Giving Mold the Cold Shoulder

By Pam Robinson

Jul 10, 2009 7:26am

ABC News On Campus reporter Chris Badders blogs:

With the average daily summer temperatures hovering in the 90s, students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill are getting a healthy blast of air conditioning in each classroom. It’s not just to keep students cool, but also to save money.

According to Van Dobson, assistant vice chancellor for facilities services, classrooms are being kept at cooler temperatures to reduce the risk of mold growing in the building.

The process is just simple science. Mold grows due to a buildup of moist air. When the air is cooled, the water in it condenses, lowering the humidity.  Keeping the humidity low helps prevent the conditions in which mold flourishes.

The humidity problem is exacerbated because students who have been walking to class outside are more likely to be sweating when coming into class. This increases the risk that warm, humid air is going to build up, increasing the risk of mold.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, people allergic to the fungus can experience nasal stuffiness, eye irritation, wheezing or skin irritation. Those with more severe allergies could have reactions that cause fever and shortness of breath.

Those with chronic lung illnesses may develop mold infections in their lungs, and people with sensitive asthma problems could have an asthma attack when exposed.

Brandon Thomas, communication director for facilities services, said that classrooms are set to a temperature that accommodates a full classroom of students. Since classrooms vary in size, there is no set temperature for an air conditioning unit to be operating.

Office and administrative buildings are more consistent than classroom buildings in that they don’t see as much traffic through them, and generally don’t hold as many occupants, so they can therefore be kept at a more regular, comfortable temperature.

The idea of blasting the air conditioning sounds like it would be expensive, but renovating a building due to mold could be much worse on the wallet.

In 2004, the University of Hawaii’s campus newspaper, Ka Leo O Hawaii, reported that a lack of air conditioning in parts of its library had contributed to a mold problem that cost the university about $26,000 a year to treat and contain. A renovation expected to cost between $15 million and $20 million is slated for completion by 2010 and includes the addition of air conditioning for all floors of the library. 

Neither Thoma nor Dobson knew the amount the university was spending on cooling the buildings, but Thomas did say that any money spent on preventing mold from forming would be far less than renovating a building.

Renovating a building with mold requires more than just treating the area where the mold is growing, Thomas noted. Anything porous that allows water can seep down into has to be removed in order to remove the moisture and eliminate a mold problem.

Depending on the severity of the problem, buildings could have to be completely gutted at significant cost to the university.

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