Mold Busters

Mold and other moisture issues are the bane of the hotel industry, particularly in such mold-prone areas as the southeastern U.S. For smaller properties short on abatement funds, the prolific allergen can be financially devastating.

Thankfully, help is available to these businesses, through the NASA-funded Space Alliance Technology Outreach Program (SATOP). SATOP provides free engineering assistance to small businesses with technical challenges through the expertise of the program's Alliance Partners, 50 aerospace companies and universities involved in the U.S. space program.

So how, you may ask, can space engineers help solve an earth-bound hotel's mold problems? “These are by and large space engineers, so there's nothing they haven't dealt with when it comes to controlling atmospheres,” says SATOP spokesperson Nancy Glasgow. “That's what they do.”

Funded by Congress as a budget set-aside, the program is available to businesses across the U.S. There's no cost to the businesses either. The consultants try to solve case problems via phone or mail, and often can, but will visit problem sites if necessary. “The engineers try to keep the solutions they arrive at simple and cost-effective,” says Glasgow. “You don't want to tell some small property you have to spend half a million dollars on abatement or high-tech solutions.”

The Siesta Key Suites, located near Sarasota on Florida's Gulf Coast, is situated on a barrier island of beaches. Through the SATOP program, it resolved a moisture issue that threatened to close some of its suites during the high season. In Florida, SATOP is operated by the Technological Research and Development Authority (TRDA).

Built in 1926, the hotel was purchased and renovated by owner Paige Hartmann. Despite extensive renovation, the ground-floor suites were experiencing moisture when they were unoccupied, reports Hartmann. She made several attempts to solve the problem, but condensation continued to form on the windows when the air-conditioning was running.

Not sure how to further address the issue, Hartmann learned of SATOP from the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce and completed a Request for Technical Assistance (RTA). SATOP Florida senior program engineer Christophe Gilfriche assigned the RTA to AJT & Associates, an Alliance Partner in Cape Canaveral, FL.

Gilfriche and John Dillon, AJT mechanical engineer, traveled to Siesta Key to meet with Hartmann and the property handyman. The group reviewed details of the renovation and repairs, and Dillon and Gilfriche performed a thorough inspection of the buildings to find the source of the problem.

The cause was quickly identified. “As the buildings were modified through the years, they were not efficiently sealed for the control required in an air-conditioned environment,” explains Dillon.

After further research, Dillon produced a complete report listing numerous modifications that would tackle the moisture issue. The recommendations focused on further sealing the structure to control humidity, and ranged from simple changes to major modifications.

Among those, Dillon recommended that Hartmann completely seal air vents, ductwork and wiring conduit holes as well as doors, windows and grouting in various locations; reroute and extend gutters to drain away from the building; have the driveway graded to allow water to flow away from the buildings; and remove all carpet and lay tile, especially in the ground-floor units.

Between high seasons, Hartmann was able to implement most of the modifications and now reports great improvements.

SATOP also reports success in aiding two other hotels. The 169-room Holiday Inn Huntsville West I-565, built in 1985, and its sister property, the 157-room Hampton Inn University, Huntsville, built in 1986, are northern Alabama hotels that have experienced the region's typical humidity and mold issues.

The first telltale sign of mold emerged in 2002 as pink stains behind the Holiday Inn's vinyl guestroom wallpaper, following a $2.5-million property-wide renovation.

Several of the renovations — higher-grade vinyl wall coverings, a new kitchen hood in the hotel's restaurant, an oversized air-conditioning unit in the hotel lounge and modified guestroom exhaust fans — created negative air pressure throughout the hotel, unbeknown to management. “The heavy wallpaper and its paste let the mold grow before we saw signs of it,” reports Debbie Newman, operations/area manager for the two properties. “And when we increased the guestroom exhaust fan size, we were drawing in more fresh, humid air which only fed the negative air pressure.”

Half a dozen experts attempted to find a solution. During a corrective renovation in 2003, the hotel spent another $1 million, with $700,000 applied directly to eradicating the mold. Meanwhile, guestroom closings cost $280,000 in year-to-year occupancy revenues, says Newman. But the situation persisted.

Fortunately, one of the chain's GMs in Florida has similar issues and had used SATOP. Afterward, he sent a mass e-mail to fellow Southeastern hoteliers recommending the program.

Herman Harris, a mechanical engineer and HVAC expert at Space Gateway Support, a SATOP Alliance Partner, tackled the problem. There were conference calls with the hotel's GM and maintenance staff, who forwarded him building drawings and information on existing HVAC equipment.

Harris then ran a cooling/heating load analysis to determine what equipment was needed and searched the Internet to compare the features and capabilities of the existing equipment. He developed spreadsheets recommending the proper equipment to install to correct the hotel's pressure imbalance. He explained the HVAC code to the staff and how it applied to their system, and gave them a list of common HVAC design system considerations for humid climates.


For more information on the SATOP program, go to www.spacetechsolutions.com.

THE BIG IDEAS

Helpful information on how to avoid mold in your building is published by the Responsible Solutions to Mold Coalition (RSMC). Controlling mold entails controlling moisture. Here are some good building practices to control mold:

  • Good architectural design and quality building materials
  • Manufacturing, shipping and storing building materials in a manner that keeps them dry before and during construction
  • Building materials that are more susceptible to water damage should not be delivered to the construction site until they are ready to be installed
  • Once building materials are delivered to the construction site, they should be covered by waterproof tarps
  • Attention to the order in which building materials are installed so that items susceptible to moisture are not installed until the building is sufficiently enclosed
  • Installation of insulation without gaps, folds or voids
  • Using a continuous weather-resistant barrier with exterior walls
  • Covering crawlspaces to control moisture
  • Using exhaust fans to control moisture in bathrooms and kitchens
  • Good maintenance procedures to keep dry buildings dry, which means that when a leak or a source of moisture is identified, it should be addressed as soon as possible.

For more information, go to www.responsiblemoldsolutions.com.

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