Construction Problems in Hawaii

Topic: 
Pests, Wood Rot, Mold and Fungus
Topic: 
Structural Issues
Question: 

I have recently moved to Hawaii and am looking at homes to purchase. A lot of the homes have mildew problems on the exterior, on all types of surfaces, from cedar siding to the press board type. Most of the homes have also just painted over the problem. It seems that neglect has a lot to do with it, but the older cedar homes (built in the 1970's) seem to hold up the best. Would they have used pressure treated wood? Will the mold or mildew continue to live in the siding, especially after it's been sealed over with paint? Is there any way to kill it if it has gotten into the siding? If the siding has been freshly painted, is there any way for an inspector to detect underlying mold or mildew? Would a moisture meter detect it? Is there any siding/building material that is more mold/mildew resistant than others? Is there mold/mildew resistant paint products available? I appreciate any information about mold and mildew you can offer. Thanks for your time, Karen

Answer: 

You are asking some very good and important questions. If I answered all of them in depth, I would have to write a whole book. So let me provide you with some of the more important bits of information:

  • Moisture mold and mildew problems should be prevented. Once a problem of this nature has taken place, repairs and very difficult and complex and may not be solvable. For example: there are no simple and safe methods to get rid of a fungal organism infestation in a porous material such as wood. At one point in time we used mercury to kill fungal organisms, then we found out how dangerous that can be!

  • Some 1970's construction is fine, but I recall the 1970 constructed condo we rented in Kona: the elevator floor had rust holes in it, the sliding doors were falling apart and this stucco was damaged. And this was not a cheap condo! I have also seen some very good and very bad construction from earlier and later periods.

  • An inspector must have some tools to test for moisture etc. More importantly the inspector must have the training to know when and how to use the tools. For example: a moisture meter may not detect leaks a few days after a rain storm. A good inspector should be able to find most leaks even during a dry spell.

  • The use of treated lumber is a very good idea (and may be mandatory) in the Islands. But, treated lumber is not magic, e.g. the inside of the lumber which can't be fully treated is subject to rot. Treated lumber structures work well when they are properly designed and installed.

  • Here are a few more choices which make sense to me for Hawaii: metal roofs with wide overhangs, poured concrete foundations, hurricane straps, tile flooring, cross ventilation.

    I hope this helps,

    George