The Health Risks of Building Dampness and Mold
Building dampness health risks are a concern for building managers. They worry about cause of building dampness, the influence of damp conditions on indoor biological contaminants, and how these things affect the health of building occupants. Of course, there are preventative and remediation measures available. Let’s take a closer look at building dampness.
Causes of Indoor Dampness
Building dampness is generally defined as the conditions within a building being damp enough to sustain the growth of mold or cause material damage. There are a variety of sources that can contribute to building dampness. Everything from water intrusion to insufficient dehumidification can be the culprit. One tell-tale sign is condensation on cold surfaces such as windows and walls.
Building Dampness IAQ Concerns
Dampness in a building can permeate almost everything within the indoor environment. If materials and furnishings are damp for a long enough period, mold and bacteria can often begin to grow on them. Other areas that can be a host to microbial colonies can be the HVAC and duct systems. Molds and bacteria produce microscopic airborne particles. These particles can contain allergens or other chemicals that cause respiratory issues. They also contribute to musty and foul odors.
High relative humidity inside of buildings can also contribute to dust mite populations, which in turn can cause allergic reactions. Finally, damp materials and furnishings can increase the emission of gaseous chemicals, like formaldehyde. It’s always a good idea to monitor the indoor environment of your facility for changes in dampness, relative humidity and to test microbial or VOC issues.
Occupant Health Risks
Microbial growth in the form of bacteria, fungi, and mold is prevalent with building dampness. These biologicals trigger asthma attacks, allergic reactions, and other upper respiratory issues like bronchitis, cough, infection, and rhinitis. High indoor humidity can increase the spread of dust mites which are a known allergen with respiratory implications. About one in six people who suffer from allergies do so because of microbial growth in their HVAC and duct systems. It is critical to test to identify the source of both the dampness and microbial growth to develop a management plan to fix the conditions.
Building Dampness Health Risks: Find the Source
We have touched upon the causes of building dampness, how it impacts IAQ, and how that affects occupant health. So, how do facilities managers reduce building dampness? First and foremost, if there has been an event that has caused water intrusion find it and fix it. This includes, outside leaks like from a roof or groundwater entry, and inside leaks from water systems. Then clean and dry the affected area. If the area went undetected or uncleaned for a significant amount of time then testing the air and surfaces in the vicinity helps detect microbial growth.
Also, be aware of changes to the relative humidity indoors. This could indicate outside air coming in and mixing with the conditioned air. It could also be a result of the HVAC System not working as it should due to dirty coils and blowers.
Test, Don’t Guess
One way to get started with the detective work of identifying microbial or other IAQ issues to test the air and surfaces of your indoor environment. Building Health Check offers a variety of Do-It-Yourself IAQ Screen Check test kits, as well as other all in one testing kits. These inexpensive kits are easy to use and include laboratory analysis with a detailed report. DIY test kits are a good first step to find out if building dampness is beginning to cause issues that could affect occupant health.
Above all, a professional IAQ testing protocol is a good way to maintain building health. An IAQ testing firm can conduct a wide spectrum of tests to assess the performance of the building envelope and the quality of both the indoor environment and air. These tests help find the specific source and size of any issues. Should an issue come to light, professional testing provides a guide for remediation. The nature and extent of the building dampness issue will dictate the course for corrective action. In almost every case, it’s best to consult a professional contractor for remediation.
Always keep an eye or nose out for any indications of excessive building dampness. Also, put a plan in place for inspection and preventative maintenance. Regular IAQ testing can catch issues before they spiral out of control. Hygienic cleaning of your building’s HVAC system can maintain optimal performance from both a health and energy perspective. In short, when it comes to building dampness it all boils down to knowing your building, what to look for, and what to do about it.