Healthful indoor air quality in education facilities can improve the learning environment for students, enhance teacher job satisfaction, and reduce staff complaints. A proactive indoor air quality program helps identify and eliminate conditions that could lead to IAQ complaints, building-related illnesses and workers' compensation claims.
Water intrusion and the mold growth that often results can present significant cleanup and remediation costs, and those may not be covered by some insurance policies.
Water and mold factors
Schools typically have large buildings and large roof areas. As a school's roof ages, the probability of leaks associated with storms increases. Also, plumbing leaks or sewer backups that allow water into a school often lead to a mold and bacteria problem. Water intrusion that occurs during school construction and renovations also is associated with uncontrolled mold growth.
The key to control is preventive maintenance of building systems, as well as regular inspections to identify leaks. Thorough planning prior to construction is critical to avoid moisture from entering the structure. Contractors should be required to protect construction materials from precipitation once they have been delivered to a site. Additionally, building openings should be protected when possible to reduce the amount of moisture that enters the interior of the structure during construction.
Weather influences the degree of mold risk. School buildings situated in areas with high precipitation or persistent high humidity must defend against the outdoor conditions. In order to control indoor mold growth, the humidity should be kept below 60 percent relative humidity. Properties situated within flood-plain areas also may need special design considerations, such as sump pumps, moisture barriers and exterior grading, to prevent rising surface and ground water from entering the structure. Basements and crawl spaces that are persistently high in humidity can be sources of mold that can damage stored contents and building structure integrity.
Interior moisture sources from school activities such as indoor pools and locker rooms also can contribute to the humidity levels within the structure. The heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems in these spaces need to be designed to handle the excess moisture load.
School buildings that have a history of water leaks present a higher degree of mold risk. Persistent small leaks that are not resolved, such as small roof leaks or leaks around window frames, commonly are associated with uncontrolled mold growth. More extensive leaks that take longer than two days to clean up and to dehumidify the area also are high risk indicators. If porous or semi-porous materials such as school books, carpeting, art projects and industrial wood-shop dust have gotten wet and remain within the building, these materials are likely to harbor mold growth.