Case Study: Evidence Of Moisture Could Mean That Your Dream House Is A Nightmare

Homework Paper

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.

Contaminated Homes

My file cabinets are bulging with case histories on recent homebuyers who have suffered financial or health related losses due to water damage and

Petry Dish: Contaminants Sample

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.


Mold: Science or Hype?

New Popularity

Stachybotrys mold magnified 600x

It doesn’t take more than a cursory glance at newspapers, trade journals, or newscasts to recognize that mold has become an issue of public concern. With headlines such as “Black Mold Closes Elementary School” and “Mold Toxins Blamed on Infant Deaths,” fears over mold have sparked multi-million dollar lawsuits, crippled businesses, and forced insurance carriers, homeowners, and landlords to spend billions of dollars in remediation and repair costs. Mold is Old Historically, references to mold go back as far as biblical times, with references to the hazards of mold in Leviticus 13:43. Scientific references to the toxicity of Stachybotrys date back to 1930 when livestock deaths were attributed to ingestion of Stachybotrys-infested hay.

While mold was not recently discovered, numerous factors have influenced public awareness. Three major events propelled the mold issue to the limelight.

a. The first event was a perceived association between the mold Stachybotrys and clustered incidences of Sudden Infant Death in Cleveland, Ohio in 1992.    Initial communications from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) appeared to corroborate that toxins produced by Stachybotrys were likely contributory factors to the deaths.

b. The second event was the Malinda Ballard insurance claim that resulted in national media coverage, a lawsuit against Farmers Insurance Company, and a multimillion-dollar judgement for the policyholder. While expert testimony regarding the health effects of mold was not allowed in the trial, punitive damages for bad faith far exceeded the actual property damages.

c. A third event occurred in the spring of 2002, with Michigan Congressman Conyers’ introduction of “the Malina Bill” (H.R. 5040 referred to as the Toxic Mold Bill). This proposed bill has been stalled, but is expected to be re-introduced. The Malina Bill called for establishing guidelines for mold exposure, disclosure of mold and

2. In addition to the increased media coverage, several other factors have influenced mold awareness.

a. One entity that has impacted mold notoriety is the building industry.

1. Fabricated materials, such as drywall, that are porous and contain high cellulose are not “forgiving” after a water intrusion event. Historically, plaster and concrete were used for interior walls. In contrast to drywall, plaster is not as porous and does not contain high cellulose.

2. A 2002 study by Dr. Susan Doll (Associate for Environmental Health & Engineering of Newton, Massachusetts) demonstrates that Penicillium, Aspergillus grow within 2 – 7 days on partially saturated oriented strand board, ceiling tile, gypsum board, and plywood.

3. The rapid increase in home and building construction also influenced mold growth; many hastily built homes were not constructed to minimize water intrusion and retention. Some of the most common causes of water intrusion and subsequent microbial colonization in new buildings are the absence of weep holes, improper roof ventilation, and improper flashing on doors, windows, and roofs.

b. Another entity that has increased interest and awareness about mold is the scientific community. Whereas mold previously was considered an aesthetic nuisance, it is now associated with illnesses.

1. Academic interest in the study of molds (mycology) has increased.

2. Testing methodologies have improved for evaluating mold in the air and on surfaces.

3. The medical community has also played a role in promoting interest in mold. Physicians are finding that some previously unexplained illnesses can be attributed to mold exposures. Many physicians include information on water damage and mold in patient evaluation forms.


Can Mold Make People Sick?

Q. Can mold make people sick?

A. Excessive mold spores indoors can trigger allergic reactions, breathing disorders, and asthma attacks. Mold spores can become elevated indoors when mold grows on surfaces or when insufficient ventilation or filtration is available to remove mold that comes in from outdoors. Mold can cause adverse health effects, whether the mold is alive or dead. This is the reason why mold growth should be cleaned up by professionals. If microscopic mold spores are spread throughout the indoors, people can react long after mold is improperly removed.


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