Mold: The Original Facility Management Issue

The HVAC and building maintenance industries have seen issues come and go over the years. For a time, “sick building syndrome” was on the front cover of every facility management magazine. Now green has taken the headlines. Before green, the issue facing our buildings was mold.

Although mold may be off the front page, a quick internet search of “mold in commercial buildings” shows the problem of mold is still very real and very current. For a more sobering reminder that the problem of hasn’t gone away, search the keywords “mold class action lawsuit”. The results are enough to make any facility manager consider another career.

Interestingly, for all of the health problems, building damage, and lawsuits, mold is not that difficult to prevent or control. Looking back at our previous article on mold growth, we learned that mold develops when two things are present: moisture and food. The food part is tough to stop because mold can eat and live on any organic substance like drywall, dust, or carpet fibers. But moisture is easy to find and often not difficult to eliminate. The problem is very few people proactively look for unwanted moisture and by the time they find it, the moisture and resulting mold problems are quite severe. The EPA’s guide for mold for commercial buildings even tells us “It is impossible to eliminate all mold and mold spores in the indoor environment. However, mold growth can be controlled indoors by controlling moisture indoors.”

In HVAC systems, moisture is everywhere. HVAC engineers and contractors know where the moisture is and design the systems to contain and remove it so it doesn’t go where it’s not supposed to. But good design doesn’t mean you’ll never have a mold problem in and around HVAC systems. This is why the role of maintenance staff is so important. Performing routine maintenance on the HVAC system and finding issues before they become major problems is incredibly important. There is a key distinction in performing this maintenance preventatively as opposed to reacting to a problem after it’s a disaster. Fix the moisture problem now, and save yourself lots of trouble in the future.

Preventative maintenance of the HVAC system always includes looking in the pan for proper function or if there is mold growth. The condensate drain pan under the evaporator coil is always wet and a common place for mold and organic slimes to grow. A good preventative measure for drain pans is Goodway’s PanCare tablets. The tablets sit in the drain pan and disinfect pan water as it flows through the drain system. If water were to stagnate in the pan due to a pipe blockage the PanCare treatment would prevent growth that could introduce mold on the equipment or in the HVAC system at large.

Coils dripping with water need to be regularly cleaned. Even the best air filtration system allows some dust and organic debris to pass by and collect on the coil. If left uncleaned, that dust can develop into a biofilm that, along with the water, is the perfect breeding ground for bacteria. With Goodway’s coil cleaning machines and solutions coils can be cleaned and disinfected to not only prevent mold from growing, but to remove growth that’s already started.

Unfortunately, there will be cases where moisture has gotten into the duct system and mold has begun to grow. Of course, the first step in correcting this is to stop the moisture infiltration into the ductwork. No amount of cleaning or sanitizing will help if the water is not stopped. The water is getting into the duct either because moisture is blowing off the evaporator coil or there is a leak in the duct itself.

For small, accessible duct systems with mold, it may be easier and less expensive to simply replace all of the ductwork. But large duct hung very high or installed over sheetrock ceilings cannot be replaced without great cost and disruption to occupants. A variety of tools are available to clean ductwork in place either in sections or as an entire system.

Mold cleaning in ductwork takes time and should be done methodically and with care. Duct bladders are used to section off portions of ductwork so mold spores do not spread during the cleaning process. Disrupting existing mold releases spores throughout the building that can later regenerate and develop mold problems in areas far away from the source. Once isolated, Goodway’s Duct Cleaner Fogger is a compact and versatile machine to apply mold and mildew cleaners to contaminated ductwork. Once the duct system is cleaned, a HEPA vacuum completes the job. Last, applying a mold control product like BBJ Mold Control for HVAC Systems and Air Ducts® can help control future growth.

Mold in HVAC systems is still a very real and present problem. Broken pipes, clogged drain pans, or even water blowing down the ductwork can lead to mold growth that can be a serious health concern. But mold is not impossible to control. Once the source of moisture is contained and corrected, cleanup and preventative measures begin. Keep your HVAC systems clean with Goodway’s line of mold eliminating, disinfecting, and duct cleaning systems.

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