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 homes, 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. We didn’t know the houses had mold until the rainy season started in one home and an entire wall started smelling really bad. The second house we stayed in for about a month before we decided to sleep in a tent outdoors until we could get out of the lease.
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 in 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.
Recently we found an older home and decided to see if we could work to make it a safe option for us. Out of dozens of homes we saw and inspected this older, smaller home was the one with the least issues.
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.
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 mold but are loaded with VOCs due to new materials offgassing. This can be just as bad as living in a moldy environment.
When trying to rule out mold you soon realize that it is everywhere. Whether it is 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 and are 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. I have to add this note here because I know a lot of people who were injured by mold also have mild to severe chemical sensitivities. The only thing that makes it difficult at times to determine if an environment is safe for me is when there are essential oils and air fresheners being diffused into the air.
As I am chemically intolerant I sometimes experience the same debilitating symptoms that mold causes when I am around chemicals. So just keep that in mind when you are checking out new places. If you walk into a building and they are using air fresheners it can be a dead give away that they are trying to hide a mold issue and you may very well end up feeling sick due to both the mold and air fresheners. The same thing can happen with essential oils.
Once you are at the property walk and sit near all external walls. Lie down and see if you pick up anything. Often I’ll walk into a space and know within a few minutes if there is an issue with 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. Its called being masked. You can read more about that here.
After you have visually and physically done your own inspections, hire a seasoned engineer who is knowledgeable in regards to mold and water damage in residential dwellings. Have them give you an opinion on how the house was constructed.
I can’t stress this enough. Sometimes a home will have a small but fixable mold 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 a proper mold and property inspection are paramount.
In our search for a home these past two years we saw over 200 homes. Both new and old homes.
About ninety-eight percent of them had mold issues and 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. I would personally choose a well built adobe home if I could. My next choice would be a concrete block or brick home. 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. 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, attic, basement, and ceilings. If there is an attic check for gaps or holes between the attic and the wall cavities below, there should be no holes or gaps.
Check behind all baseboards if you can. Gently popping off baseboard can show you if there is mold 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.
Look at all cabinets, search for swollen wood at the bases which would point to water damage.
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.
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 biotoxins encapsulated within the walls. Since all walls breathe this poses a problem especially for those already injured by mold. 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 problem in water-damaged buildings. Endotoxins aka gram-negative bacteria will grow intertwined with mold inside of water-damaged buildings and can be very 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
Mycotoxins and endotoxins should not be present in ANY amount. If you are dealing with Mold in your place of work please read my article entitled: How to Handle Mold/Mycotoxin Exposure at Home or at Work – Where To Get Help
Although hiring the services of a seasoned IAQ Professional is costly, it is a good route to take if you want to be certain of the presence of toxic mold in your home and or if you and your family are sick with unexplained symptoms. A qualified professional will do a thorough inspection which is paramount. Mold testing without a proper inspection is a waste of time and money.
There is so much more I want to write in this post but I don’t want to make it too long so I’ll be writing a few follow up posts in the near future.
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God bless you,
Chemical Free Gal