Everyday events in the home can cause unhealthy mold to take hold
**By KATHY VAN MULLEKOM**
Daily Press (Newport News, Va.)
It only takes a leaky icemaker or a malfunctioning washing machine to cause water-damage problems in a home
Storm flooding is a nightmare that haunts coastal residents. There’s the damage, the cleanup and the threat of unhealthy mold growing – everywhere.
Yet, everyday events in a kitchen or laundry room can cause mold to develop with or without you realizing it.
Two couples discovered that recently – one after buying a home, one after heading off to work. They share their stories, warning you to read the fine print in legal documents when you buy a home and to pay closer attention to how the icemaker and washing machine perform.
What does “newly remodeled” really mean?
After Aaron and Lee Anne Tragle moved to Yorktown, Va., from Atlanta last November, they wrote a contract to purchase a house. Built in the late 1980s, the residence featured a “newly remodeled kitchen,” complete with Corian counters and a new tile floor, according to the couple.
When Jamison Brown of AmeriSpec Home Inspection Services of Poquoson, Va., looked at the house, he found evidence of Stachybotrys, a black mold that plagues houses, he says. He gave the Tragles a 12-page report on the structure.
The homeowner hired another mold specialist to inspect the home, and a second inspection was done two weeks prior to closing, according to the Tragles. The couple say they received no written reports from those last inspections. Instead, Aaron says he was told no active mold infestation was found and that a preventative fungicide had been sprayed in the crawlspace.
“I thought that was it, so I never gave it another thought,” says Aaron.
At closing in the attorney’s office, the Tragles signed all the closing documents. They didn’t read each paragraph on every page, assuming it was all standard language. Now, they wish they had seen the one paragraph warning that the house had a serious mold condition.
“Our closing attorney never informed us of the letter that was sent to his office from the office of the mold inspection company,” says Aaron. “By acknowledging that paragraph with our signatures, we made our legal battle that much harder.”
While preparing the house for painting, the Tragles developed persistent dry coughs and occasional stomach cramping. Their daughter, Lexie, 2 at the time, had nosebleeds; son Tommy, 4, coughed too much.
“At that point, we thought we’d caught something,” says Lee Anne.
While they worked, they pulled out the stove in the kitchen and were alarmed when they saw the back was all black with mold.
“Right then and there I know this is not good,” says Aaron. “The whole house is done in wallpaper, and the paste is a food source for mold.”
Wallpaper professionals finished stripping the walls and found a moldy area behind the refrigerator. They recommended the Tragles get the house tested for mold. McKee Environmental Inc. of Virginia Beach, Va., assessed the house, finding toxic mold in the walls, ducts and subflooring of the kitchen. Moisture damage extended beyond that area. No water leaks were found, but McKee believes the water supply line to the icemaker was the culprit because a line had been replaced. Under the house, insulation in that area was also new.
The Tragles soon discovered the new kitchen floor tile actually covered up major damage underneath.
“The most common cause of mold in homes is uncontrolled moisture,” says Eric McKee, a mechanical engineer with numerous certifications and professional memberships associated with air quality. “Keeping homes painted, caulked and roofs in good condition go a long way to preventing homes from moisture damage.”
McKee’s 16-page report on the house recommended stripping the kitchen down to the wall studs and floor joists, then having a mold remediation company remove the contamination according to Environmental Protection Agency standards. The Tragles employed Peerless Carpet Care and Restoration Services, also in Yorktown, to do the work, which included using dry ice to blast off the first layer of wood, then two applications of an anti-microbial paint. The dry ice is faster and safer than using a sander or wire brush to prep the wood, says Dwayne Ward, a supervisor with Peerless. Special vacuums removed all dust particles, and an independent environmentalist tested to make sure all is well.
The Tragles consulted with a lawyer, hoping to convince the seller to cover some of the $40,000 it is costing them to put the house back together. After spending $3,000 with a lawyer, the Tragles realized they are on their own. “In Virginia, buyer beware,” says Aaron.
During all this, they rented a home, stored furniture that wouldn’t fit in their smaller quarters and wished things had gone differently. The Tragles hope to move into their home in early fall.
“If I had gotten that mold document in the beginning, the contract to buy the house would have been over and done with,” says Aaron, shaking his head.
“The inspectors did their job. We’ve owned houses and know what we’re doing. We want people to know what happened to us so, hopefully, others can avoid the same mistake.”
Should you leave the washer running while you’re gone?
In Hampton, Va., the water problem at the home of Gene and Tish Llaneza was serious, but quicker to fix and deal with in the short term.
Gene loaded the clothes washer at 7 a.m. one morning, then left for work with the machine still running. The overflow valve malfunctioned, allowing the washer to flow until his mother arrived at 2 p.m. to let the dog out. She saw water running out of the garage and down the sidewalk. A neighbor cut the water off, but not before it had flooded the entire first floor with 2 inches of water.
Carpets, recently installed hardwood and vinyl flooring have been removed. Parts of walls have been replaced and new cabinets are going in.
They, too, hired Peerless Restoration, which used three dehumidifiers and five fans to help dry out the house. Fortunately for the Llanezas, homeowners’ insurance covers the $8,000 in damages because it was an unforeseen accident; they are upgrading some items, personally paying about $6,000 for those improvements.
Then, there was another water incident. A few days after the washer did its thing, the air-conditioner coils in the attic clogged, causing the overflow pan to drip through the ceiling.
“Thank goodness for the Lazy-Boy chair being under the ceiling,” says an exasperated Tish. “It was piled with pillows that did a great job of absorbing the water.”
What advice do the Llanezas have for busy households? Don’t run appliances when you’re not at home – and check drain systems for AC units.
“At least the washer wasn’t on the second floor or the damage could have been a lot worse,” says Tish.
Moisture and mold
What does mold need? Jamison Brown of AmeriSpec Home Inspection Services in Poquoson, Va., says musty odors indicate conditions ripe for mold or mildew, but are often overlooked for many reasons. Mold is common in our environment and doesn’t become a problem until a water source is provided, allowing mold to flourish. Water and cellulose-based materials, such as sheet rock, wood, cardboard, paper or jute-backed carpeting, are the perfect environments for mold to grow, he says.
Given the right conditions, mold grows within 24 hours.
What does an inspector look for? An inspector starts with a home’s exterior, looking for poor water control and ways water can get into the building, says Jamison. In addition, poor ventilation, improper vapor barriers and leaking faucets and/or drain pipes help mold grow. Other indicators of moisture problems are ceiling, attic and roof sheathing stains, as well as water condensation on the interior panes of windows.