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What's in Your Attic?
If Walls Could Talk (tm)

I'd like to thank Jim Morrison of Allan Morrison Home Inspections Inc. in MA for allowing me to reprint some of his "If Walls Could Talk..." articles here on my website. I'm sure you'll find these articles as usefull and helpful as I did.


Writing home inspection reports can get boring after a while.  Most houses have the same 10-15 issues plus another 10 or 20.  After enough time in the business, it gets to where you feel like you're saying the same things over and over again.  So I suppose I should be thankful when the latest "new thing" to come along gives me a new issue to write and talk about.  This year's scare is: mold.

But it isn't new.  Mold has been on this planet longer than us monkeys and its only now getting it's 15 minutes of fame.  More and more of my clients are asking me about it and lucky for you, I have a few answers.  It turns out a good friend and colleague of mine named Jeff May is just about the world's leading expert on the subject, and he's been talking to us home inspectors about it for at least the past ten years.  In fact, he just wrote the definitive book on the subject entitle, "My House Is Killing Me".  Required reading for asthmatics, people with allergies, and folks who are considering finishing their basement.

Like it or not, mold spores are commonly found in the air and we inhale them with every lungfull.  Always have, always will.  They harmlessly land on just about everything in your house, too.  You can't  completely eliminate them, you just have to keep them from growing into colonies large enough to make you ill.  All the spores need to grow is food and water, but they must have both.   Mold spores can feed on dust, food crumbs, soaps, paper, wood, and anything containing carbon, so you can't eliminate their food sources in your home.  To prevent mold and mildew problems, you have to address the source of the moisture.  Stop the water and you'll stop the mold. 

Common sources of the water are leaky pipes, leaky roofs, and leaky or damp basements.  Hiring a contractor to fix these problems is usually fairly straightforward, cleaning up the mold can be the tricky part.  Generally speaking, if part of your house or something in it gets moldy and it is making you sick, you should throw it out if you can.  If you can't replace it, scrub it as thoroughly as you can with chlorinated bleach and water and keep it dry.  This works for every commonly found kind of mold.  It only gets complicated when the mold has been growing insides walls and floors for awhile.  The thing is, you have to get rid of it all, so it isn't always possible to know how bad a problem is without ripping open walls.  No matter how minor the problem is, it should be addressed because all molds produce mycotoxins which can be toxic if inhaled or ingested by humans in large enough quantities.  If the mold isn't making you sick now, it doesn't mean it won't later. 

There isn't a whole lot more to it than that.  Lately on TV, we've been hearing about "toxic molds" that inhabit people's houses, making the occupant's sick.  You probably have a better chance of being struck by lightning than having a problem like that.  People's sensitivity to mold varies from one end of the spectrum to the other.  A little mold in the basement doesn't effect most of us.  However, if you think you might be having a negative reaction to your home environment, there is a wealth of information and resources at my friend, Jeff May's web site:

Some home inspectors and others are capitalizing on the fear created by some of these true, but rare and sensational news stories. I get solicitations from mold testing labs at least weekly and they usually say start out with something like: "Make More Money!"  They test the house for the presence of mold (easy to find because the spores are almost everywhere) send the sample off to a lab and collect a fee.  There are probably no more than one or two dozen home inspectors in the country qualified to do this kind of testing properly and provide you with any meaningful information.  The rest haven't any idea what they're doing, so before you hire someone to test your house for mold I suggest you:

1st  Locate and eliminate the water source feeding the mold.
2nd Replace or thoroughly clean any moldy surfaces.
3rd  See if you feel better and the mold stays gone.  If not,
4th  Carefully review the mold tester's credentials before you hire them.

If you want to learn a little more about mold, check out the EPA's new web site:

(c) 2002 Jim Morrison

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