Let’s talk about Mold

Most of know it’s not healthy for us when inhaling or coming in contact with it.   Once and awhile I will receive a phone call asking for Mold testing.  As we do not perform Mold test, I will usually state let us inspect the home first to see what we notice first,  before spending extra money on testing.  If you can smell or visual see it, you most likely have it.  How bad is the question.  Every home has a degree of Mold in it.   We want to be equal or less to the outside air count.  As you may know, some days the outside air is higher with Mold spores then others.  The nice thing about our homes is we have the availability to control the inside air.

The simple fact is, Mold needs moisture to grow.  So, eliminating the source and keeping your home humidity levels down helps tremendously.  This will also help with other pest, such as dust mites and cockroaches.   You definitely want your home less then 60% humidity and actually more like 40%.   Mold can grow in 60%.  Ways to keep it down are running bath fans (and they should be vented directly to the exterior), Humidistat that control a HRV (heat recovery ventilator, which basically brings in fresh air) or is connected to your bath fans turning them on when humidity levels get high in the home.  Dehumidifiers in the lower levels will also help.  During colder months turn your fan motor to “on” instead of “auto” on your furnace to move the air in the home and homes built in the last 20 years or so have a fresh air intake on the furnace’s duct work that brings dry air in from outside. (similar to an HRV as mentioned before).   Suggest have ducts cleaned.  Change furnace filter regularly, and you can even install a UV light that helps kill bacteria, duct mites, and mold.  Fresh air intakes or HRV’s can help reduce moisture levels and keep interior air healthier.  All this should and can help reduce general humidity levels in your home.

The second thing to talk about is moisture in general.  This can include areas like crawl spaces, basements and attics that can accumulate moisture if not properly vented, sealed or have moisture issues.   Leaky or damp foundations is most likely the cause for Mold issues.   Keeping a basement or crawl space dry is a must.  Some simple things to do to help reduce basement moisture are making sure your grading around the home is positively pitched away from the foundation.  Downspouts are connected properly and extended away from the foundation or into a storm drain.  Cover window wells.  Suggest a running dehumidifier.  Even, carpet on concrete, can hold enough moisture for Mold to grow in the carpet fibers, because the concrete is damp, .  The dryer you can keep the lower level the better.  For issues like seepage, leakage from cracks or higher levels of dampness on floors and walls, you may need to look into installing an internal drain system the leads to a sump pit and possibly patching cracks.  Suggest consulting a foundation specialist for more information.   Issues will very from home to home depending on age, type of foundation and if there is a drain tile system installed.  Attics need good ventilation, make sure no exhaust vents are venting into attic or chase ways (like chimneys) are sealed.  You don’t want air from the home ex-filtrating into the attic.  Monitor for roof leaks, usually around penetrations.  Mold destroys the surface it grows on, in the case of being in the attic, it will break down the plywood roof sheathing or structural members if an issues is not corrected.

Lastly, if you do have a major leak from plumbing, basement or a roof leak, try to dry it out within 24-48 hrs.  I call these one time leaks, generally don’t cause any issues if dried completely and correctly.   Mold will not accumulate that fast.  However, if let go or undiscovered, Mold will have a change to accumulate and you’ll need to take more precautions and possibly have to even call in a restoration company.   If you get anything from this article, it’s to make sure Mold doesn’t have a source of moisture.  Dampness in the corner of the basemen or a small drip on a pipe can be a source.  Eliminate moisture sources and it will reduce Mold growth.

Some interesting facts:

  1. Mold is not a plant or an animal  it is classified as Kingdom: Fungi
  2. EPA does not have any standards for Mold
  3. Due to popular belief, it is not recommended to spray bleach on mold
  4. Dead Mold can be just as harmful as active Mold spores
  5. If you can visibly see Mold, there is usually no need to test, it needs evaluation and to be cleaned.  Testing is handy if you feel there is a hidden issue.
  6. In general, an area 3×3 or smaller can be cleaned or repaired by yourself, if the area is larger you should call in a professional
  7. Use your senses, if you can see or smell Mold, eliminate the source of moisture, dry and clean the area.  Remember Mold destroys the surface they live on, not taken care of can eventually cause more damage and health issues.

Musty Basement

Hello everyone,

I wanted to send out a quick note about a musty basement I was in.   I performed a home inspection the other day in a home that was nicely updated.  Even the basement had been finished off.  However, this was the problem.  As I walked downstairs I was hit in the face with a poignant musty smell in the finished area.   Then I start to question, did they finish the basement to hide something?  Did they take proper precautions to reduce moisture and seepage concerns?

As I was walking around looking at things, my throat was becoming irritated (and now the next day it almost feels like I have a cold -sore throat, mucus).  Clients need to be aware and use there senses in situations like this, not only visually but in this case smell.  A good rule of thumb is if you smell a mustiness, there is a moisture issue.  With high levels of moisture there can be the growth of mold.

In this unfortunate case, the walls were completely covered except for a small closet type door where I could see the block foundation.  Older block foundations without proper drainage can have moisture issues.  The cores of the block can even hold water.   The block walls had yellow staining, surface deterioration and you could see where even some mortar joints were deteriorating.  All indicating moisture.  The problem I have here is that the walls have been finished without taking proper steps to reduce moisture and most likely hiding underlying issues.  The plaster on the back wall felt loose and was letting go from the block, also indicating moisture.  This home should have a foundation specialist brought in and a proper drain system installed.  The problem is the price point of the home vs the cost of the drain system.  Most people don’t want to spend this amount to fix an important issue, so owners will sometimes cover the walls in these conditions, as it’s less expensive.

My point of this blog is to bring awareness about the home you fell in love with, it could have underlying health issues associated with it.  The basement moisture issues should be resolved no matter the cost and at the time of the transaction.  The buyer and seller should work together to get to the bottom of the cause.   It’s your health and there are other homes out there if the issue can not be resolved.   Remember, If you are looking at homes and there is a severe musty smell in the lower level with fresh new finished walls, be aware.

 

 

GFCI locations and electrical issues

When performing a home inspection, I note issues related to incorrect outlets.  Whats important to know here is that some of the issues noted where acceptable when the home was built.  As standards change over the years previous situations become “unsafe” or “unacceptable”.  This goes for many things, but I’ll stick to outlets in this post.   Now the issue becomes,  who should upgrade the outlets?   Should the home owner who lived there for years, the issue was acceptable when the home was built and is grandfathered, or should the buyer update the outlets once moved in?   I personally feel the later.  Let me point out, this is for non-compliant existing outlets, not faulty ones.  Also, if any remodeling has been done, or updating to any outlets then they should be brought up to today’s standards by the current home owner.  See how this gets confusing very easily.  The reason for this post is to educate buyers and sellers about the issues with outlets.

I will try and keep it simple and just want to talk about the types, locations and do not want get technical as to how they operate.   Keep in mind there may be acceptations to the rules and an electrician should always be consulted if anything is in question.  Lets begin:

2 Pronged outlets (ungrounded outlets)

  • You will find these in older homes pre-1970s.  Acceptable outlets to find in a home.  They do not have a ground, just a hot and neutral wire (2 slots).  This is called an ungrounded outlet (different from open ground).  The issue here is when we find them in area’s where GFCI’s should now be located (I’ll get to that).  I will call them out letting my clients know of the safety concern and that they should be updated to meet today’s standards.  Again, the seller’s home is most likely grandfathered and they are not required to upgrade them unless there was some sort of upgrade already.

Open grounded outlets

  • To continue with 2 prong outlets, open ground outlets are general found when someone upgrades 2 prong outlets to 3 prong outlets (the normal ones we see today).  The issue here is that there are only 2 wires leading to the outlet, so when the person puts the 3 prong outlet in there is not a ground wire.  This is called an open ground and is a hazard.  Due to the fact you can now plug a 3 prong cord into this outlet, but you are not grounded.   In these cases, this is considered a defect and should be rectified immediately.   Again, this is an issue because someone changed an acceptable 2 prong outlets to 3 prong outlets and wired them incorrectly (faulty outlets).  Consult an electrician and there are acceptable ways usually using GFCI outlets to correct this issue.  In most cases the sellers should repair this issue.

GFCI’s

  • Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter.  This type of outlet can detect moisture and will trip in one-tenth of a second.  As years past, GFCI’s have been implemented in certain locations in your home (I’ll post a timeline at the end).  So, basically this day and age, GFCI outlets are need in the Kitchen, Bathrooms, Exterior, Garage, Unfinished Basements, and anyplace near water, such as pool pumps, whirlpools, saunas, pond pumps etc.  You get the idea.  The argument becomes, when the GFCI is missing in a location where today there should be one.   Again, standards change and what is important here is that we as inspectors point it out.  Someone at some point should update the safety concern, even though is was acceptable years ago.  This is why standards change in the first place, go try and protect you.   In short, if it is grandfathered, they buyer should upgrade the outlets once moved in, if there was an upgrade and the outlet was not changed, then the seller should repair the issue.  (I know, confusing-the main point here is that it should be upgraded at some point and it generally not a big expense).  On a side note, I do not recommend having refrigerators or freezers plugged into GFCI circuits.

AFCI’s

  • Arc Fault Circuit Interrupter.  This circuit protects against any type of ARC in the circuit, that could cause a fire and will trip the breaker.  This type of protection has become a standard within the last few years (about 8 years ago at the time of this post).  This is generally a breaker in the main electrical panel that protects more or less living space outlets, such as bedrooms, dining and living room (non GFCI outlets basically).  Most inspectors do not point this out in older homes. nor require a home to be upgraded do to a safety concern about this type of outlet.  It would be a good idea to upgrade the breakers feeding your living spaces, if any electrical or remodeling upgrade occur.  However, most people don’t and at this point are only installed in new construction.

Tamper Proof outlets

  • Since 2014, standards are requiring new homes to have tamper-proof outlets.  These particular outlets basically have a window over the slots that slides when something is plugged in.  The theory here is that children shouldn’t be able to stick fingers and items into the outlet.  Again, there is no need to run out and change all your outlets, but again, if any remodeling or upgrading is done, then it is suggested to install the proper outlet for the situation.

To summarize, if you intend to finish a basement or do any remodeling, it is suggested and often required, to upgrade the electrical.  With that said, there is no harm in updating your outlets even with no major renovations.  The building standards are guide lines to protect us and do change over the years.  So, when I do a home inspection for my clients, I point out the changes and the concerns there now may be and suggest it become updated for their safety.

Below is a timeline of when GFCI  and AFCI outlets became standard:

NEC requirements (and effective date):
  • Underwater pool lighting (since 1968)
  • Exterior (since 1973)
  • Bathrooms (since 1975)
  • Garages (since 1978)
  • Kitchens (since 1987)
  • Crawl spaces and unfinished basements (since 1990)
  • Wet bar sinks (since 1993)
  • Laundry and utility sinks (since 2005)
  • Arc Fault (2008)
  • Tamper proof outlets (2014)