By Charles Wardell. A new piece of software may help designers prevent moisture-related woes such as mold and mildew. Toxic mold is being blamed for a growing list of ailments--asthma, sinus infections, and chronic fatigue--spawning "an epidemic of mold claims," according to Sheri A. Mullikin, a Baltimore lawyer who specializes in mold cases. Judgments have been in the millions.

One hard-hit area is Seattle. The city has seen more than $500 million in moisture-related lawsuits during the past three years, according to Michael Aoki-Kramer with the Department of Construction and Land Use. A survey by that department found that 70 percent of the city's apartment and condominium buildings leaked, and that newer buildings had the worst problems. The city turned to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) for help.

The lab's researchers were already developing software to predict leaks in walls, so they revised it to include mold growth. "We transformed our moisture model into a mold-growth model," says ORNL's Jeff Christian. The software will predict which walls will most likely get wet and stay warm long enough to develop mold. "It's the first time that's been done," says Christian.

ORNL researchers are ranking 35 wall designs. While newer buildings have more risk for moisture and mold, Christian insists that energy efficiency isn't going away. "People don't want drafty homes that cost three times more to heat and cool," he says. The data will help him create guidelines for designing buildings that preserve energy and resist moisture. Christian hopes to publish some guidelines on the lab's Web site,, later this year.