As general manager of the brand new Hampton Inn and Suites in Tarpon Springs, FL, Bob Kareska was understandably unpleasantly surprised when mildew began appearing in upper floor guest rooms during the summer of 2003.

“The mildew first appeared in June on the walls around electrical outlets and in the matting of artwork affixed to the walls,” said Kareska. “I was shocked that we would have a problem like this when we had just opened six months earlier.”

Although the affected areas were cleaned thoroughly, the mildew returned and Kareska began looking for professional assistance to eradicate the mildew before it became more prevalent.

Luckily, Kareska heard about the Space Alliance Technology Outreach Program (SATOP) from a representative of the Tarpon Springs Chamber of Commerce and he quickly submitted a Request for Technical Assistance (RTA) to SATOP.

Christophe Gilfriche, SATOP senior program engineer, assigned the Hampton Inn RTA
to David Dai, systems engineer with Alliance Partner GB TECH in Houston. Dai asked Kareska to perform a few tests that would give him an idea of how much moisture was accumulating and help him identify its source. Dai also reviewed and analyzed the building’s structure, especially the ventilation system.

Dai identified a surprising cause of the mildew. Although Kareska and his staff originally had suspected that the problem was a roof leak or moisture wicking up the walls from the ground outside, Dai discovered that the real culprits were two rooftop fans that ran constantly. The fans, which pull air through the hotel’s bathroom ventilation system, were actually drawing hot, humid air into the attic and down into the walls of the building. When the hot air met cold spots inside the walls, such as electrical outlets or the studs on which artwork was mounted, moisture formed and mildew developed.

“We see similar situations here in Texas,” Dai said. “A lot of building designs fail to consider Florida’s very hot and humid weather. The good news is that the Hampton Inn didn’t require any structural changes or expensive repairs to solve the mildew problem – the solution was quite simple.”

Dai recommended that Kareska regulate the operating time of two rooftop fans, and make sure that the air conditioning dehumidification process functions correctly. After the fans were put on timers so that they no longer ran constantly, the mildew problem disappeared. The previously affected rooms were cleaned and disinfected and, in the ensuing months, have remained free of mildew.

Kareska was so pleased with the results of his involvement with SATOP that he has offered his experience to other Hampton Inns to encourage them to utilize the program for any technical challenges they may be facing.
“Without SATOP’s help, there is no telling when we could have successfully tracked down the source of the moisture, and it was vitally important to stop the mildew before it became a serious problem,” said Kareska. “We easily could have spent quite a bit of time and money on solutions that never would have addressed the actual causes of the mildew. Instead, we’re now mildew free, thanks to SATOP.”