One – on – One…With Paul Schipp
 
July 1st, 2006

May-June 2006

Recently unveiled at the International Builders’ Show, the Responsible Solutions to Mold Coalition (RSMC) is an industry association formed with the help of a grant from USG Corporation. The RSMC’s mission is to ensure more accurate information is disseminated about mold avoidance and moisture control.

In the vanguard of those working to make RSMC a success is Paul Schipp, the senior research associate at USG Corporation’s Research and Technology Innovation Center in Libertyville, Ill. Schipp, the recipient of a Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota School of Engineering and a registered Professional Engineer (P.E.) in the state of Ohio, recently sat down with TileDealer for a wide-ranging interview.

In the following “One-on-One,” he discusses the RSMC’s formation, the broad-based support it’s garnering, and its goal of educating the public and the trades, including tile dealers, to the means of avoiding mold and moisture.

TileDealer: Why was the RSMC founded?

Schipp: It came about primarily because, as you know, mold has been a topic of great concern and interest in recent years in the construction industry. A recent poll of consumers involved in remodeling indicated 86 percent of them were concerned about mold, and 44 percent had previously had problems with mold.

So among homeowners there’s a heightened awareness and concern. When they talked to contractors, 64 percent had a concern and 43 percent felt it was the most important issue they faced. By important, I interpret that to mean they were concerned about delivering the performance expected of them.

USG is a leading manufacturer of building materials. And we’ve become very aware that the most important way for people to be able to deal successfully with the issue of mold is to be armed with accurate information.

There’s a tremendous amount of information about mold out there. But unfortunately, as you dig into it, you find much of the information is misleading or wrong, and much of the accurate information is very technical in nature. It’s very difficult for the layperson to identify what the key points are for their project and their needs. With a lot of different kinds of information available, there was a need for someone to step in and serve as a clearinghouse, trying to distill the useful and accurate information that homeowners, contractors and subcontractors need to know— and get it out to them.

TileDealer: What’s been the response to RSMC?

Schipp: Thus far, it’s been very positive. In the course of a little over a month, we were able to recruit 13 members to initiate the effort, and we have a broad base of support and interest from the building science community as well as from the trades and manufacturers, and the design communities. We all have a role in mold control and moisture control. So it’s been gratifying to see this kind of response.

TileDealer: What are the primary messages you are trying to communicate about mold and moisture control?

Schipp: Our principle message is that mold is fundamentally a moisture control problem, and you must control moisture in buildings if you expect to control mold. There are a number of sub-messages that go with this. Moisture intrusion is primarily a direct result of poor building practices. And ‘building practices’ covers a very broad range.

For instance, a building may be designed well. But if it’s not built according to design, there can be problems resulting from the construction practices and whether or not the materials used were the ones specified for the job. You need to specify the right materials, and also make sure substitutes aren’t used that can degrade the long-term durability and performance of the structure.

Another aspect of our message is that while there are many excellent mold-resistant products, by themselves they are not a solution or a fix for the problem. They are not the answer.

If you have moisture intrusion problems and try to treat it with mold-resistant products, ultimately you’re going to have problems in the building. Even if the mold doesn’t grow on those products, water will find its way to other sensitive elements of the building and mold will manifest itself there.

TileDealer: Is the organization gaining industry buy-in?

Schipp: I would say yes. As I said, we have 13 members actively participating. We’re still in the formation process of establishing the bylaws and the articles of incorporation, and we hope to have that completed soon. We’ve already been contacted by other organizations and companies interested in joining. We decided not to expand our membership until we complete this process of finalizing the bylaws.

We would be pleased to have people contact us. We’re putting together a list of people interested in joining us. Contact info@responsiblemoldsolutions.org. The Web site is www.responsiblemoldsolutions.org.

TileDealer: What are some of the obstacles and opposition RSMC expects to face?

Schipp: At this point, we find we don’t face any obstacles from an industry standpoint. When I’ve spoken with fellow building science researchers and other members of the industry, I’ve been pleased to find there is general support of the message that moisture control is key to mold control.

Probably the biggest challenge we face is the enormous amount of information, mixed with misinformation, out there on the Internet and being promoted. There are many aspects of mold growth in buildings not fully understood in terms of their impacts, and many opportunists who want to promote products that are quick, simple solutions.

And the whole issue of moisture and mold control is a systems issue. There’s very rarely a single cause or party that’s responsible for the problem or that can control the problem. There’s rarely a quick fix, so the systems aspect of this needs to be understood. A lot of the fixes are pretty superficial, in that they can create the appearance the mold has gone away. But it can come back if they haven’t fixed the basic problem with moisture in the building.

TileDealer: Will the organization gain other industry partners from, for instance, the U.S. Green Building Council or EPA?

Schipp: We certainly anticipate that we will see growth in our membership. We’ve been fortunate to attract the Washington, D.C.-based National Institute for Building Sciences (NIBS), and likewise we’ve also had favorable interaction with the USDA Forest Products Laboratory in Madison, a division of the U.S. Forest Services, which is in turn a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In addition, we’ve had participation and assistance from Syracuse University and the Building Research Council, a part of the School of Architecture at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana.

TileDealer: How will the RSMC help the tile dealer?

Schipp: As we’ve discussed, our mission is primarily educational. It’s our intention to identify some of the most important issues for each of the trades, including tile dealers. This gets back to the point I made earlier. Moisture control is a systems issue. There’s no one trade responsible for causing or fixing the problem. It’s usually the result of a series of miscues. But each of the trades is responsible for ensuring the right materials are specified for its part of the job, and that those materials are installed correctly.

Blame is usually assigned to the location where a problem is observed, but that may not be where the problem occurred. There may, for instance, be something else going on undermining a tile installation, such as inappropriate installation of a substrate. What we hope to do is make everyone aware of how they impact the effectiveness of their particular part of the construction, and also help people understand how they impact other aspects of the performance of the building, and vice versa.

One trade following another trade may wind up undoing or damaging work that a previous trade has already completed. If they perceive it as not their problem, they may or may not call attention to the problem if it’s not what they’re directly responsible for. But it IS their problem. It may indirectly impact them, and if there’s a problem, someone’s going to have to deal with it during the lifetime of that building.

From a cost standpoint, the best and least expensive way to do it is to do it right the first time, and prevent problems from happening in the first place.That’s because going back and trying to fix the problem after the building is completed is much more expensive and much more difficult than simply installing all the systems correctly in the first place.

TileDealer: How will the organization communicate with dealers?

Schipp: Training classes are one possibility. We’ve been toying with the idea of creating an interactive interface on our Web site, where tile dealers could make a series of selections. From that, they would be able to identify some of the top 10 issues they need to be aware of for the types of jobs they’re undertaking. That’s one possibility. In the organization of RSMC, we’re looking at having two primary committees. The first would be responsible for identifying the information we wish to communicate and ensuring its accuracy. The second will be responsible for developing the plans and communicating them to the audience, figuring out how to get that message out.I’m an engineer, and I communicate well with engineers. But when I try to communicate [engineering topics] with my wife or daughter, their eyes glaze over. There’s the skill of understanding the technical aspects of the issue, and the skill of being able to communicate non-technically to people who need assistance in identifying what they must be aware of, so they can act on it.

TileDealer: Is the RSMC going to communicate with the public?

Schipp: Definitely yes. Our Web site will be our initial point of contact, and we’ll also do some brochures. That will expand and grow as the organization grows.

TileDealer: Where would you like the RSMC to be in one, five, 10 years?

Schipp: Our hope is that in the near term, we can make a real difference in how people view moisture control, and help them learn to prevent mold growth in their buildings. If we can make our mark in that arena, we hope to expand to a broader discussion of what it takes to keep buildings and homes safe, warm and dry. It’s how to make attractive, comfortable, energy-efficient, healthy places where people enjoy working and living. Moisture control goes far beyond just the issue of preventing mold. It also impacts indoor air quality and health, comfort, energy efficiency, durability and maintenance. It ties into all the attributes we would like and need to have in our buildings.

SOURCE:

Paul Schipp, Senior Research Associate

USG Corporation’s Research and

Technology Innovation Center, Libertyville

847-970-5259

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