As a property manager, superintendent, landlord or HOA team member, you’ve probably heard of the term “Sick Building Syndrome.” These days it is also being referred to as “Wet Building Syndrome.” Sick building syndrome and wet building syndrome both refer to buildings that have problems with excess moisture, which is harmful to the health of people and pets because it contributes to the development of mold, mildew and fungus.
Modern Buildings and Wet Building Syndrome
Modern buildings are airtight. This helps with energy efficiency, which is paramount to controlling overhead costs. Unfortunately, it also means that the air does not naturally flow from the building to the outdoors and vice-versa. This can lead to high levels of indoor air pollution, including moisture, dust, viruses, bacteria and pollen, if the HVAC system is not capable of completely filtering the air and adding fresh air.
Chicago’s Problem with Wet Building Syndrome
Wet or sick building syndrome starts with modern, airtight construction practices that include minor flaws. Older buildings are not as airtight and tend to breathe better, providing they have not been improperly renovated with airtight features. In this situation, the masonry takes on water, but the flow of air to and from the building combined with the sun baking effect expels that excess moisture.
When you renovate an older building or construct a new masonry building with energy-efficient features, like advanced insulation, Tyvek and energy efficient windows, the building does not and will not breathe unless certain precautions are taken to ensure the building breathes. This means the split face block or other type of masonry sucks in water from the atmosphere and from certain weather events and holds the moisture. This can rot wood building studs and plywood, creating an expensive black mold nightmare.
Remedying Moisture Problems in Old and New Buildings
Remedying moisture problems in new and old buildings with split face block facades start with proper construction processes. Masonry walls and facades must be constructed with flashing, and that flashing must be installed at certain critical points, like along the top of the wall, around windows and doors and along the bottom of the facade where the floor meets the masonry wall at a “shelf angle”. The metal pieces of flashing must also be properly angled and the appropriate length in order to allow excess water to drain from behind the masonry wall. If any of this is not completed correctly, mold, mildew and fungus can develop quickly, usually within three years of construction.
Addressing the Second Part of the Problem with a High Performance HVAC System
Even when the masonry walls are constructed properly, moisture can still build-up inside the interior of the building. This occurs when people shower, boil water or use another type of water-using appliance. If the moisture that is created on a daily basis is not properly ventilated from the interior of the building, excess moisture can build-up, creating a high humidity situation that leads to the development of mold and mildew inside the walls. Signs of a moisture problem include seeing drops of water on windows, glass surfaces and the insides of exterior walls.
HVAC systems do more than cool and heat your indoor air. They also vent pollutants, like moisture, dust and pollen outside, and they allow a certain amount of fresh air inside, which helps keep your indoor air clean and maintains the proper humidity levels. If you see signs of excess moisture, it is very important to get your HVAC system inspected to make sure that it is properly sized and calibrated for your building. If it isn’t, you may need a different HVAC system with more capacity, or you may need to retrofit your current HVAC unit or your mechanical ventilation system in order to correct the problem before the excess moisture starts ruining the finishes and structural components of your building.
HVAC Upgrades and Retrofits with Althoff
Here at Althoff of Chicago, our HVAC technicians can evaluate your current HVAC system to determine if it is properly sized and calibrated for your building. If it is not, we can recommend upgrades and retrofits that will improve the function of your climate control system so that you do not have to worry about wet or sick building syndrome.
To learn more about our HVAC services for commercial and residential multi-unit buildings, call us at 800-225-2443.