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I’m going to get real for a little because I know so many families going through similar struggles and I want to share a little about what we’ve gone through these past 19 months. Although my mold saga started 14 years ago (click here and here to read about my story) we were doing well and avoiding mold and chemicals as best as we could.

Then due to unforeseen circumstances, we stayed in two moldy rentals, one with extremely high levels of Stachybotrys and a few other nasty molds. Within a short period of time, I was very sick and unable to function properly. Every member of the family was affected as well. Each one with different symptoms. Thankfully as soon as we left we began to see improvements in our health. Finding a safe home can be absolutely exhausting and frustrating, especially when something happens that is out of your control. We didn’t know that one of the rental houses had mold until the rainy season began and an entire wall started smelling really bad due to a leak. The second house was more of the same story and we decided to sleep camp outdoors until we could get out of the lease because the indoor air environment was so bad.

Over the last 19 months, we haven’t had a home we could call our own and have lost most of our belongings due to mold contamination several times. From sleeping in a tent, to hotel hopping and sleeping on an enclosed patio, we’ve done it all. It has been exhausting in every single way and has definitely tested us beyond what we thought we could endure. 

So today in this post I wanted to share some important tips for the weary person who is trying to purchase or rent a safe place to call home. 

No Home Is Perfect
I often explain to people that every single house is going to have some sort of mold or moisture issue. You just have to find the home with the least problems and make it yours. When I say “least problems” I don’t mean a home with a serious mold issue or a home damaged by water. 

Unless you build the home yourself using Building Biology principles and work alongside knowledgeable engineers and builders you will most likely never find a home that is free from some sort of mold, moisture issue, or VOC issue. Some homes don’t have a toxic mold problem but are loaded with VOCs due to new materials off-gassing. For those who are chemically sensitive, this can be just as bad as living in a moldy environment.

When trying to rule out mold you soon realize that it is in some way shape or form present in every home. Whether it is a small amount under a bathroom sink, in the HVAC system, or hidden under windows or behind bathroom walls; there is always going to be moisture somewhere that went unchecked and caused mold to grow. Incorrectly installed faucets can cause water damage and mold to grow behind the scenes in new builds.

Sadly, newly constructed homes can be some of the worst for mold growth due to irresponsible building practices and faulty building codes.
The two homes that made us extremely sick were relatively newer homes. New doesn’t always mean better.

If you’re trying to pursue mold avoidance but can’t live on the road or with friends and family, and you’re looking for a home to live in; my best advice is to first walk into the space you are considering and see how you feel.

Chemical Sensitivities/Intolerances
Important Note – Those who are chemically intolerant may sometimes experience similar debilitating symptoms to what mold exposure causes. I know a lot of people who were injured by mold and who also have mild to severe chemical sensitivities and searching for a home has been difficult. The only thing that can make it tricky to determine if an environment is safe, is when there are essential oils and air fresheners being diffused into the air. 

This is why unmasking and learning to understand how your body feels around certain toxins is so important as that will help guide you as you search for a safe place. 
So just keep that in mind when you are checking out new places. Also, if you walk into a building and they are using air fresheners or essential oil diffusers, it can be a dead giveaway that they are trying to hide a mold issue and you may very well end up feeling sick due to both the mold, air fresheners. The same thing can happen with essential oils.

Visiting a Property
Once you are at the property walk and sit near all external walls. Lie down and see if you pick up anything. Often, when I am feeling well and haven’t had a recent toxic exposure to cripple my senses, I’ll walk into a space and know within a few minutes if there is an issue with the air quality. Just by how my body responds I am made aware and that is when I walk out and keep moving. Note that if you are currently living in a moldy environment you may not be able to pick up on mold in other spaces. This happens with chemicals too. It’s called being masked. You can read more about that here.

After you have visually and physically done your own inspections, think about hiring a seasoned engineer who is knowledgeable in regard to mold and water damage in residential dwellings. Have them give you an opinion on how the house was constructed. Also, ask questions to the owner about the home’s history and look up any work permits taken out with the city. 

Sometimes a home will have a small but fixable mold or cosmetic issue that can be taken care of rendering the space safe for you and your family.

After spending time inside and consulting with someone knowledgeable, the second most important thing is finding a qualified home inspector and a qualified mold inspector. It is vital to have a full inspection that will tell you of any potential issues with the structure, electrical, water intrusion, etc.
Mold testing is an important tool but proper mold and property inspections are paramount.

In our search for a home these past two years we saw dozens of homes. Both new and old homes.
About ninety-eight percent of them had mold issues and some of the newer homes had more problems when compared to the older homes. It can be the flip side too so don’t base your choice on new or old.

Look for properly built homes for the climate they are in. I would personally choose a well-built adobe home if I could live in cooler weather year-round. 

Things to Look at Inside. 
Use a moisture meter on external walls, ceilings, baseboards, flooring, bathrooms, and near sources of water like dishwashers, refrigerators, and washing machines. I prefer this brand and model. If budget is an issue, here is a more affordable option. In addition to a moisture meter,  a thermal imaging camera can be helpful too, if you have one readily available. For residential use, this is a good model on the lower end of cost. 
Look at every window from the inside of the house. Are there any gaps, cracks, or visible water damage? Using a good quality flashlight look closely at each wall of the home. Is there any bubbling or peeling of paint? That could indicate a moisture issue. 
Using a high-powered flashlight, check behind all baseboards if you can. Doing this may show you if there is mold growth, water stains, or a current water issue as the baseboard will be stained and or moldy on the side that goes against the wall. Remember water pools downwards so if there’s an active leak you’ll most likely see it behind the baseboards. 
Check behind all appliances. Pull them out. Search for water stains, bubbling paint, etc.
Look inside and around all cabinets; search for swollen wood at the bases or inside, which would point to water damage.
Check for excessive insects as this can be a sign of hidden water damage. Ask if they use pest control and find out why? 
Lift up the toilet tank cover and look at the underside; is it moldy? How about under the toilet seat and inside the toilet bowl; is there mold growth? That can be an indication of too much mold circulating in the environment. 
Check out the outlets and light fixtures? Do they smell funny? In a home with water damage behind walls and in the attic sometimes you will pick up a putrid smell that can be similar to the smell of vomit or an old wet mop. 
Inspect the AC unit thoroughly. Are coils clean? Has a filter been used or is the filter in place moldy? Check all AC vents for rust, excessive dust, discoloration, and mold. Hire a NADCA-certified and licensed AC company to inspect and check the ductwork and the entire HVAC system. I would personally avoid places where the AC handler is in the attic. 

Things to look at Outside 
Make sure the house you are considering has gutters and that the outside walls aren’t cracked allowing for water to get inside. Look at every window from the outside. Are there any gaps, cracks, or visible water damage? See if the home has weep screeds.
Look for gaps, cracks, and stains on the stucco or exterior building materials. If there are sprinklers, turn them on and see if they are wetting the exterior walls. Avoid homes where the sprinklers have been wetting the walls for months or years on end.
Look at the roof for signs of water damage or leaks. 
Does the water pool neat the foundation after a good rain? Is the home on flat ground or elevated with the earth slope downward, allowing for water to move away from the structure? 

A note about moisture meters and thermal infrared cameras.
These are both very important tools when conducting a home inspection. However, if moisture levels are within range and thermal imaging doesn’t pick up anything it doesn’t mean there can’t be mold behind the walls.

If there was a past leak and now the wall and building materials have dried, you won’t pick up elevated moisture levels but you’ll have mold and other toxins encapsulated within the walls. Since all walls breathe this poses a problem, especially for those already injured by mold and experiencing hypersensitivity. Walls with previous water damage that has dried should be removed by a company certified and licensed in mold remediation.

Lastly, note that mold and mycotoxins aren’t the only problems in water-damaged buildings. Endotoxins aka gram-negative bacteria will grow intertwined with mold inside water-damaged buildings and can be toxic to human health. “They are known to be synergistic to the toxic effects of mycotoxins. When Gram-negative bacteria die, the cell wall lysis releasing the endotoxins into the environment. These are inflammatory agents and can severely exacerbate lung disease if inhaled. Their presence can be tested in the dust samples.” Source

Hiring a Mold Inspector
Any areas that look suspicious you can test for mold. I’d personally have cavity samples taken in any area that looks suspicious in addition to samples of the air indoors. I would only do this if my body didn’t pick up anything problematic. I wouldn’t waste money testing a place if I walked in a felt sick. 
Although hiring the services of a seasoned IAQ Professional aka Mold Inspector is costly, for some people it can provide helpful information on areas that are problematic and can point to hidden sources of water damage. A qualified company will do a thorough inspection and they will take their time both indoors and outdoors. Companies that aren’t seasoned run through inspections in an hour. Avoid companies like that. Other companies just do mold testing, without a proper inspection; this is a waste of time and money. If you take the route of hiring a qualified company to inspect and test, make sure you ask them this question. You must do your due diligence. Ask to see samples of their work and reports, and ask for customer reviews and references. Ask, Analyze and then make an educated decision.
Lastly please read this post about testing and why it can be flawed. Relying on testing alone is problematic. 

There is so much more I want to write in this post but I don’t want to make it too long so I may write a follow-up post in the future. If you have questions or would like help vetting companies, please feel free to reach out and I’d be glad to schedule an educational consultation. 

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God bless you,
Chemical Free Gal

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