Chills ran down my spine as a father recently shared with me a story that his teen-aged son had written for school. The boy’s story is woven around the true tale of his family moving into what they thought was their dream home. Interwoven into the story was a make believe piece of paper found in the crawlspace of the home.
The paper was a promissory note to grant three wishes. The note was forgotten until disaster struck the family. The disaster part of the story was true. Shortly after moving day, his family was driven out of their dream home because it was infested with toxic mold that had penetrated into wall cavities, floors, and ceilings.
Feeling homeless in a hotel room, the son remembered the note and wished that his family could revert to life before the moldy house. The wish came true and all was well until the son started doing poorly in school. Difficulty with schoolwork was also a true part of the story. The son’s doctor attributed memory loss and difficulty concentrating to mold and toxin exposure in the home.
Remembering the note, the son wished to be smart again. His second wish was granted and all was well until he received the devastating news that his parents and brother were killed in a car accident. Thankful for one last wish, the son requested that his family be brought back to him. Once again all was well until the parents surprised him with the news that they had found the house of their dreams.
Knowing that only he had any recollection of life before the three wishes, the son was filled with anxiety as the family drove to see the dream home. He wanted to believe that his worst nightmares would not come true. However, as the car turned the corner in the beautifully landscaped sub-division leading to the “mold house,” the son wished that he could convince his family that this was not the house of their dreams. No wishes were left.
My file cabinets are bulging with case histories on recent homebuyers who have suffered financial or health related losses due to water damage and
mold in their homes. In most cases, the buyers had assumed they were protected from water damage and mold because inspectors were hired to evaluate the home and the sellers had signed disclosure documents regarding previous damage.
Most of these cases will result in years of litigation, endless arbitration with insurance companies, or bankruptcy. Whether or not financial losses are recovered, the emotional and medical costs consequent to living in a contaminated home are usually devastating. The son’s references to death and fear in the three wishes story underscores the psychological aftermath that family members, especially children, can experience.
Inspection for Water Damage
Fortunately, unwise purchases can be avoided with a focused water damage inspection. The inspection should begin outdoors where disconnected downspouts, clogged gutters, warped roof shingles, insufficient landscape grade, and exterior mold and water staining could indicate water problems.
Indoors, musty or unpleasant odors suggest that a home has experienced water damage. Mold is often hidden in wall cavities, while odors are still apparent.
Visible signs of water intrusion in the living spaces include:
♦ Condensation on windows
♦ Wood rot around windows
♦ Peeling wallpaper or paint
♦ Bowing of walls or ceilings
♦ Water in floor vents
♦ Cracks in ceilings
♦ Stains on tack strips and sub-floor
♦ Chronic moisture can cause growth on walls. The most prevalent areas of growth are behind baseboards, in corners at
ceilings, and perimeter walls behind heavy furniture.
Basements tend to be mold havens. Inspection should begin with examining the floor and walls around the furnace and hot water heater for rust and water stains. All paneling and drywall should be checked for stains and mold growth, especially at the floor level. Discoloration and mold growth on the ceilings under bathrooms and kitchens can indicate chronic or historical leakage. Unfinished foundation walls should be free of cracks and water stains. Water stained or moldy contents are also good indicators of water damage. If the home has a crawlspace, check for inadequate ventilation, wet soil, and musty odors.
Attic: No water damage inspection is complete without examining the attic. Signs of water intrusion into the attic include discoloration on the decking, warped wood, condensation on the walls and ceiling, mold on insulation, and musty odors. Since inadequate ventilation can result in condensation, the roof and soffits should be examined to insure that adequate ventilation is in place.
Visual inspections by buyers can expose the need for more in-depth investigations. However, no home purchase should be completed without the services of a reputable independent home inspector. Instead of choosing a home inspector that is referred by the real estate agency, ask for referrals from satisfied homebuyers.