Mold discussions dominate SMACNA's 60th annual convention

The historic Marriott Wardman Park Hotel was the site of SMACNA’s 60th annual convention.
WASHINGTON - It was hard to avoid mold at this year's SMACNA convention, and that wasn't necessarily a bad thing.

For many contractors, mold has become one of their biggest worries, and members of the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors' National Association are no different. News reports about multimillion-dollar lawsuits have many construction companies looking for any information that will help them avoid the courtroom.

SMACNA officials responded with three seminars during the group's Sept. 28-Oct. 1 annual convention that explained how mold grows, why it happens and what to do to keep mold out of a building your company works on.

If you want to keep mold and any indoor air quality problems out of a building, Terry Brennan of Westmoreland, N.Y.-based Camroden Associates Inc., says the best place to start is by learning how air moves in a building.

"Knowing the climate you're dealing with is really quite important," Brennan said during his Sept. 30 seminar, "Residential IAQ Issues - Challenges and Opportunities."

Brennan gave these tips on preventing and solving IAQ problems:

· Understand IAQ issues enough to educate others

· Keep a building dry, clean and pest-free

· Reduce potential sources of contamination

· Provide exhaust ventilation for stationary sources

· Use dilution ventilation for large areas

· Reduce unplanned airflow

Brennan said keeping buildings clean should be a contractor's mantra.

"If you have a building that is dry, clean and pest-free, 85 percent of my caseload would disappear," he said. "That's why it is important to educate the homeowner."

Other advice: Brennan encouraged contractors to avoid installing ducts under slabs -"Just don't do it. You are just asking for mold problems," and to avoid placing the air handler or return ducts in a garage, and avoid humidifiers.

"My experience with humidifiers is that they can be the cause of IAQ problems," he said. "I'd rather it be too dry than too wet in a home."

When it comes to indoor air quality, Camroden Associates Inc.’s Terry Brennan told contractors to know the climate they’re working in.

Moisture control

In "Mold and Moisture Control," Dennis Stanke, staff applications engineer with Trane, provided an engineer's perspective on what mold is, why it's a problem, and the risks involved for building owners. He also outlined some practical approaches to prevent mold and recommended what building owners should do if they encounter it.

"What's a designer to do?" asked Stanke. "It really comes down to two things. One, comply with the building code because it's the law. And, two, comply with ASHRAE (the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers) Standard 62 because it's the ventilation standard that is the basis for many building codes. And, it helps establish the designer's standard of care in the event of a legal struggle. The designer needs to show he was following the industry's standard of care in order to defend himself."

He encouraged the crowd of contractors to become well acquainted with ASHRAE Standard 62-2001, which is revised continuously. He pointed out that addendum 62n, now awaiting appeals, "makes significant changes to ventilation rates," noting that the ventilation rates "all go down a bit from 1989 levels."

In order to help contractors deal with, as well as eliminate, microbial growth, Stanke provided details about three types of microorganisms.

"It is small organisms of various kinds - for instance, bacteria; fungi, which includes mold; and dust mites," he said. "Mold seems to be the predominant problem in institutional and commercial buildings.

"Mold is a problem for several reasons. We know that people complain when they have a moldy building. Some can produce odors, allergens and toxins. Since mold does this, we have to be careful around it. We know it can cause building damage, discomfort and possibly illness. It turns out the research that is currently available in terms of mold and health implies... well, it tells you for sure that damp buildings result in a higher incidence of health problems. It doesn't tell you for sure that mold results in a higher incidence of health problems. Moisture is the one thing we can control, or hope we can control."

Trane Co. engineer Dennis Stanke told contractors to learn about ASHRAE Standard 62.


The solution to stop mold depends on its location, he said. For instance, if it is in the air-distribution system, Stanke called for contractors to avoid rain intrusion and entrainment, use mold-resistant surfaces, manage condensate from dehumidifying coil, and "drain pans must drain."

"Persistently wet surfaces due to carry-over past the drain pan encourage microbial growth, so limit carry-over," he said. "Persistently wet surfaces due to ‘spitting' drain lines and drain pan overflow encourage microbial growth, so seal the drain line properly."

In regard to managing condensate, Stanke preferred dual-slope drain pans. He also asked attendees to limit water droplet carry-over due to pan length and due to high velocity. He said to avoid "spitting" (draw-through) units and overflow.

To reduce microbial growth in the building "envelope" - the structures that enclose a building - his checklist included:

· Limit rain intrusion via wall and/or roof leaks.

· Limit vapor diffusion into envelope. ("Use a vapor retarder on the predominantly warm side," he said.)

· Discourage moist airflow into envelope.

· Allow the envelope to dry.

At a Sept. 29 session, certified public accountant Robert Langdon told contractors that every company should have growth plans in place.

Preventing litigation

During "Mold Litigation: A Prevention Plan," Jim Berriatua said contractors definitely need to be worried about mold, although he's not sure it's for health reasons.

"This mold stuff is nothing but hysteria," he said during the Sept. 29 session. "There is absolutely no medical proof anywhere that mold is associated with any sicknesses, other than allergies or respiratory problems."

However, that doesn't make the threat of a lawsuit any more comforting, Berriatua acknowledged.

"You're all here, I'm guessing, because you're afraid that you're next (to be sued)," he said. "Now, raise your hand if you like lawyers."

His remark did get a laugh, but not what he said afterward.

"I had a session just like this in Chicago," said Berriatua. "We had 100 contractors - 50 general contractors and 50 specialty contractors. My guest speaker was a lawyer. I got this guy to come and he sat there and stared them all in the eye and he said, ‘I am in the business of taking your assets.' "

The potential for such litigation has many pundits calling mold "the next asbestos," referring to the numerous injury lawsuits that have sprung up since the U.S. government banned the once-widely used building material in the 1970s. Asbestos claims have caused several building materials manufacturers to file bankruptcy.

Jim Berriatua of Gallagher Construction Services told contractors to have a mold-litigation plan in place at his Sept. 29 session.

The ‘next asbestos'?

Berriatua rejects the "next asbestos" label, pointing out that "far more money" is being paid in asbestos claims than those related to mold.

"Has mold killed anyone? Excuse me, but when you inhale mold fibers, is it the same as inhaling asbestos fibers that stick to the inner linings of your lungs and that further develops if you are a smoker?" he asked. "No, no, no. Not even close."

Berriatua should know: Gallagher Construction Services is a division of Arthur J. Gallagher & Co., one of the largest insurance brokers in the world.

And if contractors are looking to their insurance providers for protection, they're likely to be very disappointed, he said.

"If you are relying on insurance to help you on mold claims, you are in for a serious wake-up call," he said. "Insurance you buy today may not be any good to you in three years. The insurance you buy today, who knows if you can get it in a year?"

According to Berriatua, the only way to deal with the "hysteria" is to have a mold-prevention plan in place.

To protect themselves from a mold lawsuit, contractors should:

· Make sure contracts between general- and specialty contractors are binding

· Use a proper HVAC system design

· Create a written response plan to mold problems. React quickly.

· Use mold-inhibiting materials

· Perform maintenance on systems your company installs

"The No. 1 preventive measure to avoid any chance of a claim against your company in the area of mold is a service agreement," said Berriatua. "Every single contractor I've ever spoken to, if they have a service agreement, they never have a mold claim. At the first sign of a problem, you should know before anyone else does. ... If you have a service agreement, you are way ahead of everyone else."

Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich (left) and outgoing SMACNA President Jack Desmond at the Sept. 28 opening reception.

SMACNA names president, ‘contractor of the year'

Hingham, Mass., resident Kevin Gill was named SMACNA's 2003 contractor of the year. Gill is president of Hingham-based McCusker-Hill Inc.

The annual award is given in memory of Ed Carter, founder of Snips magazine.

"Kevin championed the cause of elevating his fellow contractors to the level of high-performing contractor," said SMACNA's then-President Jack Desmond at the Oct. 1 award ceremony.

SMACNA also named the following new officers:

· Cedar Rapids, Iowa, contractor Mark Watson was named SMACNA's 2003-2004 president. Watson is one of the owners of Climate Engineers Inc., a $17 million mechanical contractor. Watson began his sheet-metal career as a project engineer in 1975.

· Kevin Harpring of Louisville, Ky.-based Harpring Inc. was named president-elect.

· Richard J. Cramer Sr. of Dee Cramer Inc. in Holly, Mich., will serve as vice president. Cramer's father, Dee Cramer, served as SMACNA president in 1954 and 1955.

· Keith Wilson, an Albuquerque, N.M., contractor was named secretary-treasurer. Wilson is employed by Miller Bonded Inc.

· Jack Desmond will serve as SMACNA immediate past president. Desmond is the owner of Canton, Mass.-based Cox Engineering Co.

SMACNA also elected five members to its board of directors. The elected directors serving four-year terms are: David D. Bultman of Kilgust Mechanical Inc. in Madison, Wis.; John C. Lindemulder of Amber Mechanical Contractors Inc., Alsip, Ill.; Randy Novak of Novak Heating and Air Conditioning Inc., Cedar Rapids; and Stephen R. Richards, Richards Sheet Metal Works Inc. in Ogden, Utah. Serving a one-year term is Lars E.W. Nilsson of Lindab Inc. in Stamford, Conn.