Featuring America's Home Inspector: Nationally Syndicated Columnist, Barry Stone

Settlement Damage Was Concealed

The House Detective:  by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: Since purchasing our home, numerous cracks have appeared in the walls. Some are as wide as half-an-inch. We’ve also noticed that patching has been done at many of these cracks, indicating that the sellers of the home were aware of the problem but had attempted to hide it. None of this was reported by our home inspector when we were in escrow. How serious do you think this problem is, and what should we do about it?  Thomas

Dear Thomas: Cracks as wide as half-an-inch indicate a major structural problem with the foundation system and/or instability of the soil. The fact that so much movement has occurred since the cracks were patched warrants immediate attention and concern. When symptoms such as these are intentionally masked in order to sell a property, some home inspectors are able to see through the concealment. But when cosmetic repairs are effectively done, it is sometimes possible to prevent discovery of building settlement by a home inspector.

Your first course of action is to notify all parties to the transaction by certified mail. Inform the home inspector, the sellers, their agent, and your agent that there are serious, undisclosed problems with the home and ask that they all come to the property to see what is taking place. And don’t perform any manner of repair work in the meantime. Inform all parties, particularly the sellers, that you want a detailed structural engineering report on the home. The sellers should accept whatever costs are necessary to repair the structural defects, as determined by the engineer. If no one is willing to cooperate, you should enlist the aid of an experienced real estate attorney.

Clothes Dryer Steaming Bathroom

The House Detective:  by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: : Our laundry is located on the second floor, directly adjacent to the bathroom. Whenever I run the dryer, the bathroom becomes very humid if the door is shut. I’ve also noticed something like black soot on the bathroom walls. I wash it off, but it always comes back. What could be causing the humidity and the soot, and what can I do to resolve this?   Debbie

Dear Debbie: Here are two possibilities: The vent duct for the clothes dryer may be connected to the bathroom vent duct in the attic. This would allow steam from the clothes dryer to enter the bathroom through the ceiling vent.

Another possibility is disconnection of the dryer vent inside the wall or ceiling of the bathroom. This would cause the moisture from your clothes to vent into the wall or ceiling cavities, raising the humidity in that room.

Another concern is that the “soot” on the walls could actually be black mold, caused by the excessive moisture condition. If so, this would raise health concerns for your family.

To evaluate and resolve this situation, three things need to be done:

1)  A licensed contractor should investigate the path of the dryer vent to determine whether it is disconnected or not properly vented to the exterior.

2)  The wood framing should be inspected to determine whether moisture exposure has caused fungus infection and dryrot.

3) The area should be evaluated by a qualified mold inspector to determine if mold is the problem and if mold remediation is needed. Air samples should be taken from wall cavities to determine whether there is mold behind the drywall.

Valdals Create Mold Problem

Dear Barry: Construction of our new home was recently completed, but four days before the closing, vandals broke into the house. They stopped up all of the drains and turned on the faucets. The builder found the mess in the morning. He immediately replaced the carpeting and some of the drywall, but he dismissed the possibility of mold. We are confident that he can repair all of the water damage but are concerned about future health issues in the home. Because of this, we may walk away from the transaction. Do you think we are overreacting?  Ken

Dear Ken:Your concerns about mold are reasonable, but this should not become a deal-killing point of contention. Mold may or may not be an issue in this situation, but the matter needs to be determined, one way or the other.

Mold typically occurs when there is a prolonged moisture condition. In this case, the moisture may have been addressed before mold had a chance to develop. A mold report would provide the answer to that question, and the builder should be willing to go that extra step to resolve your final concerns in the aftermath of the vandalism. Instead of dismissing the issue, he should hire a qualified mold inspector to evaluate the property and provide a comprehensive mold report.

Aside from the health effects of mold, there is another consideration in this matter: the issue of future disclosure. Flooding of the home is now a part of the property’s history. When you eventually sell the home, this will need to be disclosed to future buyers. A clean mold report can prevent that disclosure from raising major concerns. On that basis, the question of mold needs to be answered by a qualified professional.