You can remediate, but you can’t hide

You can remediate, but you can’t hide

A new trend I’m seeing in attic mold removal is what I call the “hide-and-hope method.” As in hide the problem and hope the buyer’s home inspector doesn’t find it. I have been installing attic ventilation systems and removing mold from attics for more than 20 years and I am also a licensed home inspector. I can attest that whatever method of mold removal is used, there will always be a telltale sign that remediation was performed.

If a seller does not list the fact that mold remediation was performed on the property and the home inspector finds it, how will that make anyone in the transaction feel? As a real estate agent, you now have to go back to the buyer and tell them that the seller tried to pull a fast one. As the homeowner selling the property, you will always live with the knowledge that you passed along a potential problem to someone else without making him or her aware of it. The buyer now wonders that if the mold issue was not disclosed and an attempt to cover it up was made, what else about the property was not disclosed or covered up. The whole deal is then tainted and trust is broken. The hide-and-hope method is a huge chance to take, creates a red flag for the entire transaction, and I do not recommend it. The home inspection will actually go much better if any known problems and what may or not have been done to fix those problems are disclosed. Honesty is the best policy for all involved.

When Quigley Attic Mold performs attic mold remediation, we list what the original cause of the problem was (for example, bathroom fans venting into the attic, lack of proper ventilation, etc). We then fix the problems that led to the mold growth, and remove the mold. To insure that the mold has been completely removed, we finish each job with an antimicrobial sealant. The sealant is white and contains properties that inhibit new mold growth and makes it extremely easy to see that all mold and any residual stains have been removed. We then provide a transferrable warranty to the homeowner to pass along to the buyer. When the home inspector shows up, he or she can now put in the report that there was a problem caused by such-and-such that had resulted in mold growth.  He or she can now note that the problem was addressed, the mold completely removed and the transferable warranty is in place. Instead of employing the hide-and-hope method, remember that the solve-and-share system works better for all involved in any real estate transaction.

You can remediate, but you can’t hide

Should you install an attic exhaust fan?

The common problem: A client has excess humidity in the attic in the winter and excess heat in the summer. The client applies the logic that installing a fan will cool down the attic and remove the water vapor. This is an erroneous solution put forth by home improvement stores, as well as contractors and home inspectors who mean well but are not certified specialists.

So the question frequently posed to me by a homeowner is, “Should I, or should I not, install a gable vent exhaust fan in my attic?”

The answer is, almost never. In certain circumstances, where no other form of ventilation is feasible, I might consider it, but only after a complete evaluation of the home. The negative air pressure created by the fan can actually make the attic and house warmer, rather than cooler. The fan can draw warmer exhausting air down from the ridge upsetting natural air flow and causing the attic to get warmer. The fan can also pull air conditioned (cooler) air up from the living space causing the house to get warmer while removing the cooler air to the exterior. This causes the air conditioning system to run longer using more electricity, while the gable fan is running using, yup, even more electricity. How efficient or “green” is that? Not very.

Every home is different and requires an evaluation of the whole of its systems, rather than the parts. When your home was built and brand new it had a balanced system. Well-meaning homeowners may inadvertently upset that delicate balance in a number of ways. Adding more insulation, replacing the windows or upgrading the heating system can significantly alter the way a home operates. Unfortunately, the result of these good intentions is usually mold growth in the attic.

You can remediate, but you can’t hide

16 causes of attic mold

When attic mold is involved in the sale of a home, I am frequently asked, “what is the one thing we need to do to correct the attic mold problem”? Unfortunately, it is usually never one thing causing the mold, but instead is a combination of multiple contributors.

Usually, excess moisture enters the attic through the ceiling, utility chases, electrical fixtures, missing or improperly installed insulation, and the attic entry way. This warm moist air is condensing on the colder roof structures during the fall, winter, and spring months. Without proper ventilation, excess moisture cannot be carried away.

Mold in the attic is typically caused by the intrusion of warm moist air due to elevated humidity in the living space from:

1. Cooking and showers;
2. Gas appliances;
3. Excess humidity from clothes dryers;
4. Fish tanks and plants;
5. Wet basements including open sump pump pits, dirt
basements, and foundation cracks;
6. Efflorescence caused by water infiltration into the basement
usually due to improper yard grading;
7. Inadequate ventilation in the attic due to:
A) Blocked, missing, or undersized soffit vents;
B) Blocked, missing, or undersized ridge vent; and,
C) Blocked, missing, or damaged soffit vent chutes.
8. Leaking ductwork due to improperly installed HVAC systems;
9. The bathroom fan venting into the attic or soffit;
10.Excessive or improperly installed insulation including a
missing vapor barrier;
11. A missing attic staircase cover;
12. Open chasses around the plumbing, light fixtures, or
13. A lack of solar drying (trees and shrubs);
14. Roofing, vent pipe flashing, and chimney flashing leaks;
15. Plumbing and heating system leaks; and,
16. Ice dams.

If you are a homeowner, ask yourself this question. Have I done anything to upset the balance of my home’s operating systems? Have you,

1. Upgraded the heating system?
2. Installed replacement windows?
3. Added insulation?
4. Added new siding?
5. Removed trees or shrubs?

If you have replaced something original to the home or from when you purchased the house, it may have impacted the way your home currently functions.

You can remediate, but you can’t hide

If you insulate, you must ventilate.

A client bought a house two years ago with no mold growth in the attic space. He installed replacement windows and added insulation to the attic and basement. The house was warmer but it also retained more water vapor. Since the client did not add ventilation to the attic space to remove the excess water vapor that was created when the house was tightened up, water droplets formed on the attic sheathing (plywood) and allowed the ever-present mold spores floating in the air to start growing. The client created his own mold problem.

I see this time and time again and it is almost always as a result of weatherization programs. The golden rule is, if you insulate, you must ventilate.

wet attic sheathing

You can remediate, but you can’t hide

My wife won’t sleep with me!

A real phone call from a client.

Client: “My wife won’t sleep with me!”

Me: “I’m sorry, what was your question”

Client: “My wife says she cannot breathe in the bedroom, so she will not sleep with me. I need you to come to my house and determine if there is a mold problem.”

Arriving to the rescue, I discovered that plastic had been taped over all of the upstairs bedroom windows, effectively sealing the room off from any fresh air supply. When I was young, everyone knew enough not to put a plastic bag over your head because you would suffocate. These days, common sense seems to fly right out the window.

Me: “Take the plastic off the windows and open them up for some fresh air.”

Client: “I’m trying to reduce my heating bill.”

Me:” At some point you have to determine if the course of action you are taking is logical. It’s great if you can heat your energy efficient and tightly sealed home using only a match. It is not so great if the air quality in your home is so poor that everyone in the house becomes sick.”

My recommendation for healthy air quality is this:

In the summer, use some type of air conditioning system to remove high levels of humidity from the house. Open the windows when the humidity is low to let some fresh air in. Make sure you open the windows in the fall to let trapped moisture out of your home. Trapped moisture will show up on the insides of your windows as warm moist air attaches to the cold glass.

A Helpful Hint: Lower the top sash on a double hung window and raise the bottom sash. This will let stale air out through the top and bring fresh air in through the bottom.

In the winter the mold spores outside are usually covered with a layer of snow. This will be your freshest, cleanest air. Every once in a while, during the winter months, open the windows and let some fresh air in. Your wife will thank you for it.