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My Home Is Sick: Need Help

Hi, 

I found your website and I have been reading the articles. I have not found one that addresses my issue so I am writing to you. I am at my wits end with my house. I love the title of your of website because I have put a lot of money in my house and I still cannot sleep comfortable at night.

We are having symptoms that can be related to mold but we cannot find evidence of mold in the house.

Here is my background: I live in FL in a 1960 remolded brick house (1400sq) that is 100% tile and I have no pets. I do have ceiling fans and central air. I lived in the house for the last 3 years and for the last 2 we had several issues with mold that were fixed and remediated. Someone thought, maybe I did not get "all" the mold. Now, I still feel like "an eyelash" is in my eyes. This can be sitting up or lying down. My eight year old daughter complains her eyelashes hurt and her underarms itch. When she first walks into the house after being gone for several hours, she will sneeze at least 1x within 5-10min. It normally takes me longer to sneeze, but I will, let's say in the afternoon after being home all day. Since Oct 2015, I had several inspections to include thermal imaging and have no water leaks on the plumbing, roof, foundation or windows. All the areas that were previous affected were rechecked and nothing was identified by the camera or moisture meter. I have leather living room furniture and have taken out all the area rugs. I have central air and I have had the air ducts cleaned. I am changing my air filter 1x a month. In Oct, I also had my AC Tech open the inside of the AC unit and there is no condensation or mold visual on the coils or the blower. He installed a UV light. For the last 2 weeks that AC unit has been off because of the nice temperatures and I am still have the symptoms (AC on or off does not matter).

I had 2 Air Quality inspections. In Oct, the mold count for one room Main Living/Kitchen was a total of 11 (AC on) Ascospores (1) Aspergillus/Penicillium (6), Basidiospores (2), Curvularia (1), Smut/Myxomyces/Pericona (1). In Dec, I used a different Air Quality Inspection Company who used a different lab company. He checked three different rooms (AC Off). Main Living/Kitchen 17 -Ascospores (1), Basidiospores (12), Cladosporium (2), Ganoderma (2). My Daughter's bedroom-Basidiospores (9). Master Bedroom-Basidospores (6), Cladosporium (2) and Pencillium/Aspergillus (1). Both Inspectors are saying these numbers are so low that we should not be having these symptoms.

In Dec, I had my Carpenter to take down all old 1960 wood which included top kitchen cabinets, hall closets (framing, doors, baseboards) and 2 bedroom closets (framing, doors, baseboards). I used to say my daughter bedroom smelled like my grandma (this was her bedroom before she died). When we removed the baseboards in my daughter's bedroom closet the "funny" smell began stronger. But, there was no mold on the back of the baseboards. Then, I had 2 feet of plaster drywall cut at the bottom of the closet and there was no mold on the back of the drywall. Yet, the strong smell persisted. I then cut out the firm strips along the framing. The smell persisted. I have treated the wood framing with Fiberlock detergent and a brush. After that treatment I painted the exposed beams with a mold killing white primer. There is still a very faint odor when you walk in the closet. Is the smell connected to the allergy symptoms? Should I cut more dry wall and possible the wood framing?

I am confused because our symptoms can be felt in any room in the house. My daughter tested for allergies of dust, cats, dogs, oak trees. My test said I had no allergens. I have the special pillow cases and mattress pads. This has been a persistent issue. I am planning to have another air quality inspection to see what my numbers are all my latest efforts. I have wiped down every wall, floor, ceiling and baseboard with warm water and white vinegar. The house has new paint as of three years ago. I purchased the led paint test kit and rubbed it on all walls and it did not change colors.

Can this be from a gas? I have propane water heater, stove and oven. I changed my cooked top in Sep because with my old cooktop the pilot was lit all the time. When my new one was install (goes click, click then fires) the gas company came out to inspect and did a pressure test, everything was okay. I have a carbon monoxide monitor. We don't have the symptoms of the radon gas. The only other gas I heard of was plumbing gas. All my plumbing seems ok. The last inspector says I can get a more expensive test to see anything is "off-gassing." He also said there was some expensive solution that is used to clean sports locker rooms that can be sprayed in my house. As you may have guessed my anxiety is high over my house. Plus, my money is running low.

Ericka

Our Answer

Hi Erica, I'm sorry to hear about the troubles with your house.  One question I have -- do your family's symptoms persist when you at NOT at home?  Have you take a few days away from the house and noticed the symptoms decrease?  If so, then the home may very well be the issue.

Its not possible to diagnose this from afar but I would be looking for a building scientist to help.  Diagnosing sick homes is very special skill and while some inspectors may find limited issues, its possible that they could miss the root of the problem.  

The other idea I might suggest you consider is an air ERV or HRV unit.  These are air to air heat exchangers that allow fresh air to enter the building to replace the stale air inside, but recover and heat or cool in the air so as to not drove up energy bills.  

Hope this is of some help. 

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Standing Water Under House When It Rains – How To Stop It?

My home is brick, and every time it rains I end up with standing water under the house. Originally I thought it may have been coming in the vents around the foundation. I dug down to the bottom of the foundation at each of the vents, poured a u-shaped 6 inch wide concrete pad around each vent so the water could not get to them, and filled the void with gravel. This did not help at all so I thought maybe it was seeping in through the foundation because when i crawled under while it was raining the front wall seemed really damp. So I dug down to the bottom of the foundation all the way around the house and covered it with a tar-like substance from Lowes. I put on two coats and then let it sit a couple of days before putting the dirt back. It rained for the first time since yesterday and I have a huge puddle of water under the front room of my house again. I do not know where to go from here. Could the water be leaking on the back side of the bricks and running under the house? There are no signs of water inside the house. Please help.

Our Answer

I'm so sorry to hear the extraordinary lengths you've gone to in efforts to pinpoint - and fix - this problem.  I wish you'd reached out sooner, because as soon as I read your first sentence - "every times it rains I end up with standing water under ths house" - I understood the issue and could provide a solution. 
The reason spaces and basements flood is because water collects at the foundation perimeter and seeps through or under the foundation into the space below.  To keep water out, you have to first assess the condition of your gutters.  Assuming you have gutters (which you must!), you need to make sure there's an adequate number of downspouts -  at least one per every 600-800 square feet of your home's footprint.  Even more, you need to make sure your gutters are clean and free-flowing, and that they discharge at least 6 to 8 feet from your home's foundation.  If they don't, extending your existing gutters is simple. 
Next, assess your grading, which is the angle of soil around your foundation's perimeter.  Make sure the soil slopes at least six inches over the first four feet, and continues gently down after that.  If you keep the soil around your foundation perimeter dry, you won't get this standing water during or after rain or snow. 
Good luck!  Let us know how it goes.

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Mold Growth Due to Air Conditioning System

If your System is over sized the air is colder. system runs a Quicker or cooling the air too fast not removing Humidity. Higher Humidity turns to Mold. The Air conditioner units cool the home and set the humidity level never turn off a vent in a room if your not in it. This make the Out Door heat and humidity enter the room. If you have return Air Vent in this room your pulling in hot air making system run longer.(I CAN BEVEIVE MONEY PIT SAID TURN OFF VENT IN ROOM'S YOU DO NOT USED)this IS INFO FROM 1970'S. And is not true. I keep my temp at 74-75 all the time if your not home the system runs shorter time due to no one opening doors. Now if a system is over charged this make evap., coil to cold too making mold in duct work. To Large system and under sized return in 99% of home's.

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How to Control Humidity in a Crawl Space

I live in a coastal area of NC.  What's a good humidity reading in my crawl space?

 I'm seeing some mold on the joists.

Our Answer

Visible mold is never a good thing, so reducing humidity is key here.  That will happen with several steps, starting with exterior drainage.  Your downspouts and gutters should be clear of debris and divert water away from the foundation.  The exterior of your home should slope away from the foundation as well.  Next, the floor of your crawlspace needs vapor barrier.  This can be as simple as thick plastic sheeting.  If you use more than one piece, make sure you are overlapping the pieces where they meet.  This will reduce evaporation of moisture up into the space.  You also need to make sure your crawl space vents are open on all sides.
Lastly, you might want to think about a humidistatically controlled exhaust fan  This is a special fan that  fits into one of the crawlspace vent openings.  It  will come on automatically when a certain setting is reached - I recommended a humidity level of 50%.  When it kicks on, it will pull in the drier outside air.
You need to make sure the moisture reading in the wood of your floor joists is low.  If it reaches above 25%, decay organisims can attack.  You need a moisture meter to read that.
I also recommend an inspection done to determine the integrity of the floor joists.  Keep in mind that rot from the inside out, so it wouldn't be immediately apparent.  You should treat floor joists with a product like Concrobium to kill the mold spores.  Remember to follow all the label instructions during application.

Good luck and let us know how it turns out!

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Best Product to Clean and Prevent Indoor Mold

1. What types of health effects have been experienced by inhabitants of a home where high concentrations of mold exist?

2. If cleanup of mold is needed, can a combination of wiping with a bleach solution and then applying Microban be as effective as using a biocide, which may be toxic?

Our Answer

According to the CDC website, exposure to mold indoors has been linked to upper respiratory tract symptoms, cough and wheeze in otherwise healthy adults and children, and asthma symptoms in people with asthma. It has also been linked to hypersensitivity pneumonitis in individuals susceptible to that condition. For indoor mold cleanup, we would recommend a product called Concrobium. There are lots of benefits to Concrobium. It's safe for any surface, including fabric. It leaves a protective barrier when it dries. Bleach doesn't do that, and bleach is also not fabric-safe. Bleach will kill mold spores on application, but unlike Concrobium, it doesn't offer any ongoing protection.

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Washing Machine Drains To Yard

I have just aquired a property, and the washing machine drains through a PVC pipe into a trench dug outside - about 20 to 25 yards behind the house, in the middle of a large backyard. How can I put this draining underground so the backyard can be leveled off and made appealing?

Our Answer

I'm going to assume you live in a rural area - which seems like the only place that would dischage a washing machine in such a manner.  I'm also assuming you have a septic system, and the washer is not part of the septic system, because it would damage the naturally-occurring breakdown of matter. 
Assuming all this is the case, I'd recommend putting in a gray water tank.  Gray water is basically like a drywell.  The gray - or used -  water is held briefly in the tank before being discharged to an irrigation or treatment system.  If an irrigation system, it discharges slowly back to the earth, generally on the opposite side of the house from the septic system.  You never want to discharge to a grade like the one you described.  The water in your pipes could easily freeze, which could result in clogging.  

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Carpenter Bee Damage

We live in a log home, tucked into the middle of 34 acres of hardwood forest. Carpenter bees are literally eating us out of house and home. After 14 years, we have tried everything imaginable to repel and or kill them. We have surrendered that battle.

Now I am simply looking for something to fill the holes that will replace the wood that was bored out. Since the bee holes can be up to 2 feet long, I need something that can be injected into each hole and will solidify and harden to restore strength to the wood.

Any suggestions?

The article says you should have 1 downspout for every 600-800 sf of roof. What determines the proper size of the gutters & downspouts? Won't a four inch carry at least 25% more water away than the three inch? Should I use a 5"?

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Basement Waterproofing or Not?

Well, this article was very handy...as I'm a single mom, college educated with 3 teenage boys and for the first time in 14 years, had water and mud come in at the front of the finished basement, (front of the house/front door is above this area).  then a major power surge to my house led to even worse problems (blew out the circuit board, air/heat control board, garage door openers, TV's...etc etc..) and maybe even afffected the sump pump during the night as this happened after the hurricane a few days later in a different storm that brought 13 inches of rain total between the two storms and rainy August.

A company called Value Dry is pressuring with a 10K fix to put pipes interior around the inside perimeter and put another sump in.  I feel my property in one area on side of house has been severely wet for 2 years...so I wonder if getting water away from my house in general with downspouts and maybe even having someone dig a french drain and carry water off my property and regrade a bit around the front is best bet.  I'm already feeling compromised by the power surge and all the appliances that may still be damaged that I don't know about.  I feel my next move should be to hire a good local home inspector?  What do you think? Thanks!

Our Answer

Any time a company pressures you in to doing anything-- walk away!  Especially, when that pressure comes from waterproofers who are notorious for dishing out bad advice designed only to line their own pockets.   Getting an opinion from a good home inspector is a wise move -- but I can tell you that most of the time, the simple drainage improvements shown in this article will address the problem.

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Gasoline Spill

A gallon or more of gasoline was poured down the side of my house. I am assuming it soaked into the basement concrete blocks below ground. I have opened the windows (it is January, very cold). I placed a fan in the window of the room that has the wall where the gas was spilled. It is day three, a lot of the smell is gone, but still enough to make me nauseated and a fierce headache. I read somewhere that it can take months to evaporate out of the concrete. Is this true. And if it is, is there anything I can do to help neutralize the smell? I am desperate. Thanks.

Our Answer

Kathy, there are a number of home products available for the clean up of gasoline spills on a variety of surfaces, but in this case it seems you have the more complicated problem of getting to the spill in the soil and concrete foundation of your home.

For this, I'd recommend  commercial product like Biosolve, which is designed to soak in and neutralize the hydrocarbons and odors associated with the spill.  This should be effective at attacking the spill in the soil and in the concrete blocks.  Be sure to follow the manufacturers instructions exactly for removing the gasoline odor.

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Attic Mold: How to Determine the Source of the Black Mold

There's black mold in the attic of my three-year-old house. How can I tell if the builder used contaminated lumber?

Our Answer

Mold is common in attics. If you look at the black mold, you should be able to tell whether it was on the wood to begin with or grew after the house was built. If the rafters have black colonies on them, the wood was most likely contaminated to begin with.
According to The Money Pit's indoor air quality expert, Jeff May, in cold climates, if the sheathing is darkest on the north- or east-facing gable (worse near the outer, lower part of the sheathing), or if the attic mold appears only at the top of the rafters, the attic mold may be growing due to excess moisture, most often caused by improperly vented bathroom exhausts and leaky attic accesses that allow warm, moist house air into the attic.
But if you see oval- or other-shaped colonies that appear to be covered and bisected by rafters, the sheathing may have been moldy when installed.
For more tips on black mold and mold proofing your home, see our Mold Resource Guide.

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Mold and Basement Leaks: Remove materials that harbor moisture and mold

We have a family room in our basement, and just discovered that the air conditioning unit there has been leaking into the carpet. I've been dehumidifying the space, but it still smells musty. What do you recommend?

Our Answer

First of all, if anyone in your family has allergies or asthma, we recommend that you avoid living in a house with a finished basement, which is particularly prone to mold growth. If you want to keep this finished basement family room, it is best to hire a professional to remove the carpeting (under mold containment conditions) and then having a ceramic, laminate or a resilient tile floor installed, with area rugs on top if you want to have a softer floor covering.
According to The Money Pit's indoor air quality expert, Jeff May, all carpet, as well as anything fleecy or cushioned (and that includes upholstered furniture) that has remained damp for more than 24-48 hours should, be discarded as it likely contains mold.

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Mold and Humidifiers

We just added a humidifier to our hot-air heating system because the air in the house was so dry. Now I am noticing mold in the attic for the first time. Could the humidifier be causing mold to grow?

Our Answer

Mold can grow inside of humidifers that are not properly cleaned.  However, this may or may not be the cuase of the mold you are seeing in your attic area.  Mold on the underside of attic sheathing is more likely being cause by a lack of proper attic ventitaltion.
If there are any supply ducts in the attic, check to see if they're leaking, which can lead to condensation and mold growth. According to The Money Pit's indoor air quality expert, Jeff May, you also should be sure that there is adequate ventilation in the attic space, and that there are no openings through which house air can leak into the attic. However, the mold may have already been growing there, due to excess moisture from other sources: a bathroom venting up into the attic, or moist airflows entering the attic around recessed light fixtures in the ceilings below.
If you already have ridge and soffit vents, do all you can to reduce or eliminate the sources of house airflows into the attic. As for the mold growth itself, small areas can be HEPA vacuumed (a HEPA vacuum cleaner has filtration that prevents the release of particulates in the exhaust and should, in my opinion, always be used for even everyday cleaning) and spray-painted to contain allergenic and irritating dust. Always wear at least a NIOSH-rated N95 mask or respirator when cleaning mold. For more information, see www.health.state.ny.us/environmental.

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Mold on Clothing: When Mold Spores Attach

We stayed for a few days in a relative's house, and when we came back, our clothes smelled moldy. Can mold be carried from place to place on clothing?

Our Answer

Mold odors can be pervasive, even though the mold growth may be limited in scope.  According to The Money Pit's indoor air quality expert, Jeff May, despite the strong odor,  there may not be any mold spores on your clothing. If, on the other hand, the mold growth in the house was disturbed (if you sat on a moldy couch or rug), your clothing may be carrying spores and even mold-eating mites.
This isn't that different from getting pollen or pet dander on your clothing, and you can wash or dry-clean your clothing to remove them. Figuring out the source of the moldy smell in your relative's house is another matter!

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Mold and Real Estate: Musty odor is warning sign for mold issues

I am considering buying a house, but every time I visit the property, as soon as I get inside the front door I notice a distinct "moldy" smell. This goes away after a few minutes as I get used to it. Is it possible to fix this problem?

Our Answer

If you or anyone in your family is sensitized to mold, we'd be very cautious about purchasing a house with a musty odor, since you don't know the potential extent of any mold growth present. I'd also be cautious about buying a house in which the owner burns scented candles or has plug-in fragrance emitters, which may be masking a musty smell.
According to The Money Pit's indoor air quality expert, Jeff May, it's possible that the steps you could take to combat the mold would be very simple, but it's also possible that there could be a major concealed mold problem, and that any remediation required would be extensive and costly.
The most prudent thing to do would be to try to determine the source of the mold odor before you purchase the house. This could mean making holes in the walls to investigate possible sources of mold.