for July, 2014
Absolutely home buyers should be concerned about molds in their prospective home. Especially when a good home inspector informs them that there are conditions in the house that may produce future out breaks of mold. Maybe there is a bargain to be had in the real estate transaction. A possible diamond in the rough provided the savvy buyers can identify the causes of the mold and prevent future outbreaks.
Lets start at the beginning.
The public image of mold is often misleading and far from the truth. And yes, certain molds are toxic to humans especially if the individual is sensitive or allergic to molds. However, keep in mind that molds are a large class of organisms that serve a very important function in the environment – they decompose and break organic matter as part of the nutrient cycle. They break down fallen leaves from trees and other detritus. Think of the mold that magically appears and grows on our bread if left uneaten for too long.
Molds are ubiquitous. They can be found in our cars, between our toes, the spores can be found floating in the air. The key to mold growth in our homes is a source of moisture and organic matter and humid environment, anything over 65% humidity will support mold.
Where are molds most commonly found in the home?
In short, mold can be found anywhere in the home provided there is a constant source of moisture, poor ventilation situation and organic surface for mold to feed on. It is even possible for mold to grow on dust covered surface where mold feeds on the dust.
Molds are often found in bathrooms because we have a source of moisture when we shower, a condition for poor ventilation and hence the humidity especially in the winter when we close the windows to keep the heat inside. And, we have a source of organic matter – the drywall, particularly around the ceiling because hot humid air tends to rise and hangs out at the ceilings when there is a lack of proper ventilation. Bathrooms are required to have either a window accessible to the exterior or mechanical ventilation to the exterior with a minimum of 50 cubic foot per minute (cfm) exhaustion. It is highly recommend that after a shower, to leave the bathroom exhaust fan on for about 30 minutes to complete vent the humid air to the exterior. A simple timer installed on the exhaust fan will handle that.
Other common areas to find mold is the basement or crawl spaces and attic spaces. The scent of musky dampness is a very good indicator that the environment has poor ventilation and highly likely will have mold somewhere. Often mold is growing behind wood panels, organic surfaces near the floor where the moisture is highest. In the attic, mold will grow right on the wood framing member and roof sheathing.
What all these places have in common is they have poor ventilation and a source of moisture. Basements and crawlspaces are often damp to begin with. The moisture comes from the ground as the foundation is made of cement which is porous. Efflorescence is a good indicator that moisture has moved from inside the cement and onto the surface of the cement. Attics with improper vent discharges often will result in mold growth. For example, bathroom vents, kitchen vents and even dryer vents can be improperly installed to discharge into the attic space instead of directly to the exterior. These vents exhaust moist indoor air supplying the attic with enough moisture to to support mold growth.
Mold is also commonly found in rooms that have an exterior wall where it can be cold during the winter season with insufficient or missing insulation. When the heat is turned on, warm air passes over the cold surface, often the cold corner of a room where the ventilation is poor, the warm air forms condensation on top of the cold surface. This provides enough moisture to support mold growth around those cold corners of the room. To remedy this is simple, ventilate the room. Make sure enough air is circulating the room and insulate the attic and exterior walls to rid the house of those cold corners.
What you should know to get rid of mold in the house.
A good home inspector will be able to explain in detail and in layman terms to their clients what they need to know about mold should the buyers wish to continue with the real estate transaction. What can be done? – depends on the extent of the damage. First, address the root cause. Where is the moisture coming from? Eliminate the source of moisture. Next remove and replace all affected building materials. Ensure there is adequate ventilation in the new construction.
If the extent of the damage includes structural members, this is where it is having such information is priceless as prospective buyer can determine financially if they which of continue, renegotiate the price or walk away from the real estate transaction. If the home buyer decides to proceed with the purchase, they should be fully aware of the risks involved. A good home inspector needs to explain in laymen terms the implications of the risk factors noted. Every risk factor requires a detail explanation to the client.
Good landscaping practices will not only give the house great curb appeal but will also help warm the house during the cold winter and cool it during the hot summers.
What not to do
Lets start with what not to do when it comes to landscaping. Generally speaking, it is not a good idea to have any vegetation right up against the house foundation. There are several reasons for this. Vegetation holds moisture against the foundation and depending on the building material found at the foundation we can get a variety of problems. A common building material is cement. Poured cement, cement blocks, and bricks, wood or metal siding just above the foundation. With moisture retained at the foundation, it accelerates the break down of these building materials through spalling, efflorescence on the foundation and enlargement of cracks in the foundation through weathering and ice expansions as moisture gets into the cracks, freezes and expands the cracks. If wood material is used, the wood rots faster. If metal material is used, rust take place. In addition, the vegetation promotes all sorts of pests and insects you do not want around your house. It is best to just keep the foundation clear of any vegetation.
Another reason to avoid vegetation around the foundation are the roots of plants, particularly perennial weeds and trees. Most tree roots are found within the first 2 feet of topsoil. However, during the dry periods, if there is moisture below 2 feet, the tree roots will seek out that moisture. A source of moisture around the foundation comes from the perimeter drains or weeping tiles. Older houses with mature trees are subject to root damage. Furthermore, the roots will get into the cracks of the foundation and heave the foundation from the side and under the foundation footing.
Also, avoid growing vines on the side of the house. Find out why in my other article about how to inspect landscaping when buying a house.
In general, it is good practice to keep the area found the house foundation clear of vegetation and dry. Gravel provides good drainage sloping away from the house foundation at 1 inch per foot. If water pools around the foundation, the house will have problems.
How landscaping can save on heating and cooling costs
The sun drives the energy on the surface of our planet, so we have to be mindful of its position throughout the day and at different seasons. So with this in mind it comes down to what types of plants we use and where we should plant them. We want large shade providing trees that loose the leaves in the winter time to be planted on the south west side of the house. For example, a mature maple tree provides lots of shade against the hottest period of the day – the sun from the south west direction, the hot afternoons between 1 pm and 5 pm. During the summer the leaves provide a lot of shade and therefore help cool the house as a big shadow is cast to the side of the house. During the winter, the leaves fall off allowing the sun warmth to shine through and onto the house and thus warming the house. So in other words you want deciduous trees planted along the south west direction of the house.
Along the north west side of the house, evergreens, trees with needles that are kept during the winter, should be planted to block the prevailing cold northwest winds during the winter.
So plant trees around the house to save on heating and cooling cost and remember tree roots seek moisture so keep the area around the house foundation draining properly away from the house and dry.