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Home & Real Estate

Mold-Free Nation

Builders and planners fight a scourge by starving it at the source.

Hurricane Katrina elevated the lowly mold spore to a prime pestilence. But you need not have your home submerged for two weeks to be attacked. All you need is a modern house designed and built to be more airtight without controlled ventilation. Complex rooflines are prone to leaks. Add to that extra bathrooms and more moisture-producing appliances. No wonder there's a boom in lawsuits over mold.

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But drier times are coming. Whole-house design will partly solve the problem by integrating moisture control with energy efficiency. Building scientists envision a standard for "moisture loads," similar to those for weight. For example, dehumidifying the incoming air before it meets the air-conditioning system means you could run a smaller AC unit. The effort is critical because in many states insurance companies are excluding mold damage from builders' liability insurance and homeowners' standard coverage.

Fortunately, mold-resistant building products, both inside the home and outside, are available. Georgia-Pacific makes drywall faced with fiberglass instead of paper, a favorite food of mold. In a 2,300-square-foot home, that costs an extra $1,000. Builder Michael Speciale, of Austin, Tex., used the drywall throughout the home his father, also named Michael, now lives in. "In Texas, mold is a real nasty word," the elder Speciale says. -- Patricia Mertz Esswein

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