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September - October 2002


Attack of the Window Mold
How Manufacturers Can Avoid the Legal Nightmare
by Jim Plavecsky

It seems that mold is on everyone’s mind these days. There is a growing number of lawsuits based on the adverse health effects of uncontrolled mold problems in both residential and commercial dwellings. Some of the first cases started with stucco homes. Stucco is made of a styrofoam-type material that does not “breathe.” It traps moisture, which helps the proliferation of mold.

What is it?
Mold is fungus basically. Some types of mold actually are beneficial to mankind, but other types of molds want to dominate the mold world by producing toxins that kill other types of microorganisms threatening to interfere with the mold’s growth. Unfortunately, these same toxins have an adverse effect upon humans. In order to suffer from these adverse effects, we do not have to come in direct contact with mold as the toxins are transported through the air by way of mold spores. The toxins can then be absorbed through the skin or inhaled and absorbed through our mucous membranes, and it is believed that this causes allergic reactions, rhinitis, skin rashes and respiratory distress. Clinical data showing this correlation has been documented in laboratory animals.

The New York Times has reported a 20 to 40 percent increase in homeowners’ insurance premiums across the country and some carriers are excluding water damage and subsequent mold problems from consideration for claims coverage. 

This leaves builders, contractors and suppliers of construction materials as more likely targets for homeowners or construction property owners seeking redress. 

So, how does this all relate to windows? Well, mold can form in walls around improperly installed windows or windows that are designed with poor water management systems, and it can even form on actual window surfaces. 

Fighting Back
So, how do we combat it? Well it seems that some molds thrive in low-humidity conditions and other types of molds thrive in higher humidity conditions, and there is an optimum relative humidity level of between 40 to 50 percent where the mold spore formation is minimized. Once humidity levels start climbing above the 50 to 60 percent level, mold spore formation again rears its ugly head!

So, if we are going to keep our indoor humidity levels in the 40 to 50 percent range, what does this do to condensation resistance? Well, we know that condensation formation becomes worse as relative humidity climbs so the best way to keep condensation from becoming a problem in our health-smart environment of 40 to 50 percent relative humidity (RH) is to use a warm-edge spacer, and the “warmer” the spacer the better. The warm-edge spacers with the lowest thermal conductivities or K-values will keep the window edge the most dry when RH levels are being kept at health-smart levels.

According to Chris Haromy of the Asthma Society of Canada, air circulation is also an important 
factor. “Mold finds it more difficult to grow on surfaces where there is a high degree of air circulation,” he said. 

Yes, the homeowner can do his part to minimize mold formation on window surfaces by maintaining the optimum health-smart humidity level combined with adequate indoor air circulation, but what can the window manufacturer do to help? The American Architectural Manufacturers Association suggests the following: 

    • Control shipping and handling of your product;

    • Control installation;

    • Test the product on-site on a frequent basis and document the results;

    • Prepare maintenance information to educate and inform the homeowner.

According to Steven Haber, Esq., of Obermayer, Rebmann, Maxwell and Hippel L.L.P., the 1990s saw a “relative explosion” in the number of claims filed by homeowners with their insurance companies for damage related to mold contamination. There was also a similar increase in the number of mold contamination lawsuits, many of which claimed personal injury due to the adverse health effects of mold contamination. Indeed, mold litigation is replacing asbestos litigation as the hottest topic among construction industry lawyers.

It is very important that today’s window manufacturer seek ways to protect the company from being drawn into lawsuits involving mold. Designing windows that function well in a health-smart environment along with controlling the handling and installation of the company’s window products can go a long way in protecting the manufacturer from footing the bill when mold becomes a problem. 

Jim Plavecsky serves as vice president of marketing and sales for Edgetech IG, based in Cambridge, Ohio.

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