What I'm Seeing Now

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There Was Little Evidence Of Mold, But The Whole House Smelled Moldy

Have you ever entered a house and smelled the mold?  Like the whole house is full of it?  That was the case in this house, built in the 60s, with an entirely subterranean basement.

There was little evidence of mold anywhere, but the whole house smelled moldy.

And I couldn't find it! 

The grading was good and the basement walls were dry, according to my meter, and without staining.

There was no evidence of previous flooding.

The water heater was newer, but no staining around it.

I did see a little mold under the entry staircase, which is a typical spot, but it wasn't enough to make the whole house smell like it.

Being an older house, it had the kind of HVAC system where the registers and returns are in the same room.  There was no large central return anywhere.

I like those systems; they move air well and each room is comfortable.

But I do know from experience that because there are so many returns and linear feet of return that moisture can develop.

THEN I SAW THIS!

Looking further, lots of the registers looked like this!

And the ducts inside those registers, insofar as I could see!

Taking off the furnace filter and looking inside the large return beside the unit, I saw the same!

The entire duct system seemed infested with microbial growth!

Mold, fungus, whatever, it doesn't matter.  It was everywhere.

Can it be remediated?  Probably.  But what is causing the problem? 

Does this mean the insides of the heat pump is full of such growth?  YES!  Is the unit causing the problem?  Can it be remediated inside there?

REMEMBER, MICROBIAL GROWTH IS NEVER THE PROBLEM.  IT IS A SYMPTOM OF THE PROBLEM.  MOISTURE IS THE PROBLEM, WHATEVER THE SOURCE.  AND THERE WAS A LOT OF MOLDY HVAC STUFF IN THIS HOUSE!

Hence the pervasive smell.

I'm not an HVAC guy, but I do know that when heat pumps are installed retroactively they often do not get enough necessary return air flow to balance the output they need to blow in order to operate efficiently.  Is this disparity of returned air/conditioned air volume the source of the problem? 

My recommendation:  if you walk into a house that smells moldy, there is a reason for that.  Your nose is your cheapest, and probably best, mold detector.  Everyone is allergic to some molds.  What bothers you might not bother me.  But mold is always a health issue, whatever the specie.  And it is always a symptom of the real problem in the house - moisture.

 

 

Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC  

Based in Bristow, serving all of Northern Virginia.

Office (703) 330-6388   Cell (703) 585-7560

www.jaymarinspect.com


Comment balloon 26 commentsJay Markanich • August 15 2011 07:25AM

Comments

Jay, In some ways surprised that anyone was buying that moldy smelling home.  Most buyers we encounter have no interest in a smelly home.

Posted by Liz and Bill Spear, RE/MAX Elite Warren County OH (Cincinnati/Dayton) (RE/MAX Elite 513.520.5305 www.LizTour.com) over 9 years ago

It wasn't a severe smell, Bliz, but pervasive.  And everywhere.  I think we found the source.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 9 years ago

Jay: This was a very good article to bring attention that are in so many homes. It definitely is something folks should consider having investigated further after the inspector detects the problem.

Posted by Carl Winters over 9 years ago

C&C - I don't know how much further this got.  The Realtor freaked out when she saw it.  So the did buyer...

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 9 years ago

Hello Jay.  The nose knows musty, moldy when it is there.  A professional cleaning and moisture remediation is the key to a healthy indoor environment in this case.

Great Job!!

Posted by Rob Smith (Rob Smith Property Investigations) over 9 years ago

True, Rob, but you still have the problem of a retrofit system.  And the heat pump was 13 years old.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 9 years ago

Jay,

I can not agree with you more that mold is an indicator species. And that smell is distinctive. That would not be a good situation for anyone that is sensitive to such conditions.

Posted by Donald Hester, NCW Home Inspections, LLC (NCW Home Inspections, LLC) over 9 years ago

Scary stuff jay. Never heard anything like this - I'd freak too!

Posted by John M. Scott, Broker / Owner San Francisco Bay Area (BRE # 01442690, Scott Keys Properties) over 9 years ago

You are right about your nose being the best mold detector. It's my second most valuable 'tool in the box', right afer my eyes.

Posted by Robert Butler, Montreal Home Inspector | Aspect Inspection (Aspect Inspection) over 9 years ago

I hear you Don.  And you don't know what you're sensitive to until exposed!

John - 'tis.  I have never seen it before on metal registers!

Robert - I agree about those two tools!  My number one is probably my brain, but that may be a given...  Something has to organize those other two tools!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 9 years ago

Jay - Looks pretty nasty, and the repairs will be expensive.  But if the price of the home justifies the expense, it can be eliminated.

Posted by John Mulkey, Housing Guru (TheHousingGuru.com) over 9 years ago

Wow Jay!  You are such a sleuth!  Nothing can escape or hide from you!

Posted by Patricia Kennedy, Home in the Capital (RLAH Real Estate) over 9 years ago

Nice find, Jay.  I've never heard that everyone is allergic to some molds though; I've always thought that I didn't have any allergies to molds, period.

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) over 9 years ago

John - I bet the inside of the HVAC unit, not visible, is a mess. 

Thanks Pat.  You have that in DC don't you?  Gimme a call, we'll see what we can find!

Reuben - an allergy is an adverse reaction or hypersensitivity to another organic substance.  I heard all that in my mold class.  You're right, though - they would have to test everybody to make that statement, but they do! I react to the green ones, penicillis and aspergillis.  They get to me for the rest of the day, sometimes through the night depending on how much I lick.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 9 years ago

I wish there was a better way to test for molds ;)

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) over 9 years ago

It's a la carte and expensive.  The nose works pretty well Reubs.  But it doesn't tell you what the stuff actually is, just that it's there!

And licking, of course, demonstrates that they all taste like chicken.  Really...

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 9 years ago

I was talking about licking ;)

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) over 9 years ago

I realized that after my wonderful analysis, so I had to come back with the truest statement of all.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 9 years ago

Jay, I have found in several instances, that the "cure" to the problem was easy and inexpensive... the key is getting all the information to make a good decision.

Posted by Chris Smith, South Simcoe, Caledon, King, Orangeville Real Esta (Re/Max Chay Realty Inc., Brokerage) over 9 years ago

Great article. I have never heard of mold growth in an HVAC system.

We had some mold in the attic of our 1970's era. The previous owner had added to the attic insulation and had aluminum sofits and eaves installed. Unfortunately there was not enough air flow in the attic and moisture formed on the roof sheathing and then mold. According to the remediation company we used, this is a very common issue and they said about 95% of homes of that age will have some amount of mold in them. Definitely something to watch out for as a Realtor.

Posted by David Archibald (RE/MAX Aboutowne Realty Corp) over 9 years ago

Sometimes that info gathering process is a long one Chris! 

David - Thanks!  Mold can be common in attics.  And there are those who don't believe that!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 9 years ago

Goodness that is so scary! I can't even imagine what would happen when the heat gets turned on. YUCK!

Posted by Peggy James, Woodbridge Virginia Area Real Estate Specialist (EXIT Realty Associates) over 9 years ago

Well Jay, i do look at registers but after this I will definitely pick they up and look more closely...thanks

Posted by Ginny Gorman, Homes for Sale in Southern RI and beyond (RI Real Estate Services ~ 401-529-7849~ RI Waterfront Real Estate) over 9 years ago

Peggy - it dries out the mold and blows it around the house!

Ginny - and it's visible for sure!  Take a peek!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 9 years ago

Jay, tastes like chicken-you cracked me up. :)

It is always a good idea to have a professional (like yourself) go through the home and check for anything that could be a detriment to the buyers. At least the huge purchase decision can be made on solid information.

If it can be re-mediated and the buyer have a new system with no further issues and they decide to continue with the purchase then more power to 'em. If not, or it will be a huge expense (or patchwork fix) then the buyers can RUN and be thankful that the only money the buyer is out is for the inspections and not a monthly recurring reminder of the issue (mortgage payment).

Jacque & Larry

Posted by Larry & Jacque Ficek, Realtors - Wasilla Alaska (Alaska Dream Makers) over 9 years ago

J&L - home inspections are cheap at twice the price!  Glad you stopped by.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 9 years ago

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