Guidelines for Disaster Recovery . . . supporting a developing Draft for Clean-up, Drying &
Reconstruction of Homes in or near New Orleans
Please read most of the following before skipping to the bottom
to download a copy of the draft guidelines.
THANKS FOR YOUR HELP!
As a building scientist and New Orleans resident, I have elected
myself to write this document. Although others have written various things
along these lines.. (See links within document.)
The draft is both poorly formatted and probably has many errors in content.
Under normal conditions, I would never "publish" such work, but this is an
emergency sitution and as such it
calls for unusual methods and abandonment of concern for what others might
think about my scholarship. I have chosen to purposefully make assertions
about details that I am not completely certain. I have done this with the
hope that my reviewers will either catch the errors or provide the extra
information to allow me to have adequate confidence. I am not an expert
in all of the various fields the guidelines discuss. I am hoping you,
my reviewers will fill those gaps.
I think the other sets of guidelines available to the public
are less appropriate because
unless you live in New Orleans and are paying attention as a building
scientist, you could hardly be expected to know:
- Our Climate:
- Over 60 inches of rain per year -- is not quite a rain-forest
but as often as one month in four years it rains every day and
when it does only construction suitable for a rain-forest will
tolerate the unrelenting exterior wetting.
- High dew-points throughout the year. This condition make
the use of carpets toxic breeding grounds, vinyl wallpaper a
sure site for mold growth, hard-wood flooring over open
crawl-spaces foster a predictable warped wood condition,
algae-covering makes even light-colored roofs dark, and heat
and moisture flows through our wall surfaces cause premature
flaking of paint.
- Following the flood in September there was a two-month
- During half of our current winter days so far,
the highs were above 70 degrees F.
- The near-surface ground temperature is warmer in the winter and cooler
in the summer than we normally condition the living spaces of our homes.
- Our Geology
- Our homes are built on
alluvial deposits. Sagging foundations are the rule. The
resulting house-leakiness is the primary cause of heat
loss/gain and moisture leakage into our homes. Trees speed up
this process. Leaky roofs are often the result as well.
- Extremely high moisture content in the soil together with
the sun's drying effects causes vast amounts of water-vapor
flow through a home, from the bottom to the top. This flow
must pass through ceilings or roofs. If impeded, building
failure is likely.
- The soil is high in clays so it will grossly
expand when wet and contract when dry,
but it will also wick moisture rather than hold water when wet for hours.
- Our Architecture.
- The majority of the homes that were higher than the flood were built
before the advent of air conditioning. To facilitate drying
they were balloon framed, i.e., without top or bottom plates;
they were built to breath and not hold back infiltration. As
we now make them more air-tight and/or add insulation, we retard
those airflows and slow-down drying.
- Slate was the rule in the older homes. The way these
roofs were originally constructed, they could last hundreds of
years, but when they are not allowed to breath because of the
use of underlying felt papers, such roofs rarely last 30 years.
- Cypress was the building material of choice. If your
home has it, deconstructing the walls to allow the studs to dry
out maybe completely unnecessary since the primary need for
that drying: wood rotting fungus, doesn't eat cypress.
- Most of our older homes have double-hung wooden windows
set in frames that are no longer rectangular; thus they cannot
be closed. Usually the upper sash is painted open.
- Our population
- Homeownership was not the rule in New Orleans.
- We have natives who almost never close windows living next to
neighbors who seldom open them.
- Most New Orleanians are very tolerant to mold in high concentrations.
- Common Building materials are not a good match for New Orleans.
- Because the moisture load is twice the sensible cooling
load, standard and nationally-distributed cooling equipment is not
engineered to be a good match for our climate and building stock.
This makes sizing and installation extremely important
- Insulation and windows come with recommendations or construction
that is usually upside or backwards for proper use in our climate.
- Our Changing Conditions
- Outside mold concentrations have become very high.
- Many local or state-sponsored announcements or publications
are available, incomplete, dated, make wrong assumptions
or are written by out-of-state experts who don't know much about
the preceding information.
- No one is talking about wood-rotting fungus, instead the local concern
is mostly limited to mold; but in most cases, the flooded homes are not
occupied and may never be.
- No one is talking about subsidence of homes that were not flooded
but sustained this damage because of the flood.
- The average homeowner doesn't know much about the probability of
whether his home will more likely be bought for renovation/restoration
or more likely bought for the land alone.
- Until early January 2006, most of the recently flooded areas of the city had
no natural gas service. This situation is now changing. But
access to electricity is even more limited. Thus stategies for
drying are usually passive.
- Ten of thousands of homes have been gutted, but only a minority have been
remediated via certification, few were tested properly for moisture,
many are already under-reconstruction, and few official sources are advising
the kinds of steps described in the proposed draft guidelines. Thus
many if not most homes will be put back together with little effort
to make them more resistant to future moisture problems.
- The city is very, very short on building inpsectors, so most errors in
reconstruction will never be checked in time.
- The city is grossly underfunded and has not received promises
much less funds to face the infrastructure rebuilding problems much less the
building-code inspection problems.
- The toxic chemicals in the flood waters have in some cases served to
prevent mold growth. This is probably more bad news rather than
- Most builders and homeowners are firmly convinced about erroneous
or even dangerous building practices including: vinyl wallpaper,
attic fans, ventilated crawlspaces, felt paper under slate roofs,
fiberglass batts, etc. etc.
- Mortgage companies, insurance companies and real-estate agents
are requesting mold certificates, but no one is requesting that
proper steps are take to avoid new moisture problems.
- A large percentage of the restoration work is being done
by out-of-state companies and foreign workers. This situation breeds
defects in climate-appropriate building practices.
- I was lead to believe that some shortened version of what we
compose may be printed and broadly distributed by the City of New Orleans.
- Most current New Orleans residents should be expected to have little to
no Internet access.
The following link allows you to download the current draft of a
work in progress
Disaster Recovery Guidelines.
Plese send your comments to
Signed: Myron Katz.