The school construction boom in the last decade forced some districts to build faster and more cheaply. Speed of construction combined with cost savings, however, did not always equal success for long-term needs. It has resulted in air-quality problems in many schools.
For these schools, the building health crisis is just beginning. Roof and wall leaks are the leading cause of moisture entering a building. Moisture leads to mold, which can enter a building's heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system, with dire effect on indoor air quality.
Designers should choose materials that will be “forgiving” when moisture enters a building. Because of the moisture problems in some schools, more officials are considering materials of substance over speed. Masonry materials can enhance the health and quality of schools.
A building envelope is made up primarily of roof and wall systems. The proper choice of envelope material is critical in controlling moisture. Concrete block, brick and cast concrete can be cleaned and dried easily, and are not destroyed by mold. Although masonry materials do not counteract moisture problems, they are more “forgiving” when building leaks occur or plumbing fails.
Properly designed masonry provides many levels of protection. Given the decline in the skill level of available labor trades, schools must consider designs that reflect the realities of the final product. Pushing material to perform beyond limits in a “perfect-world” scenario is unrealistic. Instead, planners should focus on designing a building with materials that can sustain moisture breaches without catastrophic results.
In addition to avoiding mold more effectively, buildings constructed with masonry have the advantage of requiring less annual maintenance. Selecting materials such as face brick, concrete block and other similar materials allows a school to focus its limited maintenance budget on issues such as HVAC upkeep, rather than wall repairs and replacement.