Molding your response to their problem: how to protect your company from unnecessary callbacks because of water penetration

Molding your response to their problem: how to protect your company from unnecessary callbacks because of water penetration

Rick Yelton

Given all the attention being conveyed by the national media about what has become a serious national concern, masonry contractors should be actively spreading the word that block and brick are not food sources for mold. it’s a message that owners of both commercial and single family structures will be glad to hear. The media is full of horror stories about contaminated houses and health issues, so the country’s builders and subcontractors are very aware of the potential problems that the discovery of mold may bring to their lives if it is found in one of their projects.

The masonry versus mold battle is an easy cause to embrace. Contractors who want to help grow the masonry market share merely have to join in the marketing efforts of our industry’s leading organizations, such as BIA and NCMA. The message that mold is not a masonry problem needs to be reinforced in every meeting with builders and owners. A key way to provide a strong foundation for the mold-free message is to become proactive with clients in developing “best practices” that keep water penetration from the masonry vocabulary.

According to Russ Nassof, president of Environomics Southwest LLC, Phoenix, Ariz., a proactive approach in urging everyone to do their pan in preventing water problems on all structures is not only a good marketing tool, but an important business survival tool. Nassof is very familiar with the problems and possible solutions since his consulting firm specializes in helping contractors deal with claims resulting from mold and other environmental concerns when water docs penetrate.

Unfortunately for general contractors and builders involved in residential construction, Nassof’s business is spreading. His team says that the mold concern started on the West Coast and in Texas on a limited basis, but has now spread across the country. “We’ve recently noticed that problems associated with mold are being reported in areas that were never a concern, like the Midwest,” says Nassof.

Increasing awareness

Nassof suggests three reasons for the increased awareness of mold.

First, it’s a result of how many home builders insure themselves. Builders me often self-insured for post construction claims, which increases their liability exposure. And with the amount of national press on mold, home owners are quick to call the builder on their first sighting. Attorneys are also jumping on this problem. Nassof notes that many attorneys involved in litigation on behalf of unhappy home owners against the builder commonly throw in the mold claim as an automatic.

Second, there’s the construction method itself. Structures built today are more airtight so any problem created commonly becomes greater than in the past.

Third, the new construction industry as a whole has paid little attention to educating the building owner on the need to perform necessary maintenance. “Homeowners believe that if something goes wrong, it’s the builder’s fault and responsibility,” says Nassof.

While the exposure to mold liability has not been an issue for most masonry contractors, Nassof believes that the situation is about to increase. He tells home builders to establish contractual relationships with their subcontractors that spell out everyone’s responsibilities when it comes to water penetration.

Proper protocols

Nassof’s message is that builder and subcontractor exposure to mold problems can be reduced significantly with a few simple steps. He believes that home builders and their subcontractors have not been proactive in protecting themselves from water penetration liability. And especially, they have not been vocal enough in educating the buyer on his/her responsibility to limit mold growth.

Nassof says the situation is similar to how customers purchase new cars and protect their warranties. “New car owners know the importance of their involvement in maintaining their vehicles,” says Nassof. They wash the car regularly, routinely change the oil every 3000 miles, and follow manufacturer’s recommendations in regard to scheduled maintenance. Every new car owner knows what happens when a claim for warranty service is filed without proof of the required scheduled maintenance.

Nassof has been successful in helping clients draft a similar approach to water penetration on structures. His team helps contractors write and develop an active plan for each major project or large structure. This written document lets the general contractor involve all interested parties in preventing potential water penetration in every phase of construction.

Nassof notes that one approach to limit builder and subcontractor exposure to mold problems is to develop and follow a management program he calls a Water Intrusion Prevention Protocol (WIPP). Mold needs a source of moisture to thrive, and the WIPP unites all parties in their efforts to head off the problem. The WIPP is developed for each project and helps alert the home builder and subcontractors about potential moisture problems. Justas important, a WIPP shows potential insurance providers that all parties are proactive in preventing future claims, which has been an important factor for many builders in securing liability insurance.

In Nassof’s opinion, the general contractor’s WIPP should document efforts to prevent potential water penetration problems in several major areas, including properly designing the structure for the local environment, selecting subcontractors who are sufficiently insured for potential claims, selecting subcontractors who document that they have trained their craftsmen on potential problems, and developing a proper response to client concerns.

It’s true that Nassof’s suggestions are directed at general contractors and home builders, but masonry contractors should also be concerned. Nassof suggests that when deciding for whom to work, preferences should be given to those clients with WIPPs. It might be a good way to avoid being part of a bad situation down the road.

A continuing process

Participating in a preventive plan for water penetration involves more than just cleaning out behind the brick, suggests Bmd Oberg. His firm–IBACOS Inc., Pittsburg Pa.–focuses on providing consulting services to production home builders on how to increase construction quality. Oberg’s team offers assessments of design, construction practices, training, and troubleshooting.

Oberg agrees with Nassof about the need for stronger contractor involvement in preventing potential water problems. His firm has developed a training program that helps educate contractors on water penetration prevention.

Here are some suggestions that Oberg has found to be effective in preventing problems and call backs.


1) Educate the architect and home builder in the most current design details for preventing moisture penetration. One easy way for masonry contractors to accomplish this goal is to give home builders and architects copies of the Brick Industry Association’s “Tech Notes.” The BIA staff has developed a collection of six notes that cover design and detail, materials, construction and workmanship, and maintenance. (This information is available at www.gobrick, com.)

2) Opt to work for home builders who are proactive in alerting buyers about potential risks that certain ownership decisions that actually increase mold possibilities. Builders who remind buyers that practices such as wall papering, disconnecting vent fans, or not changing furnace filters can promote mold growth, even in the best designed buildings, often experience fewer call backs than those who are not proactive.

3) Provide training for foremen and lead men on what to look for when it comes to potential construction defects. Sources like the BIA, NCMA, and IMI offer easy to follow guidelines on mol& Consider using online training courses.

4) Pay close attention to any contract a home builder offers. There’s a current trend to request subcontractors to assume more of the post-construction risks. Make sure the contract only holds you responsible for your own work.

5) When reviewing the plans before the job, look for home features that are commonly associated with water problems, such as those with second-floor laundry rooms, multi-level roof pitches, and poor guttering.

During construction

1) Develop an action plan that keeps materials dry when stored onsite. Keep pallets covered from rain and weather. If the general contractor insists on working in wet weather, agree on the proper overnight procedures and costs.

2) Perform a thorough pre-check of the interior wall before beginning your phase of construction. Inform the builder’s representative immediately of any tear in the house wrap, missing flashing on windows, or improperly installed weather barriers.

3) Make sure the home builder doesn’t allow the framing contractor to use green wood. Since mold needs moisture to grow, it’s important to eliminate a potential source before starting. Also, any indication of wood with lumber yard mold should be eliminated.

4) Make sure that all trash, lumber scraps, and other potential food sources are removed from the area before commencing construction.

5) Develop a post-project inspection procedure and checklist of all walls, including a photo of your work. It’s important to document that your crew left all weeps open and all clean outs clear.

Post construction

A simple drive by inspection of the finished project might help provide a proactive approach to problems. While builders often perform this function prior to the sale, they often don’t look for the same details as the mason.

Check the structure for these conditions:

1) Vegetation too close to the brick or block veneer, which might encourage watering that keeps the masonry wetter than the designer allowed.

2) A sprinkler system that allows direct spraying onto the brick or block surface

3) Settling of the backfill that causes pooling by the foundation

4) Final grade isn’t too high. Ensure there is plenty of clearance between the base course and the ground, and all weeps have enough drop to ensure drainage.

Insuring Yourself Against Mold

With the cost of potential liability going wild, many insurance companies have excluded mold from their coverages. But according to Jenny Han, AIG Environmental, at least one company does provide coverage.

In a presentation at January’s International Building Show in Las Vegas, Han told the home builder audience that companies like hers are rethinking their total exclusion policy. “If a builder or subcontractor clearly demonstrates that he can build a structure that resists mold, why shouldn’t he be insured?” she asks.

Han said that insurances companies are beginning to offer two types of coverages. Pollution Legal Liability coverage is aimed at general contractors and home builders who want to protect themselves on certain projects from post-construction claims. It’s sold on a case-by-case basis, for certain types of structures.

A second coverage classification of more interest to masonry contractors is Contractor Pollution Liability. This coverage is available to contractors who demonstrate that they have built structures that have not been involved in water penetration claims, train their employees on how to build correctly, and have strong financial resources. This coverage can be purchased on an annual basis or by project.

To learn more about these insurance products, visit

Russell Nassof president, Environomics Southwest LLC, can be contacted at 602-266-8288 or Brad Oberg, chief technology officer, IBACOS hw., can be contacted at 412-765-3664 of

Additional information about the BuildIQ online courses for mold prevention is available by calling 866-846634Z 77w tire courses cover the fundamentals of bulk water management, door and window installation, and roof walls, and foundation construction methods.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Hanley-Wood, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group