No Visible Signs of Water Damage or Mold on Materials

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Climate

Precautions should be taken to avoid moldy and water-damaged materials in all climate zones.

The incidence of mold and water damage is higher in wet regions due to the increased chance of rain and snowfall, and slower drying cycles, which will promote mold growth.

In dry climates, there will be fewer opportunities for rain and snow to wet materials stored on construction sites, and building materials will tend to dry faster, reducing the likelihood of mold growth. However, building materials may become wet from any moisture source, not just climate sources.  Efforts to properly store materials and inspect for mold and water damage before installing materials should be taken regardless of the climate zone.

Climate Zone Map

International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) Climate Regions

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Description

Whether selecting building materials from a supplier, or installing materials that have been stored on site, it is important for all building professionals to avoid materials showing visible signs of water damage or mold. Installers on site should be especially vigilant to store building materials properly at the construction site and to avoid choosing any moldy or water-damaged materials.

Water damage.  Wood products swell when they take on moisture. This change in dimension can create problems when installing the materials. Pieces may not align well when swollen with water, and when they dry out after being installed wet, the material will shrink, leaving wide gaps. Uneven wetting and drying will cause wood to warp. Rapidly drying materials can crack, and fasteners that were tight when the materials were wet, can loosen when the materials dry (Reitz 1978). Products like OSB and plywood that have become saturated and then dry may not return to their specified (dry) dimensions, creating problems when the finish roofing, siding, and flooring materials are installed over them (Fisette 2005). Water can also cause the adhesive bonds to weaken, causing delamination of plywood that destroys the structural integrity of the panel.

Generally, installing finish materials over any wet substrate will cause problems. The moisture from a damp substrate will migrate into the cover materials, compromising adhesive bonds, and causing more delicate finish materials to swell, crack, and warp (Forest Products Laboratory 2010).

Mold. When lumber and other water-absorbing building materials are allowed to get wet, and cannot dry quickly, mold will often grow on the surface. Mold is a problem first and foremost because it is as an indicator of high moisture content. In addition, mold may present an indoor air quality problem. Some molds produce mycotoxins, which are compounds that may be irritating to people with allergies, inducing respiratory discomfort (including asthma) and fever. Mycotoxins are not volatile and cannot "off-gas" into indoor air (Robbins and Morrell 2006). 

Owing to the legal attention that so-called "toxic molds" have received, installing moldy materials in a building can also expose building professionals to legal liabilities that they will want to avoid.

Storing Materials to Avoid Mold Growth
Dry building materials won't stay dry and mold-free unless they are properly stored. When stored outside or in a damp basement or garage, building materials can absorb water from the ground and from damp air. To avoid problems, follow these recommendations when handling and storing building materials on job sites:

  • If possible, do not unload the lumber in the rain. This may mean rescheduling deliveries during times of wet weather, or taking other precautions to avoid materials getting wet when they are delivered to the building site.
  • Avoid storing materials on the ground. Keep stored building materials elevated off the ground with pallets or stickers (i.e., long pieces of lumber). This will prevent materials from absorbing water from the ground, and will allow air to circulate, promoting drying.
  • Elevate the materials on pallets or stickers even when storing them on a concrete slab. The moisture content of concrete is usually much higher than other building materials, and the concrete will transfer this moisture to any materials directly in contact with it.
  • On large construction sites where bound bundles may be offloaded from a roller truck, it is sometimes difficult to avoid materials being unloaded onto the ground. Efforts should be made to move the bundles with a forklift to a protected location on pallets or stickers. Or, break apart the bundles and restack.
  • Protect materials from the weather. Store lumber in a garage or other covered area, if possible. If the materials are outdoors, cover them with tarps or poly to protect them from rain and snow. Leave the ends of the covered pile open to allow air to circulate through the materials.
  • Inspect bundles that are delivered with pre-applied protective coverings. Any tears or openings in the covering will exposed the material to water, and water trapped inside the protective covering can accelerate moisture problems.
  • If possible, schedule deliveries to limit the amount of time that building materials must be stored on the job site prior to their installation (Reitz 1978).

Elevate Stored Lumber

Figure 1 - Elevate Stored Lumber. To prevent lumber from absorbing moisture from the ground or a concrete slab, elevate the bundles on stickers (i.e., long pieces of lumber).  Reference

Cover Lumber Stored Outdoors

Figure 2 - Cover Lumber Stored Outdoors. Lumber that must be stored in the open should be covered to protect it from rain and snow. Leave the ends of the lumber pile open to allow air to circulate under the protective covering.  Reference

 

Visible Inspection of Building Materials
The most effective method of identifying water damage and mold on building materials is by visibly inspecting it (Robbins and Morrell 2006).

Avoid mold. Do not select lumber or other wood products that have a black, powdery stain on the surface (see photo below).

Lumber with Visible Mold Should Be Avoided

Figure 3 - Lumber with Visible Mold Should Be Avoided. If mold is found on lumber at the lumber yard, do not purchase the product. If the mold grows on lumber stored on site, due to improper storage, it may be cleaned off with a mild detergent and warm water.  Reference

Some "stain molds" may go deeper than surface molds, but often these will have only affected the living tree and are no longer actively growing. Blue stain, for example (see photo below), is common but it does not adversely affect the wood; it is not an indicator of high moisture content and may still be selected as a suitable framing material. 


Blue Stain
Figure 4 - Blue Stain. The board in the center of the photograph shows blue stain. Not to be confused with lumber mold, this discoloration of the wood was caused by a fungus affecting the living tree, and the fungus did not harm the structural integrity of the wood. The fungus is no longer actively growing and does not necessarily indicate high moisture content. Therefore, it may be used as a suitable framing material.  Reference

Look for mold on other wood-based building materials, such as plywood, OSB, and millwork. Any wood product, such as the OSB sheathing shown below, is susceptible to growing mold when moisture levels of the material remain high for extended periods of time without drying.

Mold on OSB Sheathing

Figure 5 - Mold on OSB Sheathing. The mold growing on the inside face of this OSB sheathing is a prime indicator of an ongoing moisture problem caused by a siding failure.  Reference

Always protect drywall from moisture. Wet drywall is especially susceptible to growing mold. Even the moisture-resistant drywall product commonly referred to as "green board" may support mold growth.

Mold on Drywall

Figure 6 - Mold on Drywall. If it is allowed to stay wet long enough, the paper facing on drywall provides a ready food source for mold.  Reference

Avoid water damaged materials. Look for other visible signs of water damage such as water stains or separation of wood fibers. Pay particular attention when selecting plywood panels to avoid panels that have delaminated. If plywood becomes soaked, the moisture can affect the adhesive bonds between plies, effectively destroying the structural integrity of the panel.

Delaminated Plywood

Figure 7 - Delaminated Plywood. A sheet of plywood that was soaked by rainwater has delaminated, rendering it unusable for building.  Reference

Removing Mold

If materials do grow mold, small amounts may be cleaned using a mild detergent and a warm-water solution. Use the gentlest cleaning method that effectively removes the mold. Materials should be dry and visibly free from mold before installing them (NYCDHMH 2008).

Non-porous materials (such as metals, glass, and hard plastics) usually can be cleaned. Semi-porous and porous structural materials, such as wood and concrete, can be cleaned if they are structurally sound. Porous materials (such as ceiling tiles, drywall, and insulation with more than a small area of mold growth) cannot usually be cleaned and should be discarded (NYCDHMH 2008).

Do not use bleach when trying to remove mold. Bleach will not render the spores inactive, and bleach is a lung and skin irritant, which presents an unnecessary risk to the workers using it (NYCDHMH 2008).

If efforts to remove the mold are unsuccessful, discard the materials. Do not take the chance of installing it.

Ensuring Success

Controlling moisture is the best way to avoid mold and to maintain the dimensional stability of building materials. To ensure that building materials have low moisture content and will not support mold growth, test with a moisture meter before installing the materials, or before covering up or enclosing the materials (EPA 2012).

Test with a moisture meter before installing building materials 

Figure 1 - Test with a moisture meter before installing building materials.  Reference

Acceptable moisture levels of common building materials:

  • Lumber. The moisture content of framing lumber and wood sheathing materials should not exceed 18% moisture content before the building is enclosed (EPA 2012).
  • Concrete floors. Industry practice, following Swedish standards, calls for concrete floors to be at a relative humidity of lower that 80% near the center of the slab section before installing wood-based flooring over the top (PCA 2012).
  • Drywall. There is no accepted standard for drywall. However, drywall is manufactured to a much lower moisture content than the moisture content accepted for wood framing (USG 2007). When drywall is installed over wood studs and ceiling joists or trusses, the moisture content of the two different materials will equalize. The net result will be a moisture content lower than the wood. A drywall moisture content higher than 18% would be unacceptable, as it would raise the moisture content of the framing above acceptable levels. Generally, moisture on drywall will be readily apparent in the form of discolored finishes or deteriorating surfaces.

Equilibrium Moisture Content
The moisture content of a building material depends on the relative humidity of the surrounding air (Simpson 1998). The moisture in the material will want to equalize with the amount of moisture in the air. This is referred to as "equilibrium moisture content" and should be taken into account when testing a material's moisture content. The table below shows the approximate moisture content that wood building products will stabilize to at various levels of relative humidity (FPMDI 1998).

Relative Humidity of Air (%) Equilibrium Moisture Content of Wood (%)
0 0
25 5
50 9
75 14
99 23 to 30

 

Table 1 - Moisture Content of Wood as Impacted by Relative Humidity (i.e., the equilibrium moisture content). As an example, when the relative humidity of indoor air is maintained at 50% or below, wood products in the building will stabilize to an equilibrium moisture content of 9%. (FPMDI 1998)

Scope

Lumber with visible mold should be avoided

Water Managed Building Materials

Building materials with visible signs of water damage or mold not installed.

  1. Store all building materials in a dry location.
  2. Visually inspect all building materials prior to installation.

ENERGY STAR Notes:

If mold is present, effort should be made to remove all visible signs of mold (e.g., by damp wipe with water and detergent). If removal methods are not effective, then the material shall be replaced. However, stains that remain after damp wipe are acceptable. Lumber with "sap stain fungi" is exempt from this Item as long as the lumber is structurally intact.

Training

Right and Wrong Images

Presentations

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Videos

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CAD Images

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Compliance

ENERGY STAR Version 3, (Rev. 07)

Water Management Checklist, Water-Managed Building Materials. Building materials with visible signs of water damage or mold not installed.  If mold is present, effort should be made to remove all visible signs of mold (e.g., by damp wipe with water and detergent). If removal methods are not effective, then the material shall be replaced. However, stains that remain after damp wipe are acceptable. Lumber with "sap stain fungi" is exempt from this Item as long as the lumber is structurally intact.

DOE Challenge Home

Exhibit 1: Mandatory Requirements. Certified under ENERGY STAR Qualified Homes Version 3.

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Case Studies

None Available

References and Resources*

  1. Author(s): Portland Cement Association
    Organization(s): Portland Cement Association
    Publication Date: January 2012

    Document discussing moisture considerations and testing techniques for concrete floors.

  2. Author(s): DOE
    Organization(s): DOE
    Publication Date: June 2013

    Standard requirements for DOE's Challenge Home national program certification.

  3. Author(s): EPA
    Organization(s): EPA
    Publication Date: June 2013

    Standard document containing the rater checklists and national program requirements for ENERGY STAR Certified Homes, Version 3 (Rev. 7).

  4. Author(s): Simpson
    Organization(s): USDA
    Publication Date: January 1998

    Report using relative humidity and temperature data from NOAA to measure average equilibrium moisture content for each month of the year in 262 locations in the United States and 122 locations outside the United States.

  5. Author(s): US Gypsum Company
    Organization(s): US Gypsum Company
    Publication Date: January 2007

    Brochure discussing specific practices for mitigating moisture and mold during the construction process.

  6. Author(s): EPA
    Organization(s): EPA
    Publication Date: February 2013

    Website providing technical guidance to help home builders and their subcontractors, architects, and other housing professionals understand the intent and implementation of the specification requirements of the IAQ labeling program.

  7. Author(s): EPA
    Organization(s): EPA
    Publication Date: February 2011

    Guide describing details that serve as a visual reference for each of the line items in the Water Management System Builder Checklist.

  8. Author(s): University of Minnesota
    Organization(s): University of Minnesota
    Publication Date: January 1998

    Information sheet about the moisture properties of wood.

Last Updated: 08/15/2013

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