Northwest: Breaking the mold

Barry Reid grew up in Eugene, Ore., where mold was considered “normal,” he recalls. But that was long before issues like indoor air quality and moisture control moved to the front burners in the Pacific Northwest.

Now Reid works for Georgia-Pacific as a product development marketing manager for DensArmor, a paperless wallboard that prohibits the growth of mold. He can talk about fungi, of course, and how they don’t like to eat fiberglass. But in interviews, he tends to veer off to other topics like energy efficiency and vapor barriers.

“All these issues are linked,” Reid said. “You just can’t do one thing in a home without affecting other things. If you build a house to be incredibly air tight, you have to have strategies to [maintain] good air quality.”

Manufacturers of insulation, moisture barriers and anti-mold products are learning how to work in tandem, often in public-private groups like the Partnership for Advancing Technology in Housing (PATH), an organization that includes, along with home builders and government agencies, representatives from DuPont, Andersen Windows, Armstrong World Industries, CertainTeed, Arxx Building Products, Louisiana-Pacific, Advanced Wall Systems and General Electric.

Two other drywall manufacturers, USG and National Gypsum, have joined together with the Responsible Solutions to Mold Coalition. Their mission, according to spokesman Morrie Newell, is to educate builders and contractors about proper flashing techniques, storage of building materials under wet conditions and other ways of preventing water intrusion. “If you control moisture, you control mold,” said Newell. “Everybody has to roll with this.”

That doesn’t mean everyone agrees on which direction to roll, however. The state of Oregon has always been considered progressive when it comes to green building, yet codes require unfaced insulation, excluding vapor barriers that keep heat in but allow moisture out. Both Johns Manville and CertainTeed make fiberglass insulation faced with “smart” barriers that regulate moisture inside wall cavities and impede mold growth.

“We believe that the walls and the ceilings have to breathe,” said Arturo Horta, a product manager for DuPont. Horta works with ThermaWrap, a metalized Tyvek that reflects heat to reduce energy consumption. But moisture from bathrooms, kitchens and laundry rooms could become trapped inside, causing mold and other problems, so ThermaWrap was designed as a permeable barrier.

“We need to take a whole systems approach to building a home, because when we just do parts and pieces, you get into trouble,” said Mark LaLiberte, a consultant with Building Knowledge. “The rules of physics apply to everybody.”

LaLiberte travels around the country giving seminars on better building practices and residential green building techniques. He said he’s found a particularly receptive audience in the Northwest, where LBM dealers are trying to keep up to date on new products and technologies. On Oct. 31, LaLiberte conducted a workshop for 70 builders in Seattle, and the previous week, a seminar for Stock Lumber in Boise. He said he dreams of the day when most guys behind the lumber counter can freely dispense advice on green building methods.