroit. The homeowners were sickened by black mold almost from the first day they moved into the home. They were smart enough to contact a homeowner who had gone through the same problem. Both homeowners had hired testing labs to take samples of the indoor air and to physically examine the mold on the walls and floors.

When the mold frenzy began, there were lots of questions as to how HVAC residential contractors could use this problem as a profit center for their businesses. After all, the presence of mold in homes was often tied to (or blamed on) poor ventilation in the home, which contributed to the growth of mold spores and carried these spores to other areas of the home.

Although a ventilation system was often blamed for spreading the mold (or preventing its growth), the actual birth of mold often began with a leak in the home’s plumbing, a leak in a roof or wall, cracked cement in the home’s foundation, etc.

But having the word “mold” and the acronym “HVAC” in the same sentence was enough to send contractors to investigate the mold remediation business or put as much distance between themselves and moldy homes. The ones who chose the middle ground played it safe while still having the opportunity to make some extra money by referring homeowners to licensed remediation/IAQ testing specialists.

Still, simply saying “no” to mold investigation seemed then, and now, the safest route.

SCHOOLS COULD BE MOLD GOLD

There have been lots of stories in the media about the decaying condition of schools across the U.S. It is a national tragedy that schoolchildren are trying to get an education while spending their entire day in poorly maintained, unhealthy school buildings. The Fort Worth example is just one of many that I read about every week. If you don’t believe me, set up a Google news alert for “HVAC” or “heating and cooling” and just see how many stories about sick schools show up. The number may alarm you.

I don’t necessarily blame school administrators. Their hands are often tied by the budgets they have to work within. Many budgets include a woefully small amount of money dedicated to building maintenance and capital improvements. And as our school buildings continue to age, the problems will only multiply.

Heck, I still don’t understand how schools in the northern part of the U.S. operate without any air conditioning systems. There are many cases of schools having to shut down during hot June and September days because the conditions were too unbearable to conduct classes. But, I digress.

I see moldy schools as an opportunity for HVAC commercial contractors to become the good guys in white hats. These are contractors who can go into a school and give a thorough analysis of the HVAC system, while partnering with IAQ specialists to test the indoor air. These contractors stand to gain a lot of extra business.

Maybe many schools would be happy to have their buildings analyzed, but would be unable to afford repairs and replacement under their current budgets. I understand that. But if you give them all of the facts (and charge them for your work), school administrators may be able to convince their districts to hold votes to raise millages to pay for needed improvements.

Everybody wins: the kids and you.

Publication date: 09/10/2007