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Prevent water intrusion, minimize exposure to claims by building with mold in mind

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While designing and building a completely mold-proof structure is virtually impossible, steps can be taken to help avoid extensive water-intrusion problems and ultimately reduce the chances of expensive claims.

Following are some helpful preliminary steps to take when approaching the design and construction of a particular building:

1. Know your locale. Thoroughly investigate the history of mold problems in a project site's locale, as well as any standards that may come into play in that particular state. California, for example, recently passed the Toxic Mold Protection Act with directives to set indoor mold exposure limits and establish standards for detection and removal.

2. Discuss the potential for mold problems with the owner. Also discuss the need to design remedies into the structure rather than deal with the problem somewhere down the road. Point out that the owner will be liable for such problems should tenants, clients, customers or other third parties allege that they have suffered bodily injury due to mold.

3. Make sure your contract includes protective language. A clear and accurate scope of services specifying who is responsible for mold is essential. Press for indemnity language that allocates liability for mold-related claims to those in the best position to control the building environment. Avoid guarantees, warranties and other such language concerning the absence of mold.

4. Hold regular meetings during construction. In the working agreement, call for regular inspection, testing and disclosure for existing mold as well as conditions that could lead to mold. When necessary, retain qualified industrial hygienists or other expert engineers to provide inspection and remediation services. Document all findings, changes in project scope, project upsets and other information that could be used in defense of a claim.

Sealing the building envelope

Protecting a structure's interior begins with sealing the building envelope to keep water from penetrating it. This can be accomplished by focusing on the building's trouble spots -- flashings, joints and coatings.

In addition to address these trouble spots, remember to scrutinize construction materials. All construction materials have limitations with respect to moisture, and sometimes too much is expected of these materials.

Finally, make sure HVAC and humidity-control systems are installed properly. Ensure proper ventilation, including adequate crawl spaces, exhaust fans and dehumidifiers. Specify leak-proof window and door installations and mold-resistant materials. Ensure proper drainage and runoff controls so water doesn't collect underneath structures.

More information can be found at www.keetonconstruction.com.

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