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Thursday, December 5, 2013

Mold - Not a laughing matter, but not a show stopper either

Recently one of the cartoon strips that runs in the local paper had a series of days were they ran cartoons about the travails of a character that they portrayed as a Realtor®. The Realtor had made a sale and was accompanying the home buyer and their home inspector during the home inspection.  In what was supposed to be humorous (and was), a panel showed the inspector shining his flashlight towards a corner and you saw his comment – “What’s that over in the corner, a moldy piece of cheese?”  From out of the panel you also saw the reaction of the buyer – “Mold! Eeeck! I’m out of here. The sale’s off.”

The extreme reaction to the work “mold” was supposed to be funny and I thought it was at the time; although, I could relate to actual experiences that were almost as extreme. I once accompanied the buyers and their inspector on a home inspection of a house that I represented, because their agent couldn’t be there. Two and a half hours into the inspection, with the buyers present the entire time, the inspector removed a dropped ceiling panel in the basement and discovered some discoloration on the floor joist beams of the first floor that he said were mold. As soon as he said the word mold the buyers’ wife started having an asthma attack and had to leave the house. She had been fine until that point and had been in the basement for quite some time. Just the mention of mold set her off.

The mold that we found in that house was later determined to be a very common type that most likely developed as the wood was awaiting use when the house was built. It had long ago dried up and gone dormant. The home owner paid to have it remediated but those particular buyers walked away from the deal. The presence of mold can have that kind of effect on people. You can read all about mold, the various types and the health hazards by just Googling “mold”; however, I caution you to read enough so that you don’t get just the view of a few panicky people. There are a lot of “may cause”, “could cause” and “may be linked to” statements about potential health hazards. There is also lots and lots of advice on how to deal with mold in your home.

Now, I certainly don’t want to suggest that mold is not an issue to be concerned about. Some mold types are more likely than others to cause health problems and many people have heard about the dreaded black mold, which is a big health issue. The truth is that black mold is very rare, but less toxic or non-toxic molds, like mildew, are very common and can be found in most homes. We can actually blame the efficiency of some of the modern building techniques, which have resulted in very “tight” homes – homes that don’t leak air and that are well insulated. That very tightness also means that air can’t circulate in many of these homes, so any source of dampness can linger and provide one of the necessary ingredients for mold to grow. The other is a source of food for the mold – wood is a favorite source.

One of the sources of moisture that I see most often is the improperly vented bathroom exhaust fan. Too many Do-It-Yourselfers try to install their own bathroom fans and just vent the thing right into the attic space above the bath. That dumps all of the moist bathroom air that results from baths or showers right up into the nice wooden attic space. Mold in the attic is the result. The other thing that I see a lot is more disturbing, because the people who make these mistakes are supposed to professionals and should not let this happen. That is, improper attic ventilation. Roofers who don’t install enough roof venting or soffit venting are usually to blame; however, insulation contractors sometimes do sloppy work and just blow insulation right over the soffit vent opening in the attic. They are supposed to install baffles to allow the soffit air to get to the attic. Make sure that you discuss proper attic ventilation with any contractors that you hire to do roofing or insulation work and have them explain what they are going to do to insure that ventilation.

The other usual suspect for a location of mold in many homes is in the basement. If the basement has concrete block walls, rather than the poured concrete walls that have been fairly standard for 30 years or more, it will usually show some evidence of effervescence, which is water seeping slowly through the pours in the concrete blocks. Where that happens it is not unusual to see mold, either on the blocks or somewhere near. There are special paints to seal the blocks and prevent the water intrusion. Basement laundry areas should also be watched for signs of any mold growth. Of course bathrooms, with tubs and showers provide great places for mildew and mold and have to be constantly kept cleaned.

When buying a home, whether it is new build or a re-sale home, a good home inspection should be done and any issues, including mold, should be dealt with in negotiations with the seller. Mold, like Radon or other environmental or health issues, can be effective remediated and the house made completely healthy.  Most mold remediation companies also provides guarantees that mold will not return in that same area for some period of time, usually between 5 – 10 years.  You may get mold elsewhere in the house, but not there.

It is important to note that depending upon the size of the remediation job it can cost from a few hundred to many thousands of dollars to fix a mold problem. That is not an easy cost for many sellers to swallow, especially if the price has already been negotiated down. The sellers may ask that the buyers split the cost of the remediation with them. There is some logic in that request, since it is the buyer who will get to enjoy the mold-free house for many years. That is between the buyers and sellers. So if you find a piece of moldy cheese under the refrigerator, just throw it out and don’t panic. The bottom line is that finding mold in a house does not need to be a show stopper, just something to be dealt with as a part of the transaction.

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