Part of both residential and commercial maintenance and design is working to either prevent problems before they begin, or to identify and solve small problems early, before they escalate into bigger—aka more inconvenient and expensive—problems. In this series, we will be looking at elements of HVAC and Plumbing design, construction, and maintenance that are important to consider and utilize when the goal is to work proactively. One area of building design where problems can start small but cause significant, long-term structural and health issues is humidity and moisture control. Excess moisture causes problems for building owners, maintenance teams, and occupants.
Why is moisture control important?
Excess moisture is a healthy and safety concern as well as a potential structural issue. According to a 2004 study by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences commissioned by the US Centers for Disease Control, there is a demonstrated or suggested association between exposure to “damp” indoor environments and adverse health effects such as:
- Upper respiratory symptoms
- Asthma symptoms or development
- Increased fungal and infection issues in “immunocompromised” residents.
A subsequent study by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory concluded that building dampness and mold increase the risk of negative respiratory and asthma-related health effects by 30 to 50 percent.
From a structural perspective, moisture damage to buildings and their components can be significant as well, such as:
- Corroded wire and other metal components
- Mold and bacteria growth
- Attraction of insect pests
- Deterioration of the building itself; particularly flooring, drywall, framing, and foundations
What can be done about it- Plumbing
Quality Materials and Workmanship
The Uniform Construction Code (UCC) contains specific guidelines for plumbing systems and component installation and testing, from allowable materials to particular angles and slope that can be used for piping.
When asked about Proactive Design, JK Plumbing Department Manager Casey Blackwell points out that using licensed, reputable contractors and quality materials pays off in the long run. “It’s as true with this as with anything: you get what you pay for. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” Recently, the JK Plumbing team assisted a homeowner in Lancaster with significant leaks from multiple toilets installed by another contractor. Service technician Greg was able to identify the source of the leak as a faulty plastic component, but not before the client experienced significant water damage and will need mold remediation and new flooring.
Testing and Inspection
To detect and avoid plumbing leaks, a new system will be pressure tested at a point during install where the lines can be inspected and accessed. Access panels and shutoff valves will also be installed in needed, accessible spaces, to allow for inspection, maintenance, or repairs in the future.
Insulation and Protection
In PA, our winters can go from “chilly” to “below freezing” in a snap. Installing plumbing lines and fixtures in property insulated spaces prevents pipe freezing, cracking, and leaks. In uninsulated applications (say, a garage sink or outdoor spigot), using properly rated fixtures and materials prevents unfortunate and costly mishaps down the road.
For structures with basements and particularly in designated flood risk areas, a properly installed sump pump is one of the most important parts of moisture and humidity control in your plumbing design. A sump pump diverts water that accumulates in a basement and drains it to a spot away from your foundation (at least five to 15 feet away) to prevent flooding and water damage.
If the structure is in a location prone to extended power outages and/or at high risk of flood damage should the sump pump fail, it may make sense to add a Generac Standby Generator to support the sump pump and other essential appliances, even when the building is unoccupied.
As our homes and appliances become smarter, it makes sense that smart features can protect structures and prevent damage, too. Devices like the Lyric Wi-Fi leak & freeze detector are meant to be installed in leak and freeze-risk areas, such as under sinks or in basements, and send an alert to your smartphone when something out of place is detected. For residential, whole-home applications, the Moen Flo is an option that installs on the home’s water main. The Moen Flo tracks water usage, detects leaks, can shut off automatically if an emergency is detected, and lets the end user control their entire system from a smartphone app.
While managing water systems is an essential part of moisture control during design and construction, it’s just as important to consider the effect your HVAC design will have. Click here for part 2 where we’ll discuss how HVAC plays a part in humidity and moisture control.