Trends in Green | U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

Controlling Moisture in America's Schools

School Buildings are among our most important community resources. The U.S. Department of Education National Center for Education Statistics estimates nearly 55 million elementary and secondary students and 7 million teachers, faculty and staff occupy our schools. In addition to being the place where so many people work and learn for several hours a day, many communities use school buildings after regular school hours as after-care facilities, recreation centers, meeting places and emergency shelters during natural disasters.

For more than a decade, EPA has been working with schools to promote good indoor air quality (IAQ) management practices through implementation of Indoor Air Quality Tools for Schools guidance. EPA has made significant strides in raising awareness of the importance of implementing IAQ management programs in schools and equipping personnel at the state, district and school level with the necessary knowledge and tools to create healthy indoor environments. As of 2012, almost half of school districts had an IAQ management program, defined as a set of specific activities for preventing and resolving indoor air quality problems. Of these, 71.7 percent require schools conduct periodic inspections for mold and 78.4 percent require periodic inspections of the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system. Other types of inspections commonly required include checking for: cracks, leaks or past water damage in the building foundation, walls, and the roof (72.2 percent); plumbing system issues (69.7 percent); and condensation in and around school facilities (57.1 percent). More than half of school districts have adopted policies for addressing mold problems and responding to moisture-related issues within 48 hours or less.

Unfortunately, moisture problems continue to plague many school buildings and can adversely affect the health and well being of occupants. Leaking roofs, plumbing problems, condensation, poor indoor humidity control, lack of drainage around buildings, as well as the increased frequency and intensity of moisturerelated weather events due to changing climatic conditions, are just some of the reported causes of moisture problems in schools. Excess moisture can damage the structural integrity of buildings, degrade building materials, destroy furnishings and increase occupant exposure to mold and other biological contaminants. Excess moisture can also increase the occurrence and severity of allergies, asthma and other respiratory illnesses in some individuals, illnesses which can be costly and are associated with increased absenteeism and decreases in student performance and teacher productivity. The costs of asthma alone can be staggering: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories estimates annual asthma-related medical costs attributable to exposures to dampness and mold total approximately $3.5 billion in the U.S.

But there is good news. Moisture problems in buildings can be controlled and there are steps schools can take to make buildings more moisture resilient. That’s why EPA’s Indoor Environments Division published the Moisture Control Guidance for Building Design, Construction and Maintenance. This guide can help those who develop and implement mold and moisture policies in schools, as well as those who design, build, operate and maintain buildings to control moisture throughout the life-cycle of the building.

The moisture guidance document provides:

  • Principles of moisture control: how water moves into and within a building and why the movement of water should be managed;
  • Profession-specific guidance for the design, construction and maintenance phases of a building’s life; and,
  • Graphic figures, photographs, verification tests, checklists and references to other useful material.

Effective moisture control consists of preventing moisture from coming in or accumulating in building areas that must remain dry and keeping building areas that by design routinely get wet, such as bathrooms, as dry as possible. It’s a simple concept but it takes attention to detail to get it right. Building professionals who incorporate the principles provided in this guide can help enhance both the health and productivity of students, faculty and staff and the sustainability and resiliency of our schools.

You can download the guide at www.epa.gov/iaq/moisture.

>> This column is provided by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Office of Radiation and Indoor Air, Indoor Environments Division.

This article originally appeared in the August 2014 issue of School Planning & Management.

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