Dampness in School Buildings

Harvard Campus in FallSchools, colleges and other non-industrial buildings may develop moisture and dampness problems from roof and window leaks, high indoor humidity, and flooding events, among other things. “Dampness” is defined as the presence of unwanted and excessive moisture in buildings. The growth of mold, fungi, and bacteria will almost assuredly lead to the release of volatile organic compounds; and the breakdown of building materials.

Exposures to building dampness and mold have been linked to respiratory symptoms, asthma, hypersensitivity pneumonitis, rhinosinusitis, bronchitis, and respiratory infections according to extensive research. Individuals with asthma or hypersensitivity pneumonitis are often at risk for advancement to more brutal disease if the relationship between illness and exposure to the damp building is often not immediately acknowledged.

Dampness in your building and ensuing respiratory illness in some building occupants (including children) happen in part from a lack of awareness and understanding of the nature and seriousness of these problems among building owners, employers, and building occupants. Building moisture problems frequently oc­cur because of poor design, construction, and prior to occupancy of new buildings.

Frequent causes of moisture intrusion:

  • Roof leaks and condensation forming above ceilings
    • Water damaged ceiling tiles need to be replaced as soon as possible.
  • Pipe breaks (potable water, chilled water)
    • Determine the type of pipe and the location of the break and make appropriate repairs
  • Sewer line back-ups and pipe leaks
    • Any porous item that has come into contact with sewage tainted water is considered contaminated and must be discarded including carpet, drywall and ceiling tiles, and paper products.
  • Flooding from outside of the building
    • Water entering due to flooding is considered to be in the same category as sewage tainted water
  • Moisture intrusion through the building envelope
    • If moisture intrusion damage is noted on a wall, material attached to that wall must be removed.

Buildings may also develop dampness prob­lems from inappropriate or deficient maintenance or op­eration, as well as and weather events. The best existing evidence suggests observations of dampness, water damage, mold, or mold odors are the best indicators of damp­ness-related health hazards, rather than microbiologic measurements. Building owners and managers should consider the following ways to reduce the costs and damage that building dampness and subse­quent respiratory problems can cause:

Building Owners and Managers should:

  • Frequently examine building areas such as roofs, ceilings, walls, basements, crawl spaces, and slab construction for evidence of dampness.
  • Conduct regularly scheduled inspections of HVAC sys­tems and promptly correct any problems.
  • Prevent high indoor dampness through the proper design and operation of HVAC systems.
  • Dry porous building materials that have be­come wet from leaks or flooding within 48 hours.
  • Continuously respond when occupant health concerns are reported.
  • Repair or replace any building materi­als that are moisture-damaged or show evidence.
  • Take prompt steps to identify and correct the causes of any dampness problems found.

The effort put in to preventing moisture issues, and the promptness with which is resolved will likely determine the level of ultimate damage and related costs you incur!

Author:   Dick Wagner