Mold likely caused by ground water
December 26, 2003
BRECKENRIDGE – Ground water is the most likely culprit for the mold problems at the Breckenridge Terrace housing complex that has forced more than 130 residents to find alternative housing.
Eric Stein, assistant general counsel for Vail Resorts, which owns the 17 buildings on Airport Road in Breckenridge, said a draft report points to “block out” holes where the plumbing comes into the bathroom units as a probable cause.
Property managers discovered the mold in about 40 percent of the buildings in October. At that point, Vail Resorts brought in an industrial hygienist to determine the extent of the mold.
Inspectors from Wiss Janney Elstner, a forensic commercial building inspection team, have spent the past three weeks searching for the cause. They have looked at all the building plans – architectural, engineering, soils, geotechnical reports – conducted tests and examined the flashing, windows, roof vents and other potential culprits.
A survey of units, including unoccupied ones, indicated that humidity levels were “very high” – in the mid-40s, Stein said. Usually, humidity in a house averages 15 to 20 percent.
According to industrial hygienist Joan Wickersheim, mold needs moisture, a proper temperature and humidity, a lack of sunlight and a food source to grow. It feeds on anything organic, including lumber and paper.
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It doesn’t usually present a problem when it is flourishing in wet conditions, Wickersheim said.
“But take away one of those things it needs, and it tries to preserve itself by drying back,” she said. “It creates spore bodies and some molds can shoot them out. Those spores sit and wait for the right environmental conditions and it starts all over.”
It’s those dry spores that cause people problems, including itchy eyes and sneezing. They’ve been found in the carpet and in walls in the units.
“It’s hard to feel the moisture, but it’s there,” Stein said. “We were puzzled, and this answered a question we had.”
The draft report indicates the moisture is coming from each 18-inch-square hole where the plumbing stubs come in to supply water to the bathrooms.
“In my experience, they build foam insulation on the ground and put lightweight concrete under there so you can get to the trap easily,” Stein said. “That’s not the specification here. The holes were left open to the ground. The water (from rainfall or the proximity to the Blue River) needs someplace to escape. It looks like it’s going through the (block-out) holes as well as around the edges of the slab and through the slab.”
Because the bathrooms in each building are stacked atop one another, the moisture was able to travel through the walls into other units.
The mold has not caused any health problems among the people who live there, but Vail Resorts officials wanted to err on the side of caution when they discovered the problem in October.
They notified residents of the problem and provided temporary housing.
Most have moved into Keystone Resort’s employee housing, into units the ski company was able to master-lease for six months or have secured housing on their own.
Vail Resorts extended deadlines to Dec. 31 for some who are having more difficulty finding housing.
Inspectors also are examining the duct work in the bathroom fans and roof vents.
The next step will be to determine solutions and clean the units, Stein said. They also want to determine if installing foam in the block-out squares is standard and if the architect or builder failed to do so.
Then, ski resort officials will “strategize a plan of recovery,” Stein said. That could be done through their own insurance company or a claim against someone else’s insurance company. It could also result in a lawsuit.
“It could have been worse,” Stein said. “But it’s still going to be quite a job.”