Surprise! New Homes Can Have as Many Mold Problems as Long-Standing Homes

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Surprise! New Homes Can Have as Many Mold Problems as Long-Standing Homes

By |2019-03-14T20:21:42+00:00September 4th, 2018|Environmental Toxins, Mold Remediation, New Homes|10 Comments

6 Places Builders Cut Corners, Get Sloppy or Cheap in the Construction Process

By Cesar Collado

When I mentioned to a colleague the fact that just because a home is new; it doesn’t mean it is mold free, he was surprised and alarmed. He had just made a recent investment in a new home and thought he had made the “mold-safe” choice by opting for new construction over an older home.  Well, unfortunately, there are two facts that exist regardless of newness or expense: 1) The laws of physics apply to all homes;  2) Even well-known, quality builders have been found to cut corners.  Before you read further, I must caveat this information with the disclaimer that following the advice from this article may mean that your builder may not be a fan of yours for questioning them in the end. But, in the end, it is your investment, and I’m sure they have experienced many buyers armed with similar wisdom.

What is important for any new home buyer or existing home dweller to know is that there are some key mold problems that can be identified and fixed before a full blown, overly expensive, mold remediation nightmare happens.   There is good and bad news that comes with this information.  The good news for a new owner is that you have a warrantee and can identify and discuss issues with your builder to prevent future catastrophic claims under that warrantee.  The bad news for existing home owners is that preventing a catastrophic health or financial problem feels less gratifying, because you are footing the bill.

To help me with this article, I consulted an expert, Danny Gough of Energy Solutions Inc., Lewisville, NC. He has over 40 years’ experience investigating and solving building failures.  His expertise spans building science, mold, and mechanical engineering. It just so happened that he recently finished teaching a class to builders on the very same topic. We had a long discussion on some of the key themes people can look out for with their homes.  This information does not replace the need for a qualified and licensed professional with the experience and tools to identify and remedy every potential problem. It does, however, provide a homeowner or mold sufferer enough information to use some common sense, do a little research online, and make a phone call, if needed.

Potential Mold Issues Inside the Home:

1. Air Conditioner Size Selection

The term “Bigger is Better” is definitely not true for homes.  Oversized air conditioners are

Source: US Department of Energy Guidelines

common in housing developments.  An oversized air conditioner can cycle on too often allowing for moisture accumulation in many areas around the home. Air conditioners and ductwork should be selected and designed to meet the specifics of the home.  Calculations are required that include size of home, ceiling heights, windows, floor plans, and more.  Today, a quality HVAC technician will measure, count, and tour the entire home from top to bottom.  They will then utilize this data in a program to determine the proper size and selection for an HVAC system.  A homeowner can always ask for a copy and explanation of the calculus. In some states, HVAC companies are required to provide this information

This important calculation is often overlooked by volume builders. For example, a new housing development may be built by a single developer.  They may have 5 or more different floorplans and models they want to sell.  They try to make each home appear distinct and provide diversity for a neighborhood feel. Every floorplan typically requires a separate calculation because the air ventilation differs, but also the placement of the home can differ as well. But every floorplan has its own way of managing the flow of air,  The air conditioner is meant to “condition” the air.  It has a filter to remove pollutants, refrigerant coils to cool, and it should provide fresh, outside air into the home.  In a single development, it is very possible that all of the homes have the same HVAC system and size. Homes with foyers, high ceilings, balconies, and open floorplans will behave differently from more closed floor plans and require different HVAC schemes.

If there are any large windows, the physics of the building will behave differently when those windows are facing a different direction. The sun always rises in the same place.  Southern exposure will differ from northern exposure.  This can be explained by the fact that in many neighborhoods, some homes need to do much more snow shoveling in the winter than their neighbors across the street. The heat of the sun changes the behavior of the heating and cooling inside.  This is why there are zone systems.

I also spoke with a career homebuilder after this discussion.

He validated, understandably, that builders cut costs everywhere they can to maintain profitability and timelines.  It is very likely that the builder-grade ductwork and HVAC units are purchased in bulk at a discount.  Any new home buyer or existing homeowner can ask for specifics regarding he HVAC sizing and effectiveness.

2. Kitchen and Bathroom Exhaust/Ventilation Fans

This one will surprise you. It surprised me.  A majority of bathroom and kitchen fans work but they do not exhaust to the outside.  I had to validate with my professional friends and check my own home before writing this.  This means that the humid bathroom or stove hoods route the steam into a wall space.  To illustrate, many people, like myself, have microwave ovens above our stoves that are equipped with exhaust fans.  You purchase the microwave and have it installed.  Where does the steam go? It is not sucked up and exhausted outside of the home, unless it has been specifically routed to do so with a hood and separate ducting. If it is just installed as is, with no ductwork running from the fan to the outside, it just blows the steam away from the stovetop and around the kitchen. This does nothing to remove moisture or smoke from cooking. In the bathroom, to test if your bathroom fan is sucking up moisture, you can fold up some toilet paper to where it will hold into the vent.  After showering with the fan on, you can check to see if the toilet paper is wet. You should be able to trace the ductwork for bath fans to an outside exit point on the roof or to the side of your home. You want as direct a path as possible, with as few turns or corners as possible. Remember, moisture can be caught in the ducts as well. You should never find ventilation ducts culminating in your attic or crawlspace. This is a definite mold issue when it occurs. Contact your builder or a licensed tradesman to properly ensure bathroom or kitchen fans are diverting the humid air to the outside or a proper place where materials do not serve as mold “food.”

3. Houses Settling

When a home is built, it is common for the house to settle over time.  This usually becomes evident during the first year, but can span a longer timeframe as well.  Buyers will often see cracks in drywall, tiles, etc. The builder will usually ask the homeowner to come up with a punch list of defects that they will fix prior to the initial year portion on the warrantee.  However, settling can disrupt PCV pluming pipes. Construction workers often take creative license when installing mechanical, electric, and plumbing (MEP) due to timelines.  These specialty installations are often subcontracted to licensed subcontractors. Quality by subcontractors is not the same as most licensed and branded residential tradesman.  Sloppy installation or any element not up to building code can falter. In addition, weather or other natural phenomena can always be problematic.

Do your own inspection of each room looking for discoloration indicating water or any moisture. Proactive inspection of your home on a regular basis or after storms can give you an early indication of a problem and allow you to DIY to fix affordably.

Potential Issues Outside the Home:

4. Groundwater

Many homeowners fall in love with a home prior to taking a good hard look at some not so obvious details. The topography around the home is critical.  It is not uncommon for a neighbor’s home’s groundwater to flow into another home’s foundation or vice versa.  If groundwater settles against a home, moisture problems will likely occur.  As a former member of the BOD of a HOA for a new neighborhood, I listened to countless “Water Wars” between neighbors, where water flowed into on neighbor’s yard or home, causing several types of problems from a wet foundation to plant disease or pest issues with landscaping.

I personally encountered this issue with a house being built next door to me. It sat on a higher foundation where there was an incline from my home to their slab. I initially spoke with the builder (who was different than mine) about the problem and he dismissed me.  After some research, I learned that he could build a “swale” (ditch) around my fence line to direct water to a neighborhood drain.  I made this proposal with the notion that I worked from home and will educate potential buyers on our future water disputes.  He begrudgingly agreed and was able to have someone dig the swale in a couple of hours once they started.  Problems avoided!

When you purchase a home, it is wise to imagine flooding rains to determine if there may be a problem. There may also be evidence of a problem, like pooling water in your yard.  You can then decide whether you want to proactively prevent the problem with the builder or construct a remedy. To that end, I also had French Drains installed around my crawlspace and some trees to prevent future groundwater problems.

5.  Gutters and Flashing

Gutters and flashing are installed to direct water on any pitched or flat roof.  They are usually made of aluminum and come standard on any home. They re-direct water away from the home. Their very important function is often neglected as debris from trees can clog the gutters or disrupt water flow, allowing water to accumulate in almost any location.  These should be inspected and cleaned at least yearly during the autumn, rainy seasons, after big storms, or after leaves fall. Gutters can also become detached due to improper installation and need to be re-attached to avoid a systemic malfunction. Downspouts should be attached to piping or along a declining hill away from the home.

In some neighborhoods, front, back, or side doors may not have any direct roofing to protect you from the elements while fiddling with keys.  When this happens, the door frame, jamb, and trim can be exposed to excess water and deteriorate.  Many homes have small porch roofs or canopies to provide shielding from the elements and direct water away from the home.  If a side door, for example, does not have a canopy, homeowners must pay attention to the wood or other materials around the door for water damage or even wood rotting.  These can be easily inexpensively repaired with a quick trip to the hardware store, and DIY directions can be found online.  Periodic checking of window frames is also a good practice.

Flashing can be installed sloppily and lead to water intrusion.  Flashings are usually metal components used to seal roof system edges, perimeters, penetrations, walls, drains, and any other areas where the actual roof coverings meet on a pitch roof. You can read more about the specifics of identifying and fixing gutters and flashing on Moldfreeliving.com HERE.

6. Crawlspaces

Crawlspaces exist on many homes where a concrete slab is deemed unnecessary or in some standard home styles, like Ranches.  This empty space above ground and below the floors is often neglected by builders due to lack of building code requiring preventive strategies.  Many crawlspaces have vents around the home to allow ventilation in the crawlspace.  No crawlspace is ALWAYS best from an air quality standpoint, but sometimes this kind of construction cannot be avoided. The following list details a few must-haves if you have a crawlspace:

  • Seal the venting in humid geographies. Because it is often more humid outside than below the home, the vents allow moisture into the dark space.  This accumulation of moisture leads to a variety of problems like mold, termites, and dust mites.  Due to the “stacking effect,” the air from the crawlspace moves upward into the home including multi-floor homes. The dirt and dust below can lead to a catastrophic mold build-up under the home which will permeate the entire home over time. Remediation of crawlspaces can be expensive.
  • Adding Dehumidification to a crawlspace is inexpensive and valuable.Running a dehumidifier continuously will keep the moisture low at levels where mold will not grow or reproduce.
  • Having a vapor barrier in the crawlspace prevents moisture and ground gases from entering the home. It also prevents mold, termites, other pests and should be considered a necessity for the mold sensitive.  In addition, it makes any electrical or home entertainment wiring work in the home readily accessible.  Entering a moldy crawlspace is a safety hazard without all safety equipment.  It can be dangerous enough for an individual exposure to cause someone to reach their “toxic load.” Read more about toxic load HERE.  While MEP technicians and other contrshould be responsible for taking safety precautions, they seldom do so in my experience.  I personally feel more comfortable having a clean and safe crawlspace for whatever reason that may cause someone to go below my home.

Much of this of this information also applies to basements.  Periodic cold fogging of basements and crawlspaces for mold with EC3 Mold Solution Concentratecan circumvent potential mold problems. It only takes minutes and can prevent mold from entering your home with the stacking effect.   You can get a special rate for a fogger, EC3 Mold Solution Concentrate, and EC3 Mold Screening Test Plates from the exclusive “Special Bundle” on Moldfreeliving.com homepage and save $100.  

A new home for many of us is a celebration or milestone.  As with everything, most good things in our lives require some work.  For mold sufferers, keeping up with these building variables and turning the building experience into a conversation around these important items will pay you back multifold over many years of safe living and improved health.

 

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About the Author:

Cesar Collado is a former pharmaceutical R&D executive, venture capitalist, and seasoned strategy consultant in biotechnology and technology industries in general. He currently works as an advisor to multiple technology start-ups and advises several companies that provide healthcare and other services for environmental illness. Read More

10 Comments

  1. […] 5.) Make sure that your air conditioning unit is the proper size for your home and that all ducts are sealed at the joints. A unit that is oversized, will cycle on and off frequently, and cannot sufficiently dehumidify the air, because it doesn’t run for long enough intervals. This results in high indoor humidity, particularly in geographical areas with humid outdoor climates. Also, make sure that your system is designed to manage condensation effectively. This means that it is able to keep up with the volume of moisture that it is removing from the air as it is working. (Note: The US Department of Energy at http://www.energy.gov has a free webinar on their site that helps you to understand and calculate your home’s HVAC needs according to what part of the country you live in. Or, to read another helpful article on this topic that outlines why most homes are built without the proper-sized HVAC system, you can click HERE.)

  2. Deborah Bartolotta September 26, 2018 at 1:11 am - Reply

    Thank you Cesar,your articles as well as people’s experiences and comments are amazing and helpful. I worked in a County facility for many years where mold was rampant and I suffered horribly. Not so much now that I have access to products to protect myself and my home.

  3. Tracy Price September 6, 2018 at 7:20 pm - Reply

    Guess I have been dealing with these types of issues so long, I was actually aware of all of these items. On our previous home, we had to get the builder to run gutters around the side and back of the house and pipe the water to the rear of the property after finding water inside the crawlspace at the foundation. I designed the house to have an outside vent for the range hood and an outside vent in the bathrooms, but that was a preference item. Later, after learning about mold issues around 2005, I encapsulated the crawlspace and installed a dehumidifier myself, which really lowered the humidity in that area. After many lessons learned on that home, on our next and current house, we went for raised slab construction with a vapor barrier under the concrete to avoid the crawlspace and moisture issue. Raising the slab also helped with the groundwater and drainage issue. But I did have someone grade the front yard and create a swale to slope water away. I also installed gutters on the entire front of the house (our land slopes downward toward the front of our house) and hard-piped the water to a nearby drainage feature. During the build, I had the range hood vented to the outside. The toilet room in the master bath had a vent by code, but the builder didn’t put a vent over the master shower. So I installed an outside vented fan over the shower. The biggest other issue was the HVAC. Something I generally knew about but didn’t understand until too late. Had all kinds of problems with high humidity and not cooling properly (short cycling). Had another contractor perform the Manual J and Manual D load and distribution calculations to learn why it wasn’t operating correctly. The unit the builder installed was almost twice the required size. Had to get the entire unit replaced and re-ducted to the proper size. Made a big difference in humidity and comfort. But cost me a legal battle with the state labor and licensing board to get the builder’s bond to pay the $13K it cost me to replace it. This is a mechanical code violation in SC, so I was able to get reimbursed, but such a cost of time and effort. Later learned the vent over the shower is also a SC code violation. I learned about many of these building issues through years of suffering with mold related illness and tried to incorporate these into my current home. Glad to see you put out a summary. These are all very good points and make a big difference. But it is really sad how builders are able to get away with violating building codes. And we are the ones paying the price with our finances and health. You have to fight for yourself, because others sure won’t. Thanks Cesar!

    • Cesar Collado September 10, 2018 at 2:32 am - Reply

      Thank you so much for this. People need to know this is real! Your comments are really valuable and may push someone over the edge to take a stand with their builders. We are probably not making friends with some builders right now!:)

  4. Katherine September 6, 2018 at 1:33 pm - Reply

    Hey! The most important caveat for crawlspaces is DO NOT put any part of the HVAC system in it! The air handler needs to be in the conditioned space!

    • Cesar Collado September 10, 2018 at 2:33 am - Reply

      Than youK for your comments! It is really surprising to see what some builders and contractors do to just get the job done and move on!

  5. Cesar Collado September 5, 2018 at 1:36 am - Reply

    Thank you for your comments! Every experience helps others. Whether you buy new or existing, keeping up with the issues outlined will address this. You can speak to an expert like Chris Gough (referenced in article) and get advice on best practices to ensure your home is safe. there are several around the country. I’m not an expert but drop me a note when it happens and I will help if I’m around.

    Thank you!

    cesar

  6. Justine Simone September 4, 2018 at 1:46 pm - Reply

    Thank you, once again for an eye opening article!
    I lost everything I owned, including my health, in a condo. The HOA didn’t maintain the caulking around the exterior windows of my condo, allowing water intrusion. Trichlothecenes were found in my bedroom, all exterior walls tested positive for mold, including Stachybotrus.
    Also, my condo was on the first floor. Level with the flat unsoiled ground because it was a handicap unit. Standing water wicked up into walls!
    I thought a newer home in my future with latest codes would eliminate my problem. I see now that it is not true! Passing Mold testing will be a contingency to anything I buy. I’m very sensitive to mold now and can’t take the risk!
    Thank you very much!

    • Cesar Collado September 10, 2018 at 2:34 am - Reply

      That you for sharing this. People need to read these experiences!

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